Bob Dylan: the Prophet’s Son
by Ronnie Keohane

 

The sealed copy of "Love and Theft" remained on the dining room table for a week. It had arrived on its release date of September 11th but the traumatic events of that day took it off the radar screen for even the most zealous of Dylan fans. After absorbing the news round the clock and how everyone's lives were changed, a time came when both mind and body needed a break, some relief. The wrapper came off and the CD was played. As the words filled the air its imagery was striking as it seemed to describe this changed world and grabbed its verses from recent headlines. Some may be spooked by the similarities in the lyrics, mostly written in NYC a few months earlier, others may find a comfort that there is a Presence that is not indifferent to our world and that He will still use men with a willing spirit to be vessels to demonstrate His love and concern to a fallen creation.

 

The morning show anchors were well into their second hour when their broadcast was interrupted with the news that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in lower New York City. Part of any broadcaster's training is simply that you always got to be prepared, but you never know for what. As they attempted to provide information to their audiences about this tragic "accident," their news day, and the world would be changed forever. Behind them, captured on the TV cameras was the approach of a second plane flying directly into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 am, in that minute of the day the bubble could burst and it did. The United States of America was under attack. The footage of lower Manhattan showed the mass exodus of workers and residents of the stricken area. New York City went into a lock-down to keep any traffic from entering Manhattan but it was clearly visible that if you asked people they would tell you that they were avoiding the south side the best I can. The talking heads were communicating with the city's emergency desks trying to find out more information about what methods of escape were there for those trapped above the floors that the planes hit. As reporters obtained eyewitness reports from those who got out of the towers it appeared that everybody’s moving, if they ain't already there… everybody got to move somewhere. All across America, because of the live coverage, many looked back on the day with words such as these: "when I left my home this morning the sky split open wide."

 

President Bush had to go to Florida and when he was briefed the President addressed the nation briefly from a school. He knew he had to say something to the nation, but the enormity of it all made him appear to be on the fringes of the night, fighting back tears that [he] can't control. Some people they ain't human, they got no heart or soul and now we must defeat them. The President's National Security team jumped into high gear and began processing relative data as the Secret Service made arrangements to bring the President home to Washington D.C. These plans were aborted when at nine forty five it was reported that a third plane had crashed in D. C. into the Pentagon and a fourth plane was hijacked but its whereabouts uncertain. At the Pentagon battle weary veterans experienced the unimaginable. They got out of here any way that they could. Many jumped from windows or crawled through the corridors where the air was thick and heavy.

 

Back in New York the evacuation continued and it was obvious that the folks [would] lose their possessions and if they could - the folks [were] leaving town. But for many the horror only began. As those trapped in the high floors became aware of their certain fate they tried to get some control of their lives. Many jumped 90 floors or more. Doctors say that their hearts would have failed before impact. Those who jumped appeared to be coffins dropping in the street like balloons made out of lead. To those who could bear to watch; they saw a sky full of fire and pain pourin' down. For almost an hour the New York City Fire Department and Police Departments had been dispatching their personnel to do what they do... .rescue victims. Many of these heroes were raised in the country [and have] been working in the town. These brave men and women knew that they may have been asked to pay the ultimate price in service. As the firemen climbed up the stair towers they each instinctively knew: my clothes are wet, tight on my skin. Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in.

 

Then at 9:58 a.m. we watched some things that are too terrible to be true. Things are breaking up out there. The shacks are sliding down. Suddenly, the top floors of the South Tower collapsed onto themselves. The police and the firemen knew when they heard the rumble that we struggle and we scrape. We're all boxed in nowhere to escape. City's just a jungle, trapped in the heart of it [and] trying to get away. To those viewing this from afar the earth and sky melt with flesh and bone. Then at 10:28 nothing standing there. Highwater everywhere. The North Tower was gone and so were hundreds of rescuers and possibly thousands of civilians drowned in an ocean of steel and concrete. "Don't reach out for me...can't you see I'm drownin' too?" It's rough out there. On the ground the survivors were trying to cope with the enormity of the devastation. Many felt that they never wanted to go back there - I'd rather have died.

 

Aboard the fourth plane which was reported hijacked, the passengers learned of the fate of the three earlier planes and the destruction on the ground. They banded together to thwart the terrorists with a battle cry of "Let's Roll!" They gave up their lives so that others would not be harmed when the plane plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, PA. I'm rollin slow...goin' where the wild roses grow.

 

President Bush addressed the nation again from the Oval Office. With tears in his eyes he reminded us he was a peace loving man but.. ..he had a job to do and he intended to do it. I'm preachin' peace and harmony, the blessings of tranquility. But 1 know when the time is right to strike! Back in New York much of the mass transit system and bridges were closed to those in Manhattan this left people stranded in the city that never sleeps.

 

Then an American phenomenon occurred... stories came with recorded phone messages of those who though they awaited gruesome deaths, had the presence of mind to comfort those that they would leave behind. Content of these endearments were similar to:

 

I'm tellin' myself I found true happiness. That I've still got a dream that hasn't been repossessed

 

Well, my ship's been split to splinters and its sinking fast. I'm drownin in the poison, got no future got no past. But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free. I've got nothing but affection for all those who've sailed with me.

 

So many things that we never will undo. 1 know you're sorry, I'm sorry too

 

For whom does the bell toll for, love? It tolls for you and me.

 

They were grateful to their loved ones. Others glanced into photos on desks or at snapshots that were stuck inside fire helmets and for the moment they were transported back to where and with whom they wished to be: I need something strong to distract my mind. I'm gonna look at you till my eyes go blind

 

On Flight 93 over Pennsylvania many passengers, knowing their death was certain had thoughtful conversations transmitted over cell and airplane phones. They heroically rose to the occasion, often with their loved one's words of encouragement coming out of their ears. The resolve of the passengers on Flight 93 is like a chapter taken from the Alamo as they set their face like flint. Well, the future for me is already a thing of the past. You were my first love. You will be my last. Gonna make you see how loyal and true a man can be. Though many died young that day in their final moments they may have recalled that their parents warned them not to waste their years. . . . . . and they didn't.

 

President Bush, with each address to the nation began to reveal a reserve of power and strength that many had not noticed. The next day the President may have been crying to the Lord - I'm trying to be meek and mild. But a face and enemy had been identified and he had a job to do. The attack was carried out by Islamic Fundamentalists loyal to the Al-Qaeda and its leader, Usama Bin Ladin. Now the President had to unite the nation and the civilized world against a terrible evil and danger. He told us in few words that he knew what everybody in the world is up against. When the press put a microphone before him, these were his words: "I want him dead or alive. Either one, 1 don't care." He warned the world that it was either on the side of the terrorists or the side of those who cherish freedom and he would judge the nations by their actions: If you ever try to interfere with me or cross my path again, you do so at the peril of your own life. I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as 1 sound. I've seen enough heartache and strife.

 

Who was this Usama Bin Ladin? He was a Saudi Arabian multi-millionaire who wished to drive all Western Civilization out of Islamic countries. The United States had a military presence in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because in 1991 we protected those two sovereign states from Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces. The USA also aided the Afghani people (including Bin Ladin) in fighting the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan in the 80s. For these benevolent acts, Bin Ladin wants to pay us back with mass murder. Try to make things better for someone. Sometimes you just end up making it a thousand times worse. The United States has learned first hand over her short history that lots of things can get in the way when you are trying to do what's right.

 

President Bush joined New York City Mayor Giuliani and New York Governor Pataki visiting what has been titled "Ground Zero." President Bush walked past legions of New York's civil servants. Probably few in those ranks voted for Bush to be their Commander-In-Chief, but like it or not that was his role to play. And play it he did. He climbed atop a NYC fire truck and with one arm around a retired fireman, in a few words through a bull horn told America what we needed to sense so we might rally around "our" president. Feel like a fightin' rooster. Feel better than I ever felt. He promised the country that those who knocked down these buildings would soon be hearing from us and those in attendance roared their approval. The United States had yet to react with military might but it was coming.. .He then addressed both houses of Congress and laid out his plan.

 

The enemy was being harbored by the Taliban regime and its leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan. The Taliban, in return for financial support to institute an Islamic Fundamentalist rule, allowed Usama to set up his base camps where tens of thousands of Islamic zealots trained in brutal warfare: They're throwing knives into the tree. Two big bags of dead man's bones, they got their noses to the grindstone. Living in the Land of Nod. Trusting their fate to the hands of God.

 

The Al-Qaeda organization then sent its "graduates" throughout the world awaiting Bin Ladin's orders. I'm here to create the new imperial empire, I'm gonna do whatever circumstances require. As his thugs spread out, Bin Ladin and his top lieutenants hid in the inhospitable terrain that is Afghanistan. His mode of operation was to let the cat out of the cage all the time that I'm keeping a low profile. President Bush appealed to the Taliban to give up Bin Ladin, but, bound by their religious extremism their response was: Neither one gonna turn and run. They're making a voyage to the sun. His Master's voice is calling me. The Taliban sided with Bin Ladin. They may have underestimated the resolve of President Bush and the American people to go across the world to bring justice for those fallen. Secretary of Defense Rumsfield would daily tell reporters: It's not easy kicking someone out. Gotta wait a while - it can be an unpleasant task. Information soon surfaced on the identities of the terrorist hijackers. It appears that they were in the United States and found communities that welcomed them and educated them. For several of them it was necessary to go to Florida and dodge them Georgia laws or other jurisdictions that might be a hindrance to their diabolical plans. They passed by so silently their activities failed to be noticed by U. S. authorities..

 

The Bush administration began to solicit the help of other nations and warned others to cease all support to terrorists in their countries. I know who I can depend on. I know who to trust. I am watching the roads. I am studying the dust. The Bush Doctrine told all the nations of the world that the civilized world would hold responsible the terrorists and those that harbored them. You can't open up your mind, boys to every conceivable point of view. It was clear that harboring terrorists placed host countries in a precariously dangerous predicament Your presence is obnoxious to me. Several countries including Islamic Pakistan and Yemen worked to rid their streets of AI-Qeda members. I've had too much of your company.

 

The State Department of the U. S. tried to assemble a coalition to fight against worldwide terrorism. Our ambassadors found that some people will offer you their hands and some won't. From Europe and the Arab world we were answered with criticism or contempt. U.S. blood was shed to defend many of the nations that now turned their back during this time of need. To these countries it can be said, last night I knew you, tonight I don't.

 

Four weeks after September 11th, U. S. Forces began the military action Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The U.S. has no desire to occupy Afghanistan but to liberate it from the brutal rule of the Taliban. Our goal is clear: I am gonna spare the defeated - I'm gonna speak to the crowd. I am goin' to teach peace to the conquered. I am gonna tame the proud

 

As the war effort begins Usama and Omar with their bodyguards take to the hills as the United States begins to freeze their assets: They're one day older and a dollar short. They've got a parade permit and a police escort. They're lying low and making hay. They seem determined to go all the way.

The U.S. Forces are shown on TV doing night drops to gather information on the enemy in dangerous weather and terrain: Fog is so thick you can't even spy the land and other times they came ashore in the dead of the night. The caves that Al Qaeda uses will be a threat to the forces for months to come:

Plenty of places to hide things here. If you want to hide 'em bad enough. The battles will be brutal and those willing to give their lives will be endless as their leader Bin Ladin and Omar hide out in fortresses: My captain, he's decorated-he's well schooled and he's skilled. He's not sentimental at all about how many of his pals have been killed. The final captains of 4 airplanes on 9/11 did not even advise their pals that they were doomed on this murderous/suicidal mission, so  quipped their Captain Usama Bin Ladin on a video tape several weeks later.  But now the times have changed, we cried and now it is their time to cry a while as our forces come ashore in the dead of the night.

 

Operation Enduring freedom pounds the Afghan countryside but few Al-Qaeda surrender: I'm not sorry for nothin' I've done. I'm glad I fought - I only wish we'd won. Bin Ladin proves to be...Like some feudal lord. He got more lives than a cat: Omar and Muslim clerics seek to incite their followers to kill the Infidels: I'm preaching the Word of God. I'm putting out your eyes. From an early age, Muslim males are taught to hate and to seek a victory over non Muslims. Well, a childish dream is a deathless need. He'll stab you where you stand. Women in Afghanistan suffer greatly under strict Islamic rule and mistrust and disrespect for them are taught. They are best left in the house unseen because there ain't no limit to the amount of trouble women bring.

 

If the terrorists thought that they could bring America to her knees, they were very mistaken.

Try to bully you - strong arm you - inspire you with fear. It has the opposite effect.The United States of America and her Allies were made stronger. At home, a nation tries to heal and rebuild. In Washington DC, Shanksville, P A, and Ground Zero, NYC, tireless workers labor 24/7 amidst the devastation that once held abundant life before 9/11. When they could express themselves, you may have heard thoughts like this:

 

I'm having a hard time believin' some people were ever alive.

 

These memories I got can strangle a man

 

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay. You can always come back, but you can't come back all the way.

 

My tears keep flowing to the sea

 

You got a way of tearing a world apart. See what you've done.

 

Every moment of existence seems like a dirty trick

 

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime, could never do you justice in reason or rhyme

 

Today has been a sad and lonesome day

 

Setting my dial on the radio I wish my mother was still alive

 

Some of these memories you can learn to live with and some of them you can't

 

I keep listening for footsteps but I ain't ever hearing any

 

Donations to charities that were to direct their receipts to 9/11 were blessed with the generosity of millions. Though there were problems in the administration of the funds it was soon aided by the appointment of a master to facilitate its charter. People soon learned that fortune is waiting to be kind and it is. Americans are faced with new limitations on their free society. The ease in which Americans traveled was hampered with new security guidelines. This did not sit too well with our maverick nature because sometimes somebody wants you to give something up and tears or not it is too much to ask. Bringing all of rational thinking to bear on the situation our reaction could still be that ain't it funny, how the things you have the hardest time parting with are the things you need the least.

 

In 1963, at the genesis of his song writing career, Bob Dylan wrote A Hard Rain 'sA-Gonna Fall. The song is filled with random imagery of a world gone mad or bad. Much like the imagery we envision throughout "Love and Theft." In the last verse of A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall the "father" asks his son what is he gonna do now that he has seen, listened, walked through and possibly dreamt of experiences that his fellow man may not have had. The son replies that he will put it in song and that he will sing it loud so that all men can hear it. This "son" also has his parent's advice oozing out of his ears and even at sixty years of age he is determined not to waste his years. The prophets of the Bible knew that they had a role to play in the midst of tragedy and chaos. They exhorted their contemporaries and the generations that followed to look deeper and learn of Scriptural truths that will guide us through. Has Dylan once again been used by our Creator to bring His very existence into focus? A teaching of Moses from Psalm 90 is quoted with this line in Mississippi: Every step of the way we walk the line. Your days are numbered. So are mine.

 

It has often been suggested that Dylan uses the placement of the last track on a CD to impart a special message. On "Love and Theft" that last track is Sugar Baby. Here are some lyrics that may not speak of 9/11 but of the future brought home by the events of 9/11:

 

You can't turn back, you can't come back. Sometimes we push too far. One day you'll open up your eyes and you'll see where we are.

 

Look up, look up...seek your Maker 'fore Gabriel blows his horn

 

Ronnie Keohane May 2002

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ALSO SEE:

Time Out of Mind with New Eyes

The World Needs IslamaBob

A Lily Among Thorns

Dylan & The Frucht (a book by Ronnie Keohane)