Last night I coconvened a celebration of Bob Dylan at seventy. Nine Dylanologists each chose one song, prepared a short, informal talk about that song, and arrange some sort of presentation of this music (some performed arrangements themselves, others chose an audio excerpt). I spoke about “A Series of Dreams,” a song of the late 1980s, and then played the opening three minutes of the final episode of David Milch’s John from Cincinnati. Here is the text of my talk:
I’m mostly turned off by the Christian Bob Dylan, and so you’ll wonder why I chose what is almost certainly meant to be a song expressing an abstract faith. And I’ll need a television series to help me explain this.
My favorite single song is “Love Minus Zero, No Limit” and as for a favorite album — on some days Blood on the Tracks and on others, Blonde on Blonde. And I like much of his work of the 1990s. So I’m a sixties, seventies, and nineties guy. The 1980s? Dylan’s worst decade, to my lights, although Infidels has earned my respect and “Blind Willie McTell” is remarkable — and I treasured Bob’s four sung lines in “We Are the World” of 1985.
The finest and most compelling song of the 1980s is “Series of Dreams.” Most agree that it’s the strongest song in the Oh Mercy group and yet, strangely, it was omitted from that album. I should note that “Dignity” was omitted from the same album, and so perhaps there’s no strangeness here at all — just bad decisions. “Series of Dreams” came to most of us through Bootleg Series 1–3 and to a few intrepid TV watchers by its use as the song leading into the final episode of David Milch’s eccentric, one-season-only HBO series John from Cincinnati, about which more in a moment.