Bob Dylanís Secret
an essay by Steve Nelson


Well Bob you caused quite a stir with that Victoriaís Secret adóand Iíve got to tell you that while most people, even the self-proclaimed hardcore Dylan fans, cried sellout, I understood completely; not only why you did it but how it all fits together, you and Victoriaís Secret, your song and that girl. Iíve been listening to your stuff for a while, but itís different since Iíve seen that ad, since Iíve seen the flash of your sour puss as you gaze upon that dreamboat in Venice, well, it all makes sense to me now, at least I understand what youíre getting at, and Iím not sure everyone else does, which is why Iím writing you, to lend my support, to let you know that I get it, and maybe to give you something to think about too.

Youíve always had the reputation of an ambivalent sort, mumbler, back to the audience, that sort of thing, but obviously youíve had plenty to say, and wanted others to hear it tooóif you didnít care you wouldnít be singing, but you are, and while the Victoriaís Secret ad may seem like a desperate grasp to some, I see that itís a stroke of genius, your genius, which I could never fully appreciate until I heard your voice as I looked into the eyes of that temptress and felt like crying, and thatís the point youíre trying to make, right, that thatís what life is all aboutódesire, pain, suffering. 

ďAll life is suffering,Ē thatís what the Buddhists say, thatís what the original Buddha discovered that day long ago as he sat under that tree and tried to make sense of his life, all his pleasures, then his sacrifices. He had nearly starved to death when he figured it out finally, and he figured out more than that of course, but that was the first truth and you really canít move on to the others if you donít get that one first and Iíve been thinking about this for years, and have had an idea what he meant, but I never really felt it until I saw you in that Victoriaís Secret ad and felt finally that desire does not lead to frustration, but rather is frustration, because we know, we know, that our desires can never really be satisfied.

So it seems youíre spreading the word and maybe that makes you a Bodhisattva, huh? Has anyone ever called you Bodhisattva Bob? Maybe not. I read in a book once that youíd ďfoundĒ God, which as far as I know isnít the Buddhist way, but canít you see how it all fits together, you and Victoriaís Secret and the Buddhaónow thatís a crazy love triangle, huh, and itís all about time, isnít it?  Time is the four letter word and in a Victoriaís Secret ad, especially a television ad, time is key, because the fleeting glimpse is all you get. As soon as you begin to soak something in, a juicy leg, a delicious breast, itís gone, replaced with another image, the blue eyes, the smoldering lips, which again lasts just long enough for you to think youíre about to get a good look before it too disappears. You want it to come back, you want a better look, but you canít have it because time is going, because time never stops. Thatís what youíre getting at, right? That Life = Desire and Life = Suffering because in life the fleeting glimpse, the passing glance, is all one can ever get, and I can see now that youíve been singing about this all along, but I never quite got it until now, which I guess means Iím a step or so behind you Bob, but thatís not a bad thing, a step behind you is not such a bad place to be. 

Now of course I donít mean to say that your songs are about eyeballing supermodels. Theyíre about the human condition, right, the fact that life is temporary, that in life weíve got ourselves and other people and everything else is just a means to better understand or appreciate one or the other. My favorite songs of yours are the ones about love and I like the way they mix that bursting feeling of falling in love with the somber acknowledgement that it canít last, that is to say that even if the love affair lasts, the buoyant feelings of the onset donít. Most other peopleís songs are about one thing or the other, are either celebrations or laments, but you somehow capture the glee and the gloom at the same time, because thatís how we truly experience life, if weíre able to open ourselves to our feelings, we get the birth and death, as it were, all at once, and maybe yours are the only real love songs ever written, though I think I may be overstepping myself a bit by saying that, I havenít listened to everyoneís love songs and donít want to, but I say that because the achy throb that runs through me while listening to your songs is the same I have when Iím trying to bring a prancing Victoriaís Secret model into focus. Thereís desire of course, longing, and simultaneously, and thatís the key, simultaneously, thereís melancholia, borne out of the the admission that the dream can never be realized. And the dream is not just a lusty one, not just want of the girl, though others are obviously confused on this point. Really the dream is that of stopping time, and the downheartedness I feel after seeing a Victoriaís Secret ad is the same I get when listening to your songs like ďDonít Think Twice Itís All RightĒ or ďTo RamonaĒ or ďI Want YouĒ and I almost hate to start listing songs because Iím sure to leave some out, to make some mistakes, but like in ďLovesick,Ē the song in the ad, the begrudging admission you make is that nothing can last. I think thatís what we want most out of lifeósomething to last forever. Instead we learn that all we get are moments, a second, an hour, a day, a lifetime. These are all just moments. The moment is all we have, but the moment is not enough, unless itís too much, of course, which it is at times.

I hope Iím not confusing you Bob. And before I go on I should say that Victoriaís Secret has always done something for me, even back before they hit the TV, when they were just catalogs that came in the mail. What delightful surprises amidst the bills and credit card applications, and that Stephanie Seymour was always my favorite, because she was the sultriest one, the most divine, the most diabolical, and I see that sheís acting nowóshe was in that Pollock movie with Ed Harris, she played, I donít know, ďthe beautiful woman,Ē which I suppose is the kind of work sheíll get. Did you see that movie, Bob? Do you go to the movies? I know that Elvis used to rent out movie theaters. Youíre not quite Elvis, but you are Bob Dylan, which is still something, and I canít imagine that you wouldnít go to movies, I suppose you do, but famous people are so mysterious. I wonder if you even know who Stephanie Seymour is. I think she used to be married to some rock stud. I donít know if theyíre still together though I doubt itóyou know how relationships seem to fall apart nowadays. But if you donít know who she is you should take a look some time. Sheíll bring you to tears, if you know what I mean, and of course you do, because what Iím trying to do is take what youíve told me and say it back to you, right? Is that what Iím trying to do? I guess Iím not so sure. 

Another thing before I move on is about that biography of yours I read a few years ago. Iím sad to report it didnít tell me much. The most interesting thing was that on your way to record Desire you picked up that fiddle player on the side of the road. Is that true? I canít imagine that album without that, and I think thatís my favorite album of yours, though I know itís wrong to pick favorites, as it discounts everything else, and is small-minded, and here Iíve just done it twice, but I like to listen to that album over and over, some of those songs seem to have no middle and end, they just are, theyíre so natural. ďSarahĒ of course just kills me, and I love ďThe Hurricane.Ē The only problem is that when I listen to that album I canít fall to sleep because the songs keep going on and on in my head. I think I read somewhere that some guy killed his mom because she was hassling him to turn off his stereo on which he was playing Desire over and over and over. What is it about that one? Maybe itís circular, huh, like the Buddhist cycle of life and death. Well, itís literally a circle too, but thatís not important. Facts rarely are.

But about that biography, everything was pretty superficial, which is the problem with most biographies, donít you think? I mean, if I ever got famous and someone wrote a biography about me, theyíd have to guess at most everything and probably get it all wrong, the important stuff, that is, because Iím a stealthy sort and I think youíre the same way. I mean, who knows whatís really going on inside another person? I say no one, though those are the interesting things, and I suppose thatís the other problem with lifeóbesides the fact that it goes too fast and ends in death, we can never really know another person. Weíre isolated, alone. These are the two things we want most out of life but we can never have them. (I hope this isnít bringing you down Bob. For example, if you were having a good day and then began reading this and now feel like crap, I do apologize.)

I suppose now I should bring up sex, because to say this is not about sex would be wrong, right? Well, Iíll admit, as you surely know, that thereís no greater joy than being wrapped up with a beautiful woman. Sure, there are other kinds of peace and satisfaction, other kinds of gladness, but for joy, pure joy, thatís it, thatís tops, the thing we do that empties our minds, that makes time disappear, and thatís no secret, or at least it shouldnít be, and I guess what Iíve always liked about the Victoriaís Secret girls is that they seem to promise this time-stopping joy, because when you soak in the gaze of one of these girls for a long moment, well, you know how everything else just goes away.

Depicting them as angels is another stroke of genius, not yours this time, but somebodyís, and arenít all strokes of genius so obvious after the fact, donít they all make perfect sense, and this one too relates to time and life and death and that other place, heaven, is it? That imaginary realm beyond time. When a beautiful woman opens herself to you youíre in heaven, right? Thatís what I think. And giving the girls their angel wings not only acknowledges this, but the sacredness of the sex act as well. I donít know how youíve been operating over the years Bob, but Iíve always been an all-or-nothing guy, that is, I want sex with love, but not either alone, not just love, not just sex. Iíd rather be alone than have only one of the two though Iím beginning to realize that an all-or-nothing guy usually ends up with nothing. Sometimes he may think heís got it all, but then when it all comes clean heís got nothing, and that nothingís a lot worse when you think you may have had it all. Maybe nobody can have it all, but thatís what Iíve always wanted; I guess Iím simple that way. But surely you know that simplicity leads to complexity, that simplicity is just denial of complexity, right? Anyway, I know when I find myself caught in the eyes of a Victoriaís Secret model it nearly suffocates me and Iím not sure what Iím feelingólust, love, fear, pain, and it sure seems that when youíre singing in that commercial youíre feeling the same thingsólovesick, sexhungry, captivated, and contemptuous all at onceóand youíre ďsick of itĒ because you canít stop the feelings, you know youíre at their mercy.

Youíre a soldier of love, Bob, and we both know that all soldiers get wounded eventually. And we know that itís not really about sex at all, that sex is only a means to an end, a pathway, that the coalescence of bodies is simply the closest thing we have to stopping everything and getting a real glimpse of another person. Thatís why itís a sacred transaction, why the girls are angels.  Theyíre otherworldly, of course, not coming literally through our television sets into our living rooms but more than that; in situations like this, one is brought face to face with the truth that any satisfaction a person can have is fleeting, temporary, doomed. This is what youíre trying to tell us, right Bob, this is the sad reality of life, that nothing can last, because time canít be stopped, that the entirety of our existences are mere flashes, getting every moment ridiculously smaller and smaller. From what I understand the Buddhists would say that putting this into perspective is exhilarating, thatís what the Eightfold Path is about, dealing with this, and maybe someday weíll get to that state, huh? Where every moment is an infinity unto itself and everything is good and fine. Of course, wanting to get there stands in the way of getting there, thatís a hurdle for you, but Iím not getting tripped up on that right now because the way Iím feeling I donít see how that state can really exist. I mean, how can you tell yourself thereís a state of mind where ďnothing mattersĒ and ďeverythingís perfectĒ when every time you see a beautiful woman prancing in her underwear you begin to ache?

And we feel that ache other times too, with other people, but itís strongest when thereís lust swirled up with it, which should be no surprise. Matters of the flesh are of paramount importance to us because we are made of flesh, 100%. Thereís something more to us, of course, but thereís nothing else, so it makes sense that we do things for our bodiesósex, drugs, vitamins, exercise.  If we can get our flesh right, we can get in touch with that something more, maybe, even if for just an instant. Thatís heaven if you ask me. Heaven exists only on earth, only when we forget the fact that weíre going to die. Life teaches us that weíre going to die. When we learn that, we want things, like love, like heaven. And these things that we want most of all really donít exist, are mere flights of our imaginationówhile the one thing we donít want, death, is the only certainty. If we didnít know we were going to die, if we didnít care, we could live happily. We wouldnít need love, we wouldnít dream of heaven. But weíre too smart for that. Or too scared. Love is fear of death in a way. Itís more than that, but we want it because itís something we think will last. Thatís what we want most in life, something to last. When we realize that canít happen, we ache, and at the bottom of the ache is our loneliness, our admission of absolute isolation in time and space, our acknowledgement that the world is so big and weíre so small, that thereís so much weíll never see, never know, never say, because time is passing, because time wonít stop, and we are powerless to do anything about it. Thatís why all life is suffering, right?

Sometimes I think itís simply a matter of not caring anymore, but I know thatís not non-attachment, but surrender, denial, that thatís not living, and life, hard as it may be, is all weíve got. So Bob I guess Iím writing this because Victoriaís Secret ads have always made me sad, but this one that youíre in doesnít, it doesnít leave me feeling quite as gloomy anyway because your lovesick scowl tells me that Iím not quite alone, that your anguish is the same as mine, and now when I hear you sing I know youíre saying that lifeís impossible, that weíre mortal, destined to lose everything, and suffer in the meantime. Iíve felt this under my skin for a long time but now that Iíve tried to spell it out I feel a little better about things. Itís like when thereís a stink in a room and you donít know where itís coming from, youíre uneasy. When you discover the source, though it still smells the same, itís not as bad anymore, because you can deal with it. So I guess this is to thank you for helping me deal with this. I feel a little better about things now and next time I see a Victoriaís Secret ad and canít look away at least Iíll understand why I ache like I doóbecause Iím alive, right, because Iím feeling the ache of life. Itís no great feeling, but better than death anyway. Because death is darkness. Because when you die, youíre gone. And even though life is doomed, we can still forget about that once in a while, we can wrap ourselves up with angels and forget about it, right? Is this what youíve been trying to tell me Bob? Well, this is what Iím getting.


©2005 Steve Nelson

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