Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Bob Dylan performing one of his later classics, Dignity.
Dignity by Bob Dylan
Fat man lookin’ in a blade of steel
Thin man lookin’ at his last meal
Hollow man lookin’ in a cottonfield
Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass
Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin’ through painted glass
Somebody got murdered on New Year’s Eve
Somebody said dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun
Searchin’ high, searchin’ low
Searchin’ everywhere I know
Askin’ the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?
Blind man breakin’ out of a trance
Puts both his hands in the pockets of chance
Hopin’ to find one circumstance
I went to the wedding of Mary Lou
She said, “I don’t want nobody see me talkin’ to you”
Said she could get killed if she told me what she knew
I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve gone deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn’t any difference to me
Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade
House on fire, debts unpaid
Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid
Have you seen dignity?
Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered-up mirrors
Lookin’ into the lost forgotten years
Met Prince Phillip at the home of the blues
Said he’d give me information if his name wasn’t used
He wanted money up front, said he was abused
Footprints runnin’ ’cross the silver sand
Steps goin’ down into tattoo land
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertowns of despair
Got no place to fade, got no coat
I’m on the rollin’ river in a jerkin’ boat
Tryin’ to read a note somebody wrote
Sick man lookin’ for the doctor’s cure
Lookin’ at his hands for the lines that were
And into every masterpiece of literature
Englishman stranded in the blackheart wind
Combin’ his hair back, his future looks thin
Bites the bullet and he looks within
Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams
So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity
Copyright © 1991 by Special Rider Music
Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:
Walking down Route 5 west out of Moline, quarter in his pocket, holes in his shoes, patched up, make due patched until sunnier days, by some cardboard graham cracker package cut-out a while back when he had time, endless time to cut-out the moon if he needed to, just outside of Gary, Indiana. Damn that was weeks ago, and heading west to those sunnier days and getting out of north and Midwest winter were not get closer, damn not any closer. Hell, he had only himself to blame, no, get that negative thought of his head because if the dwelt (dwelled ?) on it he could not push forward and get himself straight, get himself clean in some California wash baptism ocean foam-flecked sea.
Stopping for a moment adjusting that damn two-bit cardboard once again he began to reflect on just how he had gotten here, jesus, he had the time for figuring that out on this lonesome Moline road. A road filled with families, farm families from the look of them, prosperous, farm prosperous just now with farm prices rising (fact known through courtesy of a ride a couple of rides back from some Farmer Brown, at one time up against it to the banks but now flush with that prices rising gloat look), heading to some Jimmy Jack’s Diner for the daily special (meat loaf, pot roast, steak, prime rib, for the really prosperous) and decidedly not interested in picking up any obviously non-Moline, non- Midwestern, hell, maybe for all they know some illegal wetback bracero.
He had that look with his leather-beaten skin now tanned beyond golden day tans and more like some tex-mex broiled sun picking farm product (cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, who knows) and in fact he had spent a few back-breaking bracero-like days stooped over some sting bean field to earn enough dough to move west from stalled Ohio a while back. And then had been bracero short-changed by the farm straw boss for half his pay for
room and board. A laugh, room, a dormitory for twenty snoring, stinking winos or their brethren, food, some slops not fit for the sty, but he hard-up needed the money, needed to get sanity west, and needed not to be billy-clubbed by no straw boss. And so he took the dough, took his ass out of the broiled fields and headed west from Cincinnati. No, he would get no Moline escape that day from the corn-fed sedan and van traffic that he saw pass him by, pass him by with that sullen, permanent look of scorn, the scorn of those just up the ladder from cardboard-packed make due shoes.
Nor would he get, unless he was very lucky get, a worthwhile ride, from the usually friendly cross state (or country) professional truckers, who more times than not, used to like having the company to spill their guts into the wind to. Or explain their latest theory about how the government, the wife, the kids, anybody, was screwing them over, royally, always royally. And, despite his own hard luck just then, self-imposed or not, he always half-nodded in agreement that the room for righteous guys in this wicked old world was getting small, and getting smaller fast.
But see the company lawyers, probably, or maybe the insurance agents, were putting a serious crimp into old blue-eyed good old boy hankering to tell their untold stories to wayward young guys, looking kind of hippie-like or not, ever since the roads got more dangerous for everybody. So unless some local trucker had not heard the news, or was in a fuck-you mood toward his boss, or was so lonesome that he needed some rider to take his mind off the road as he headed across state to some forlorn grain silo he was stuck in Moline for a while. Maybe for a while in the pokey too if he stayed here, solo quarter in his pocket, too long. It had happened more than once, although not in Moline. A couple of times in Connecticut and Arizona but he had been forewarned, and, damn, when he thought about it, up in his home state of Maine, not twenty-five miles from home Olde Saco. Jesus.
Again stopping to readjust that cardboard square holding the dust and debris of the road from boring a bigger hole in his white (kind of white anyway) socks he ready did want to try to think about how he got on this road, this exact Moline road he had not been on since he had hitchhiked in search of the great blue-pink American West night with fair Angelica, back in, what was it 1969, and they had been forced to shack up in some non-descript motel he thought was further up the road because it had rained for something like five days straight. And fair Angelica, thrilled by the road and jail-break from Muncie, Indiana (via a Steubenville, Ohio truck-stop diner) still was enough t of a bedazzled young woman not to see the romance in five day rains.
Maybe that was the start of it, the long road down the slippery-slope of this praying for some relief hunger madness. Not the Angelica part (although that ended with her going back to Muncie after some California time, and a few years later, a return to Hollywood, well, to not stardom but some celebrity. He wondered where she is now out in the American night. And he wonder if she would smile, or cry, if she saw her ex-beau, looking bracero-hungry, out on the road. Cry, cry a million tears, probably, that was the way she was, plain-spoken Mid-west girl what you see is what you get, and what you got was worth getting, although mist-bedazzled non-bracero hungry ex-beau could quite see through the “high purpose” search for the American dream night then.
If that was not the start of it, then, no question, the break with Joyell, and with civilized society (as she, Joyell, put it) definitely had been. When he, looking for some quick change, fast dough, with no heavy lifting, and plenty of time to think about the next search dream, started dealing a little dope (nothing heavy at first, a little weed, grass, mary jane, whatever you call it in your neck of the woods, some peyote buttons, in season,(in search west season, a little speed for the frantic work ahead) to friends, and their friends, and then their friends, and then somebody’s friends, and then to strangers, and their friends.
And of course when he got caught up in laying around waiting for search for the next dream, then you short weight, just a little, because well because they are strangers, and their friends. At first. The some deal goes south and you owe the patron some dough and he won’t take manana for an answer. And so you “borrow” a C-note until next week when the ship comes in, and when it doesn’t borrow a couple of C-notes to cover that original C-note, and expenses. And so on, and so on.
Just then he got tired of thinking about those busted deals, those busted dreams, and the hard fact that in the end he had to hit the road west one dark night, one dark night midnight creep after taking about eighty dollars from Joyell’s pocketbook, and putting some distance between him and her. Some no return distance from the look of it. He started to tear up as he thought about that and did not hear the brakes of a fully-loaded Andersen Grain Company hiss as the truck came to a stop and the big burly driver called out, “Hey, I’m Memphis Slim and I’m heading to Denver and if you don’t’ mind me talking your ear off I could use the company.” He put his rucksack over this shoulder and climbed on board. Yes, he could listen, listen to eternity, to some poor snook talk his ear off heading west.