“A Holographic Poemsong”: Joy Harjo on Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue”

In one memory I am at Indian school in a Navy peacoat, my long dark hair hiding my face. I have a pen in my hand copying out “Blowin’ in the Wind” longhand on one of those spiral-bound tablets with green lined paper. I copy “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and sing it to myself under the tall cottonwoods on the Indian school campus.

It will be years before I find my voice. I will find it in the soundscape of my generation. We listened to the changing times on the radio, carried transistor radios and listened under the blankets at night to the voices of history and to the singers of love and heartbreak. We played music, danced under light shows, stars, to living music whose resonant sound patterns still cling to the trees, to memory, as we tangled up in blue.

We were bent by history, defined by it, even destroyed by it, but like others of my generation, beset by violence and tragedy, we were inspired by Dylan and other singers and players who lifted our spirits, who inspired us to pay attention and keep going through the story that we are making, all of us. Dylan reminded us in his poemsongs that every one of us has a story. “Tangled Up in Blue” could essentially be a holographic poemsong, each verse a fractal of an immense story, a mirror, a memory we left behind in a diner booth.

The sky is blue as I listen to “Tangled Up in Blue” in downtown Tulsa, next door to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. I turn up the music. My girlhood is just miles up the road. Blood tales run through our bones, like these streets made of the unspeakable.

In this moment in history, we are witness to unprecedented and illegal moves to destroy democracy, to erase equality and undermine human rights based on false premises of sexism, racism, culturalism for greed. In these tangled times, we need the words of the poets, the singers, the prophets to move in the direction of vision and truth, away from repression and repressive acts to that undermine the collective human spirit, away from the false stories that support the destruction of earth, the undermining of female power which in a healthy society stands hand in hand with male power.

Now the radio I am listening to is digital. I miss the crackle of signal, the scratch of needle on vinyl, but the need for what we find in the music is the same. I bring my restless spirit, disturbed by the blood on the tracks of history, to the altar of music. Love threads through every sung vowel of becoming.

Excerpted from BOB DYLAN: MIXING UP THE MEDICINE, written and edited by Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel, published by Callaway Arts & Entertainment

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