Sunday, March 19, 2006

Chimes of Freedom

Chimes of Freedom

Chimes of Freedom (2006)

Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
And for each and every underdog soldier in the night
And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

--Bob Dylan, "Chimes of Freedom"

With the third anniversary of the Iraq War sparking protests around the world yesterday, I thought I'd put up something new today. Commuting to work last week, I found myself repeatedly listening to the Byrds play Dylan -- but especially 12-string tinged "Chimes of Freedom" on repeat. Something about the song seemed to tap into contemporary sentiments about the war -- as if Dylan had been reading today's news. This is no surprise, considering what others have said about the song. Consider a Rainy Day Woman like Wikipedia:

"Chimes of Freedom" is a song by Bob Dylan . It has been covered many times by various artists including The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, and Bruce Springsteen. Dylan reportedly based the song on "Chimes of Trinity", a song passed along by Dave Van Ronk from his grandmother.

In Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art, author Mike Marqusee notes that the song marks a transition between Dylan's earlier "protest song" style (a litany of the down-trodden and oppressed, in the second half of each verse) and his later more free-flowing poetic style (the fusion of images of lightning, storm and bells in the first half).

The song has often been used as a template as a near-perfect protest song. Most notably, it formed a strong influence (almost to the point of plagiarism) for Billy Bragg's song "Ideology".

Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting...

Chimes of Freedom (excerpt) by Jim Moran

[Image seen on Expecting Rain]

I discovered The Byrds in high school, with Vietnam washing over the television, while hanging out at the drive-in and soaking up the Technicolor blood in Hammer films. The Byrds' sound, all jangles and harmony, got turntable time-- but it was the lyrics of Dylan through McGuinn that fired my imagination and got me to start keeping my first notebook. I must not have been alone. Here's a comment by Chucky Ross seen on Things Twice:

I think those chords actually shimmered when they floated out of my speakers ("Chimes of Freedom"). I got into Dylan through the Byrds. I just had to have that jangly, twangly guitar sound in my musical diet, and I simply adored those stratospheric harmonies the Byrds so effortlessly featured. But aside from that, it was the lyrics that really captivated me about that song.

I remember when I heard the lyric, “and for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail…” the hair on my arms stood up—and I was just a kid, what the hell did I know about it, but it floored me just the same.

And the way McGuinn spit out the lyric, “and for each and every underdog soldier in the night…” and just before that when he talks about the “refugees, on the unarmed road of flight.” Well, that hit me real hard; for some reason I could feel that anxiety. I had to put down my saxophone, and clarinet -- and request a guitar.

Yes, the lyrics to "Chimes of Freedom" still bite the collective conscience in these days of torture, lies, manipulated intelligence, rendition, gulags, domestic spying, and whatever new administrative Constitutional abuse this week brings. As the war drags on into its fourth year, and BushCo's polls drop into the lower third, Dylan's song should be playing constantly in the elevators of the U.S. Congress. Maybe then a few more of the Dems would finally hear the tolling, back Feingold on censure of Bush, and learn their "strength is not to fight."

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