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Saturday, January 17, 2009

One last deal gone down

The song "Changing of the Guards" has been swirling around in my head for the last few days. It opens up the album "Street Legal" which was almost universally panned by critics for sounding like Vegas. With only a couple of listens, it's easy to tell why with it's backup singers & horn section. It's a big sound, & there are a lot of big issues to deal with. Sometimes, though, if you try to tackle too much in a song, it sinks with it's own weight & that is most certainly true of several songs on this album.

Changing of the Guards, though, isn't one of them. I love a song that I can't figure out & I've never been able to figure out this one, & I've tried. Every listen gives a different explication. Give it a try, if you must.

Changing Of The Guards

Sixteen years,
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings 'neath the falling leaves.

Fortune calls.
I stepped forth from the shadows, to the marketplace,
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, one last deal gone down.
She's smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born,
On midsummer's eve, near the tower.

The cold-blooded moon.
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication.
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid.

They shaved her head.
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo.
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale.
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn't help but follow,
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil.

I stumbled to my feet.
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending 'neath a heart-shaped tattoo.
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you.

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected,
The endless road and the wailing of chimes,
The empty rooms where her memory is protected,
Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times.

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks.
She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking.
He's pulling her down and she's clutching on to his long golden locks.

Gentlemen, he said,
I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either get ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

Peace will come
With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall
And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords.

Copyright ©1978 Special Rider Music

Street Legal was released in 1978, a year later the album Slow Train Coming would be released, an album that announces to the world that the singer has been saved. I think there are many examples on Street Legal that point towards the singer's conversion, especially the last two verses, which sound a bit like Revelations. Could the Changing of the Guards be the end times? If so, what's this business about Jupiter & Apollo. If we are speaking of palm reading, here, she (whoever she is) is the middle finger. Maybe she has personality issues. When the Jupiter & Apollo verse is sung, it sounds to me like "I couldn't help Apollo" but the lyrics read differently.

Another theory could be that the song is autobiographical, yet shrouded in metaphor. 16 years is the time between the singer's first album (fortune calls) & the time the song is being recorded.

The fascinating & frustrating part of Dylan's music is that there are millions of meanings that could be derived from most of his songs. They could be about any number of things or nothing at all, but the lyrics are so brilliant. He uses language like a magician, but like a magician, you wonder what the trick is behind the illusion. How could there ever be a line like "the angels voices whisper to the souls of previous times" that didn't mean anything?

Five Favorite Songs of the Day

Seven Year Ache-Roseanne Cash

Gone Till November-Wyclef Jean

Less Than Zero-Elvis Costello, My Aim is True

Love Henry-Bob Dylan, World Gone Wrong

Here at the Right Time-Josh Ritter

Happy Saturday, friends...



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Grand Haven, Michigan
the sun shines on a dog's ass every now & then...