My second-worst summer job in college was a waiting gig. It was at a chain restaurant that was a Denny’s in all but name and branded color scheme, an all-night diner that was only a step or two up from being fast food. I was 19 and more or less consistently miserable as a person, but especially as waiter.
This was also the first summer I had a car, a beat-up Nissan Sentra whose most important aspects from my perspective were a) it was a working automobile and b) it had a CD player. I was told that I would make wads of cash from people who were kicked out of the bars at 2 am, so I asked for overnights, and when I got off work at 5 in the morning, instead of going home to sleep, I’d take an hour to drive around the woody periphery of St. Paul following a few favorite routes, listening to the Best of U2 1980-1990 on repeat.
You get glimpses of why art is magic once in a while. This week, I was lucky enough for it to happen twice for me. One of those times was for Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Listening to the song, it’s easy to focus on what the singer wants from the titular Tambourine Man: “Take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind,” the singer asks. With a little imagination, it’s easy to read the song as a simple request for deliverance via the art of song.
By the way, when I talk about songs, I like to refer to the narrative voice of the song as “the singer,” because “narrator” sounds wrong for the medium, but let’s not confuse “singer” in this discussion with Bob Dylan himself. Anyway, the “singer” here makes it sound as the the Tambourine Man can transport him to a place of grace and joy, it’s fair to say, and I don’t know that there’s much to say about this aspect of the lyrics other than than there’s some beautiful phrasing.