I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
Nearly 35 years after he first sang those words, Bob Dylan finds himself tormented by those two conflicting emotions. Indeed, on Time Out Of Mind, Dylan resembles the psychotic preacher played by Robert Mitchum in the movie The Night Of The Hunter, with the word “love” tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and the word “hate” on the other.
Daniel Lanois, back in the production seat for the first time since 1989’s Oh Mercy, atmospherically frames each song as a chapter to a bleak, cinematic story. The album begins with Dylan’s voice cutting through Augie Meyers’ foreboding Farfisa organ pulsing like the clock of doom, singing “I’m walkin’…through streets that are dead.” In those few seconds, the claustrophobic tone of the album is irreversibly set in motion. The plot thickens on “Dirt Road Blues” and “Standing In The Doorway”, in which it becomes clear the singer has grown estranged from his lover. “I don’t know if I saw you, I’d kiss you or kill you,” he reveals in the latter tune.
A point of reckoning comes a couple songs later in “Trying To Get To Heaven”, as Dylan acknowledges the pearly gates are not an open-door policy: Conditions must be met in order to enter, and he’s struggling to keep sadness from turning into a bitterness that would bring on spiritual death. In 1965, Dylan was a symbol of strength and hipness as he arrogantly railed against everybody and everything in “Like A Rolling Stone”; his voice cut to the bone as he mocked and taunted those who were beginning to reap what they had sewn, gleefully spitting out the immortal words, “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.” Now, it’s a drastically different story: In an achingly world-weary voice, he sings, “When you think that you’ve lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more.”
He succumbs to the darkness on “Not Dark Yet”, so far gone he can no longer recall the light: “Every nerve in my body is naked and numb/I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from.” Indeed, the heart of Time Out Of Mind is the heart of darkness itself. Once faith is rejected, bitterness turns to hate, and on “Cold Irons Bound”, Dylan is totally driven by that destructive force. “One look at you and I’m out of control/Like the universe has swallowed me whole,” he sings as the band plays a groove that recalls the Stones’ “Midnight Rambler”, and it’s all he can do to restrain himself from flying into a rage.
Thankfully, this dark, vindictive spell is broken on the final three songs. “When evening shatters and the stars appear/And there’s no one there to dry your tears/I could hold you for a million years,” Dylan confesses on “Make You Feel My Love”. On the next song, “Can’t Wait”, he sounds almost pathetic, his voice cracking as he sings, “I thought somehow I’d be spared this fate.” A broken heart gravitates towards bitterness when love is rejected, because it temporarily dulls the pain. If allowed to linger, bitterness turns to hate. Throughout Time Out Of Mind, Dylan gives us an up-close look of what can happen when the line between love and hate begins to blur, warning that the line is thinner than we would care to acknowledge.
Finally, in the epic, 16-minute finale “Highlands”, the light of redemption begins to shine in. Dylan realizes he has totally bottomed out, that there is nowhere else to turn but to a higher place. He’s still an emotional wreck, but now he’s singing of “a wind that whispers,” when earlier “The wind of Chicago ripped me to shreds.” He’s finally found shelter from the storm; he accepts his fate, and concludes, “He’s not there yet but he’s there in his mind, and that’s good enough for now.”