Late Monday afternoon, a couple minutes into waiting for the Lynx bus in southeast Orlando, I slapped on Shot of Love, eager to get this gospel era behind me. Halfway through the lead, title track, a man appeared from somewhere between the ABC Liquor store and Dollar General. He had slicked-back hair and wore an ironed shirt tucked into slacks; the few trifold fliers he offered me flapped in a cool wind blowing toward a storm brewing west. “I need a shot / of / love” Dylan crowed in my ears. The man’s fliers clearly preached The Word. I was getting it from both sides. I waved the man off and watched him saunter away down the sidewalk.
The wind swirled as the title track rumbled to its conclusion and “Heart of Mine,” a calypso-style tune fit for the Islands, beat through. “Heart of mine go back home / You got no reason to wander, no reason to roam.” This song began to shake my bones; I could smell the saltwater and coconuts on the Central Florida air. Before long, the third track, a catchy rock tune, “Property of Jesus” called up another visitor, a young bald guy in baggy jeans and a wife beater, tattoos along his tan scrawny arms. He asked me how often the bus came.
I took out my right ear bud. “Every thirty minutes,” I said, and, checking the time, “It’s late.”
I saw his front two teeth were missing when he smiled, threw out his arms, and said, “It’s always late. I’ll make it to the next stop before it even gets here.” He took off in the opposite direction from the guy with the pamphlets while I peered behind me in case of more visitors.
The bus came and I stepped on, paid my two dollars, and asked for a transfer ticket. “You’re not handsome enough,” the driver, a tall bearded man, laughed and looked me up and down. “You Puerto Rican?”
The man standing just behind the white safety line was cracking up. I had my headphones in my pocket.
“I’m not,” I said and frowned. Oh, they laughed, and I cracked a smirk as I snatched the transfer ticket he printed me before I headed down the aisle. The tattooed gentleman never got on, though four or five other folks rode along. At my seat Dylan sang “Lenny Bruce,” an elegy to the line-crossing comedian who’d died of an overdose 15 years before the albums 1981 release. “Lenny Bruce is dead,” the song repeats, and “Lenny Bruce is gone.” But, Dylan reminds us, Bruce “Never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies’ heads / He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds.” So Bruce has gone to heaven, to “another shore.” In rather blunt terms, this song represents Dylan’s theology in action–we’re all spirits in a world of shadows, all precious beings fit for salvation. That notion trumps all so-called earthly authority, from the pulpit to the politician’s office to the police headquarters.
The bus bumbled toward the downtown station, and I fell deeper into this album’s rhythm. “Watered-Down Love” hinges on an interesting conceit concerning pure love (assumedly Jesus’s) versus our tendency to water that love down. “Dead Man, Dead Man” features a rockin’ chorus driven by thick drums, propulsive guitars, and wailing vocals—a combination fresh in the Dylan catalogue. Dylan’s voice works well in the rock setting, evidenced again in “Trouble.” In spite of myself, I started to like these tracks.
I stepped off the bus at the downtown terminal—an outdoor lot under a high canopy topped with wavy iron bars. It was sprinkling beyond the broad shed and, while I waited for the 125 bus, a man strolled through in a black tuxedo. He wore dark sunglasses though the raincloud had already darkened the twilight, and he carried under his arm a five-octave keyboard. “In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand,” Dylan sang as I covertly studied the fellow, “In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.” In that moment, I found my peace with the bus and its denizens; I appreciated Dylan’s efforts in this more secular, forward-leaning album.
I get it. I like it. It’s not bad.