A writer of abstract, abstruse poetry might say this song means whatever it means to the listener at the time they are listening to it. After all, Dylan's stoned handling of the lyrics is only half-intelligible at best and Garcias accompanying backup on the chorus sounds like he doesn't know whether he should be inhaling or exhaling as he sings--like, am I singing or am I toking right now; actually, where the fuck am I?). I would agree that much of the music I like to listen to means whatever it means to the listener at the time they are listening to it. I used to think Kurt Cobain was the best song writer that ever lived simply because I had no clue what some of his songs were about. For instance, the opening lines to "Serve the Servants" made absolutely no sense to me, so I figured he most be talking about some way over my head shit--and in 1993, when In Utero was released, just about everything was way over my seventeen year-old head. Just consider the first six lines from "Serve the Servants":
Teenage angst has paidoff well/ now I'm bored and old/ Self appointed judge's judge/ mother baby song/ if she floats than she is not/ a witch like we thought...
You get the picture. Music is very abstract: it makes complete sense while it makes no sense at all. It swirls around us and makes our senses come alive and then quickly evaporates and goes back to the realm is came from. It is our respite from work, commutes, sleep, play and everything else. Music is meditation, it is release, and to some, it is our Muse.
This summer for me so far has been slow. I only started working this week and I regret to say that I have not been reading much despite the fact that there are a number of juicy books laying around my apartment that are on my want-to-read list. For the longest time I have wanted to get lost in one after another of these books, but with a full-time college course load last Spring--and part-time school and full-time work in the Fall of 2005--they have just been sitting around my apartment in stacks next to my bed or on one of my two bookshelves collecting dust and taunting me day after day and night after night. While I have been taking an Italian class for the last four weeks and swimming almost a mile every day it would be a lie to say that these actions are responsible for my not having had time to enjoy a good book or two. All I have managed to read this summer is James Frey's My Friend Leonard.
So what does any of this have to do with the song "Slow Train?" Nothing actually. Now that things are finally starting to pick up for me the song "Slow Train" has been playing in my head non-stop like a CD track stuck on repeat. And remembering this song--I'll admit that I haven't listened to this song in probably over a year--made me consider what music means in general. This song is more than just a song to me. It is a memory. I bought the Dylan and the Dead album in the summer of 1992 when I was 15. My brother and I spent afternoons and evenings listening to it and reaped a pile of memories, the kind of memories that get embedded in your mind and soul and which you take with you into the next life. I listened to it alone in my room at night with the lights out and dreamed wide awake. It became the soundtrack of my life for that summer. Not just "Slow Train" but every single track on that album held some type of importance for me: "I Want You" became the anthem for the girl I had a crush on; "All Along the Watchtower" filled my mind with magical thoughts while "Gotta Serve Somebody" accompanied my incipient awareness that our sheltered youths don't last forever, that we will someday--maybe today--have to take on responsibility.
"Slow Train" stood out among the rest of the songs because it didn't sing about a concept like love or responsibity but because it spoke to me personally. The slow train in the song was me. My life was about to explode into full bloom, and perhaps the analogy of a train chugging along the tracks appealed to me. It could be far off or it could be right around the corner--but no matter what, it was coming and there was no stopping it. Even if a train is slow it eventually arrives. Sometimes it has to climb hills, sometimes it coasts down declivities. But it always makes it. Before me stood driving and dating and graduation and college and life and happiness and sadness and everything inbetween. But I was still 15. It was all coming but it was coming like a slow train. Whenever I think of unfullfilled expectations or missed opportunities I think of the song "Slow Train." It reminds me that whatever crap I have endured or whatever events I might have missed, there are still good times down the road.
The timing of this song coming back to me now is in no way coincidental. I have been flopping around a lot lately and the brain burn is starting to kick in. As I write this I find it hard to cull my lexicon for words that seem to fit. All my TV watching and Gameboy playing and sleeping have left me with a great big hole that feels like writer's block, only it isn't. I have let things slip since school let out and now I am getting rusty. Things have been slow but they are now just starting to pick up again. I can hear the whistles off in the nearby distance. There is a slow train coming. I know its mine.
Now, a poem:
He was a slow train
his pistons pounded
like a brain
and the sound
of the crescendo
was like rivets
of steel rain
hitting the ground.