I’m halfway through Bob Dylan’s autobiographical Chronicles, a mesmerizing look at the musician’s life as told in three distinct points in his career. I'm currently digesting the second section, New Morning, set in 1970 against a contextual backdrop of social and political turmoil.
As Dylan writes of the times: “If you saw the news, you’d think that the whole nation was on fire. It seemed like every day there was a new riot in another city, everything on the edge of danger and change—the jungles of America being cleared away. Things that had used to be in traditional black and white were now exploding in full, sunny color.”
The section is a fascinating examination of a man struggling to find a sense of inner peace in the midst of his celebrity. In Dylan’s case, it was more than that. He was charged with being the voice of the people, a so-called messiah for his generation. A family man and father of three, Dylan had turned inwards after marrying his sweetheart Sara Lownds, desperately trying to shield his family from the carnage of the times.
“Truth was I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on.”
The albums recorded during these tumultuous years were an attempt to re-align his sense of self in the hullabaloo of the counter-culture revolution. “America was wrapped up in a blanket of rage. Students at universities were wrecking parked cars, smashing windows. The war in Vietnam was sending the country into a deep depression. The cities were in flames, the bludgeons were coming down."
Nashville Skyline was just one of these albums. Recorded and published in 1969, the album is a beautiful respite from the times and one of my all-time favourites. Laced with gentle, country-western ballads, it has a timeless quality that urges the listener to pick their feet up, take a load off and let the day’s pressures float away.
The record was warmly received with the album (Dylan’s ninth) being one of his best-selling to date. Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone magazine wrote; "Nashville Skyline achieves the artistically impossible: a deep, humane, and interesting statement about being happy. It could well be... his best album.”
In our similarly politically polarized times, it's a welcome reminder that we can always find our own inner peace by looking inward. No one can take that away from us.