Scene4-International Magazine of Arts and Culture

Part 2: “Tangled Up In Blue”

Patrick Walsh-Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

In August of 1991, my infantry battalion went on a month-long deployment to “the Big Island,” also known as Hawaii, where the Army owns a large swath of volcanic wasteland called the Pohakuloa Training Area, or PTA for short. Though it’s on Hawaii, only a geologist could love this withered expanse of every form of lava ever spewed forth from the earth’s insides. PTA sits about 6,000 feet above sea level. Down in Kona and Hilo they get 70 inches of annual rainfall; PTA gets less than seven: it’s truly a desert.

As Bravo Company’s executive officer, my job was logistics: keep my 150-man unit plied with food, ammunition, and, most importantly, water. To help me in my task, I had a Humvee and a driver, Specialist Wilson. My driver had prepared for the deployment by spray-painting his boombox camouflage and stealthily bolting it beneath the dashboard. An example of the ever-indomitable American G.I. in action, his handiwork looked like a factory-installed component.

I had an old Walkman and had brought a handful of tapes, including Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

I brought the Dylan more out of fidelity to my friend Mike, who’d given me the tape, than anything else. I doubted that I’d listen to it. But very quickly, the long, hot, dusty days of driving to and from base camp screamed for entertainment. Being a seasoned driver, Specialist Wilson, of course, had already seen this need, hence the “Army-issue” sound system he’d installed in our Humvee.

One afternoon, after dropping off provisions for the troops, I popped in Blood on the Tracks. “Tangled Up in Blue” is the first masterpiece off that double-platinum magnum opus. Once again, a profound change of scenery helped induce an epiphany. As the austere terrain with its sparse and spartan vegetation rolled by, I didn’t just hear Dylan singing to me, I heard him singing  for me. The narrator’s hard-knocks odyssey was somehow my own too. I was swept away by the scope of the experiences related, as well as the pure, minstrel-like poetry of its rendering.

I was 24 and just starting down the proverbial road, but somehow part of me admired and even wanted the weather-beaten aspect of the song’s persona, the dogged persistence in the face of world-weariness that Dylan sums up in the lines: “The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew // Tangled up in blue.”

I listened to the song compulsively on my Walkman in order to learn and master all the verses. Driving out to the range a few days later, I belted it out word-for-word, Dylan-deployed inflections and all, much to the astonishment and delight of Specialist Wilson. He must’ve thought I was one far-out officer, but the drives became the day’s best activities.

When “Tangled Up in Blue” got through to me, it was my calling as a bard. It still is.

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Patrick Walsh served four years as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division. His articles and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers both here and abroad.
More at his Website:
He is a columnist and Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.

©2018 Patrick Walsh
©2018 Publication Scene4 Magazine




June 2018

Volume 19 Issue 1

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