Somewhere on a reel to reel tape I have a copy of Highway 61 Revisited.
I had borrowed the album from a friend. I was in Saigon. I had recorded it on my Sony reel to reel. I had been in Saigon, was in Saigon, and as far as I could tell, was always going to be in Saigon (the Israelis picked my time in the “war effort” to start a war with Egypt and geopolitics, being what it always is, I was pretty sure that I would be trapped in Vietnam for the duration of my life) and I had not, at the point of the commencement of this little story, gotten “used to it”.
In fact I hated everything about America and its “war effort”.
I had not volunteered for Vietnam . However the career military – I was career civilian - uniformly did volunteer. “It’s not much of a war, but it’s the only one we’ve got”. I heard that so many times that I just wanted to puke.
But, not having been a volunteer, I had had some fairly deep feelings about Vietnam.
Here is a quote from a book I once wrote:
“I hadn’t volunteered for Vietnam. If one had any aspirations for an Air Force career, one put in one’s personnel records that one volunteered for Vietnam service as soon as possible. In my case that addition to my records would have occurred at Cannon. I hadn’t thought that I had any career aspirations, although even if I had I wouldn’t have volunteered. Volunteering looked too much like tempting fate. Besides, being in the military had meant that going to Vietnam was inevitable.
Having passed through the gate from civilian life to the military life had changed at some levels my pre-military perspectives. The inevitability of Vietnamese service wasn’t a problem for me; it wasn’t something that I felt burdened with; it wasn’t something that I had any inclination to try to avoid. I just didn’t think tempting fate made any sense.
My father had fought in the final stages of World War Two in Czechoslovakia. And millions of other Americans had also fought in various parts of the world starting in 1941, or before in the case of those who had joined RAF. And the world was different than it would have been if they had not fought, and I really believed that the world was a vastly better place as a result of their fighting than it would have been if they hadn’t fought. I really believed that it was my turn. I would have preferred to have had a world free of the obligation to go fight somewhere – a world where I could have continued singing and telling jokes with Joe and Dave in a youthful attempt at trying to be something that I had dreamed of for years - but that wasn’t the way the world was. It was clearly my turn. And once the wheels had turned in whatever way they were going to turn and I had gotten my orders to go I would go with, fear, yes, but shored by the certainty and the belief that nothing could abrogate the debt I owed to my father and his generation. The thing I had only begun to have the faintest inkling of, as I looked at this sardonic, grinning, paunchy Captain - 250 pounds of man stuffed into a 190 pound pair of khaki 1505s - was that this war might be different. This war might be an option, or, worse, a mistake. This war might have no real purpose. It didn’t seem to have had any real beginning and it might never have any real end. It just might be, had been, was and always would be. In Latin that description would have sounded like a prayer we Catholics called an ejaculation.”
The Captain referenced – I dubbed him Captain Cochon – was an officer who was lurking at a significant choke point of my “processing in” to Vietnam. He was the person who, I thought, was going to tell me the threat to my country reason that I had packed my bags, left my wife, left my children, left my friends, left everything – really – to go join the war effort. What he said was “well. we’ll see if we can’t find something for you to do”.
I never have never un-snapped completely.
But as sometimes happens, I had, in the current issue of my life, done something that had something to do with that boring and sad old past: just recently I bought Highway 61 Revisited on iTunes. And it was a Proustian moment when I played it for the first time.
But it wasn’t until it got to Desolation Row that I remembered, on a level that is hard to describe, the hate that I had felt, and still do feel , for the people who had been in charge of that fiasco we call now the Vietnam War. Of all of Bob Dylan’s songs, for me, at least, Desolation Row says more than I would have thought to been possible to say about a system that is so phony it needs a form of vermin that we know as lobbyists.