Desolation Row

In the 1960s, my father was handsome, lean and dark-haired, like Gregory Peck, my mother used to say.

He was the professor who took student demands at his college to the administration—too old to be a protester himself but young enough to believe in change. He was indeed Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. I took that for granted.

But circa 1969, what I remember most is lying on pillows in front of our record player, Dad beside me, my younger brother with blocks or trucks behind us, and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited ringing forth.

My father shifted the arm of the record player, setting the needle at the beginning of the last track on the second side. “Listen,” he said.

A few crackles and pops, then the first iconic chords of “Desolation Row”—not a Dylan hit, but one of his great tangled narratives, his musical poetry, as my father would say, comparing him to Walt Whitman or Robinson Jeffers or Ogden Nash.

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town

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