While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had
— Bob Dylan, “Bob Dylan’s Dream”
Sometimes life does imitate art, and almost everyone can relate to Dylan’s nostalgic ballad “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” Despite being quite young when he wrote the song — he was only 22 years old — Dylan reflects on the human experience of looking back on life and remembering the friends he left behind.
Cynics can fault Dylan for romanticizing the past in the song, viewing it through rose-colored lenses, but I hear this ballad as a sincere lament when Dylan remembers the close friends he lost touch with once he became famous. In the song, Dylan recalls a small room where he huddled with friends around an old wooden stove, a place where they tried out the songs they were writing, laughed and joked as they tried to keep warm.
He admits that life for his group of friends was simpler then, a time when it was “easy to tell wrong from right.” Okay, Dylan seems to say, we were a bit naïve, but my friends and I had something priceless that we lost as we went our separate ways. Why else would he end the song this way?
“I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.”
Last week, I had a brief experience of my life imitating Dylan’s art. As was true for Dylan, I also awoke from a nap and had one of those experiences of returning to the past. It was one of those warm, almost summer-like afternoons that we had recently, and I awoke to see the sun outside and feeling the warmth of the day.
As my mind slowly cleared, I felt the joy again of being a teenager and getting ready for a softball game. I played baseball in high school, but none of that matched the fun I had playing on my church softball team. By church-league standards, we were pretty good, usually coming in second in the league and one year even winning the championship.
As I lay there, remembering those days from 60 years ago, I didn’t recall one particular game or any one moment of a game. Rather, what I remembered so vividly was Nick on the mound, Jimmy behind the plate catching, Greg on third base, my brother, Paul, at shortstop, John at second, me at first, Carl in left field, Tom in center, and Bob in right. I could see them all as they were back then.
When I was in college, my parents moved away, and I with them. Yes, I played softball again, even into my 40s, but I never played softball with those friends again. And from what I’ve heard over the years, half of that team has passed away.
Maybe because of that, I remember my buddies as we were on those summer evenings when life was simple, reduced for all of us to seven innings of hard-fought church league softball.
And like Dylan, I’d give $10,000 at the drop of a hat if my friends and I could be together for one more game on our own field of dreams.
David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected]