For the first time in years, Bob Dylan upgraded his Christmas display. I found deeper meaning in every new string of lights.
I have written about Bob Dylan's Christmas lights in some depth before—most notably, on this very website. I am a lifelong fan of Dylan's, but my interest in his seasonal decorating abilities stemmed from the fact that he and I live in the same neighborhood. Well, I live there anyway. He owns a lot of homes and apparently spends most of his time on something even Wikipedia calls "The Never Ending Tour."
But when, a few days ago, I had occasion to drive past his house I could not help but notice, with a certain amount of glee, that this year Mr. Dylan had sprung for some new lights.
Mounted on the highest branches of the huge hedge that protects the privacy of his front yard, Mr. Dylan's brand new lights stood in stark contrast to their weather-worn predecessors, perhaps still trapped deep in the middle of this same hedge where they are resigned to growing ever more faded with the passage of time. The new 2015 "roller coaster of lights" seemed to make a relatively joyous statement, bringing a more circuslike holiday atmosphere to the block. Were they the work of a reimagined "Big Top Bob," a man in the midst of spiritual rebirth?
And so, once again, as they have in years past, the voices in my head began shouting to me: Game on!
An analysis of the first big stretch of lights offers still more proof that Dylan continues to work in meticulous layers. As clearly depicted in the wide shot below, we see that what at first glance might appear to be merely a random seasonal decoration is in fact a painstakingly hung recreation of both the slowing of the GDP and the dramatic dip in nonfarm employment growth in Minnesota, the state in which Mr. Dylan was born. Once again, nothing gets by Bob.
This dark vision becomes even more dense upon closer examination of the U-shaped dip at its center.
Initially, this seemed eerily reminiscent of Bob's famous 2009 Christmas Noose (pictured below). However, a side-by-side comparison between the two shows this year's version to be far more open, and less strangled. Though both share the same overarching mood of despair, this year there is clearly a guarded sense of hope that begins to build steadily as the time line unfolds upward.
On the far left, we see the year begin on a high note with the release of Dylan's 36th studio album, Shadows in the Night, a well-received homage to Frank Sinatra. However, from there we see the lights drop drastically downward, falling into a steep chasm. For a moment we worry: Is he telling us that we have hit the bottom?
But no! Once they hit their lowest point, they rapidly ricochet upward, as the strand on the right climbs and grows brighter until it reaches a celebratory year-end peak: last week's 2015 Grammy nomination!
Yes, this year's lights are the confident work of a seasoned mature artist, so comfortable with his place in the universe that he is willing to take a little time to offer fond lighting-based nods to some of his earliest influences as we see clearly in this subtle but spectacularly well executed tribute to the seasonal temperatures of his birth place of Duluth, Minnesota.
And there's more! Nearby, in another corner of the hedge, we find this playful homage to Albert Grossman, the formidable manager from the earliest days of Dylan's career.
However, nowhere is the sea change in Dylan's reborn ebullience as evident as in the neglected driveway area. Back in 2009, this area stood almost bare, a sad testament to a seasonal sale that begins in July every year at Costco.
The tableau changed in 2010, but despite the addition of five plastic candy canes and a small dimly lit Christmas tree, it retained its melancholy tone.
But now it is 2015, and this year's driveway scene tells a very different story.
There are ten-plus candy canes beside a multi-colored tree trunk, and three different areas of lit shrubbery. Behind them, a small ladder pulls the scene together, smartly uniting the different elements as if part of a set from some classic off-Broadway revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten.
Which brings us to this last and perhaps most intriguing piece of the lighting puzzle: The Big Tilted Z.
My first thought went to Zorro, with whom Dylan probably identifies since both hold a place in our hearts as a folk hero to the common man. But then I realized that, in fact, it must stand for Zimmerman: Bob's original name before he changed it in 1962. Could it signify a holiday merging of the past and the present, as the two sides of a complex artist become united at last?
And what of that last little blip, behind the Z, which appears in the shape of a blowfish? Does it hint at a possible 2016 collaboration with Dylan and whatever's left of Hootie and the Blowfish? Or perhaps a Dylanesque Hootie tribute album, on the heels of 2015's successful tribute to Sinatra?
Only the lights themselves know for sure.
For the boundless wisdom contained in Dylan's Christmas lights in years past, click here.
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