"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" provides soundtrack to enlightenment -- and being fired

Categories: Song of the Day

We all have it -- that one song that stopped us in our tracks the first time we ever heard it, that continues to give us pause each and every time it's played. We each have a song -- and a story that goes along with it. Deep Cuts is our latest feature, in which we share the personal stories behind our all-time favorite songs and how and why we came to love them.


See Also:
- Deep Cuts: On Oasis, people named Sally and why I will never look back in anger
- Bob Dylan crashed in the Mile High City, 1960

For many, myself included, Bob Dylan is like a cool older brother, the kind who returns home from college freshman year with a stack of Captain Beefheart albums and a bag of marijuana, introducing you to foreign films and wine. In the fall of 2000, I was eighteen and had just voted in my first presidential election -- for George W. Bush. This coincided with my purchase of the Bringing It All Back Home album. Dylan was 23 when he wrote the songs for that record, and while at the time he was beginning to tour the world as the iconic "voice of a generation," it was only a few years earlier that he'd left his home town of Hibbing, Minnesota -- only a two-hour drive from where I'd grown up and was living in the year 2000.

It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

I had recently finished high school and was working as a camera man for the local CBS news station. I was also just beginning to question my life-long views on drugs and religion. While working the camera in the TV studio, I would sneak a single earbud under my giant headphones. The giant headphones projected the voice of the TV studio director, telling me where to point the camera, when to cue the anchor, etc. The single earbud was connected to a Discman in my back pocket -- and from the earbud came Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding."

The proto-rap, stream-of-consciousness lyrics rolled into my ears as the news was broadcast before me.

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There's no sense in trying

The TV anchor I was shooting was reporting on Al Gore's dispute of the recent presidential election. He was saying the man I'd blindly voted for (growing up Pentecostal conservative, I'd never considered another option) was potentially not the legitimate winner. I stared blankly through the view-finder, adjusting the camera to the right as a key (the little picture box) appeared on the screen, fitting it perfectly next to the anchor's face.

Our preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

I was eighteen and was beginning to question everything. The idea of the rapture -- that Jesus would soon appear in the sky and vacuum up all the believers -- was beginning to seem odd. Marijuana was becoming a daily ritual, especially before coming in to work. The news anchors were beginning to freak me out: They'd be stressed, cursing me and everything around them, a mess of anger, hate and self-loathing, and then I'd count down 3-2-1, and they'd transform into toothy explosions of happiness and information.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destiny
Speak jealously of them that are free
Do what they do just to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

I knew they didn't believe the words they were saying. The anchors would bitch about their jobs during the commercial break. It was the commercials that were dictating their words -- the advertisers controlled the news. They were also trying to dictate me: Mountain Dew constructing a rock and roll image of snowboards, hair-gel and smiling girls. People telling me not to smoke. To go to college. To drive a Pontiac Aztec.

Bob Dylan continued to sing in my ears.

Advertising signs they con
You into think you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on all around you

I had been watching these same news anchors since I was a little kid. I wanted to become one and watched the news every night. These faces, this production, all of it was familiar to me. But now I was inside the production, behind the curtain. And realized it was all phony -- a paper tiger -- and now I was propagating the same thing for some other young, sober Christian boy out in the farmlands of Iowa.

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