Dear Friend and Reader:
If I could write one thing to Bob Dylan, it would be a thank you note. Bob turns 70 on May 24, so this seems like a perfect moment. Of course, it’s hard to imagine him being 70 years old, but I’m sure he’s saying the same thing.
If I could thank Dylan for one thing, it would be for setting an example that it’s okay to be relevant. A rock critic once wrote that he saved the world from “terminal, irrelevant schlock,” taking up real subject matter in every song. He did so (most of the time, anyway) without conveying the feeling of what some call statement songs. Many of his older songs definitely were, though the poetic strength of his writing made that either less obvious or more exciting. In writing, it’s always better to show rather than to tell, and Bob has shown us American life in its man shades, often dark ones.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to teach a university class called Rock Music as Journalism, and I think of Dylan as being the innovator of this genre. This has some resemblance to how he perceived himself, and how he actually created those songs.
“He said he was never a spokesman for a generation,” said Rob Fraboni, who produced Dylan’s 1974 Planet Waves album. “He was just writing about what he felt was pertinent at the time.” Dylan, he said, would spend time in the New York Public Library keeping up with world events. As a writer, he paid attention to injustice, on many different scales. The basic facts in one of his most moving early songs, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” come straight out of a news clipping, though with some poetic embellishment.
So here, we have an artist who is not afraid to get his hands dirty with ink from newspapers. He was never above politics, or detached from it. He got Robbie Robertson to do the same thing, and from that, we get songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” — which was written by a Canadian who did some research. “Whether he wants to be a spokesman for a generation or not,” Fraboni added, “he has definitely brought a lot of things into the forefront.”
“The other thing to consider historically is that music was about dancing before Bob Dylan. The parents of the generation born in the 1940s were into the dance bands. Then along comes Bob Dylan and he changes the whole framework. Suddenly these songs mean something. There is a message, whether you want to call it that or not.”
To me, that message is a chronicle of the half-century he’s been writing music, at least as told through the eyes of an American. Many times he has seemed to be sounding a warning. In 1962 he described “guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,” ominously describing the Vietnam War that would engulf the United States two years later. In 1983, he lamented that all his clothes were made for slave wages in places like Singapore, in the same song warning, “I can see a day coming when even your home garden is gonna be against the law.”
As the trade deficit grows and most American companies pay pennies for labor in Asia, he called one of the biggest issues of the generation ahead. And as Europe and the United States ban herbs, and the US tries to ban farmers’ markets (regulating small, local farms being the approximate equivalent of outlawing gardening), we had better listen. (If you’re wondering about the potential farmers’ market situation, Google “Food Safety Modernization Act.”)
Dylan also redefined the genre of folk music. There were obviously folk songs before Dylan; it’s just that very few people dared to write new ones, and certainly not on a regular basis. Folk music was a somewhat stodgy tradition — and he opened it up to new contributors and new ideas.
“In truth there are no modern singer-songwriters writing in any sort of American roots or folk idiom who don’t owe a debt to Dylan,” Rosanne Cash said in an email correspondence last week. “We can all trace our work — how it’s structured, where we draw inspiration, and the self-reference (which hopefully doesn’t tip over into self-absorption) back to Dylan. In the same way that there is no modern country music without the Carter Family, there are no modern singer-songwriters without Bob Dylan.”
He even influenced the Beatles, but he did more than turn them on to pot. He encouraged them to do something meaningful with their platform, and they did. Of the four, John Lennon took that message closest to heart.
For many, Dylan’s message was a bit too much. As David Bowie said, he “brought a few more people on and put the fear in a whole lot more.”
There was the episode when Dylan walked off the set of The Ed Sullivan Show when network censors would not let him play “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues,” which mocks the communist threat that was taken so seriously at the time, and is now known to be about the paranoia he was pointing out. A couple of years later, he and his band were attacked — even physically — by his fans at a concert in Forest Hills because he came out with an electric guitar.
Lest you think he was ever controversial for its own sake, that is, if his body of work is not convincing enough, let’s look at his astrology. His birth data is rated as AA — the highest rating, which means birth record in hand. We can be confident of his Sagittarius ascendant: he was born with a broad and far-reaching vision. The Galactic Center (literally, the black hole at the core of our galaxy, which is located in late Sagittarius) is rising when he is born; people with a prominent GC can have a cosmic quality, and an influence that seems to lurk behind everything.
Even many people with no interest in astrology know that Dylan is a Gemini. He embodies the concept perfectly: the messenger-trickster, who is witty and articulate in a way that is distinct to that sign.
Just for emphasis, he has Mercury — the ruling planet of Gemini — gleaming right on the western horizon, where everyone can see it. When something is on the western horizon, it can work like a mirror; the chart’s native can see himself there, and he himself can also function like a mirror, closely identifying with the public and vice versa. In part owing to that Mercury, my friend astrologer Gary Caton describes Dylan as “Hermes personified.”
Dylan’s Mercury has another special distinction — it’s connected to these odd points called lunar nodes, which bind a person to public karma. And he also has Venus in Gemini, granting him a status known even to his fans as a triple Gemini. Basically, that means there are six, 12 or 24 of him; multiple planets in Gemini tend to multiply.
But that’s not the part of his chart that I find the most interesting. To me the really interesting part has always been that he also has four planets in Taurus. Gemini can have an airy quality and, by itself, can want for substance. This is where Taurus comes in. He is working from a foundation of solid values, and this is what he expresses in his music. Let’s consider how this works in his chart.
Speaking in very broad terms, there are basically two kinds of planets: the kind that move fast, and the kind that move slow. Fast movers include Mercury, Venus and the Sun, which he has grouped in Gemini. These are usually about style and personality.
Then there are the ones that move slowly. These tell the story of a generation and of society itself. Three of the slow-movers have collected for a rare conjunction in Taurus. This grouping will be present, in one form or another, in the chart of everyone born between 1939 and 1941. How the energy of a planetary alignment expresses itself varies from day to day, and person to person — and is highly dependent on the time of the chart. In Dylan’s case, that Mercury is floating like that on the horizon for a matter of minutes before it sets, changing the astrology dramatically. This is one of those clear cases where had he been born 15 minutes later, he would not be the same person.
Hobby historians: does that 1939 to 1941 date range ring a bell? The world was on the brink of many changes — especially World War II — that were propelled by the same astrology under which Dylan was born. The concentration we’ve been living through this year is similar to that (though the slow movers are different), and we are at an equally wrenching, dangerous, and potentially potent time of history.
Taurus is often mistaken for a reserved, stable earth sign. It’s earthy like a volcano, or the place where two tectonic plates meet. There can be constant tension, even if it’s deep under the ground. People with strong Taurus in their charts have a lovely presentation, but they are on fire inside. Their need to constantly reinvent themselves is belied by that smooth exterior. But Dylan has the advantage of all that Gemini. He can reinvent himself externally, as an ongoing experiment.
His strong Gemini gives him a stomach for something that’s abhorrent to most Taureans — inconsistency. On his 1976 album Desire, there is his famous tribute to Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who was falsely accused of a 1966 triple murder in New Jersey. Had Dylan not put that song on the album, then done a benefit concert for him at Madison Square Garden, Carter might still be in jail. He was freed from prison in 1985 after his two convictions were thrown out.
On the same album, Dylan has a tribute to Joey Gallo, a New York mobster suspected of involvement in the 1971 murder of Joe Colombo, a major New York godfather. “Joey” manages to be a combination of a dirge, an obituary and a protest song. The tribute to Gallo is every bit as sympathetic as the one to Carter. Is Dylan telling us he can see both sides of the story? Or that everyone deserves fair treatment? Is he admitting that humanity is made of sinners and saints? If you think about it, it’s a curious mix of themes, though most people don’t notice because the songs are both so compelling.
From the “two sides of the coin” files, in one biography I read the story of both the Gallo gang and members of the NYPD organized crime unit being invited to watch the the final mix of the song “Joey.” Both cars pulled up outside the recording studio at the same time and seeing the other, both left. This was attributed to Dylan’s wry sense of humor.
You need a little of that if you want to be relevant. From one journalist to another, I would like to thank Bob Dylan for giving many people permission to say something that means something, and to take an unpopular side of the issue when that’s the right thing to do. Who would have thought, at the time Dylan emerged, that the world would become one giant advertisement, selling mostly packaging, usually paid for on a credit card.
Thanks to Bob, strewn along the foggy ruins of time, we will find not only relics of what happened before us, but seeds of how to look at the world and see it clearly.
Yours & truly,
Moments in Time: A Few Transits in Dylan’s Chart
Bob Dylan left his home in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1960 at age 19. We know the road: Highway 61. We know he headed for Chicago, where he failed an audition for a folk festival, and Madison, WI, where he first saw Pete Seeger perform. We even know the day: Dec. 21, 1960.
What was going on in his charts that day? Let’s use a chart cast at his time of birth on the day that he left home.
Here is his natal chart, which will open in a separate window, for reference. The chart to the left is the chart for the day he went on the road, inspired (as he has told us) by Jack Kerouac’s novel by the same name.
To cast this chart, I’ve used a technique I haven’t mentioned here before, called a diurnal chart. That’s the chart for any given day, set for the place the native is, and set for the time of birth. It’s a way to look at the quality of any particular day, using the consistent reference point of the birth time.
The first thing you might notice is that he left on the very day of the winter solstice. The Sun entered Capricorn that afternoon. It may have been in the last moments of Sagittarius, which has that flavor of a long adventure of some kind. You can see the Sun represented as the yellow circle, on the lower right side of the chart; the double zeros tell you that the Sun is at solstice, in the first degree of the new sign.
We have an Aries Point chart — that is, a chart with something prominent in the first degree of one of the cardinal signs. As you may recall from many prior articles, that’s the point that reminds us of the connection between the personal and the political — a principle, invented in the Sixties, that Dylan would come to embody and indeed innovate. (I happened to post the Planet Waves website on the winter solstice in 1998, and we’ve embodied the personal is political as an astrological concept.)
The really fun thing about this chart is the ascendant. Even if you can’t read a chart, take a look — it’s the dark, horizontal line to the left side. The degree of the ascendant in a diurnal chart changes at the rate of one degree per day. When a planet passes the ascendant (which every planet does annually), the person can embody that energy, and on this day, the planet Uranus is rising. Fittingly, this day we see him embodying the Uranian principle: sudden change, reinvention, liberation, boldness, revolution. In terms of how a human personality might experience this, it would be a restless sense of urgency and the need to bust free.
To the other side of the diurnal chart, we see the sky loaded with Aquarius. Counting Chiron and some of the minor planets I cast into every chart, there are seven points in Aquarius, a sign connected to ideas, groups, social movements, intellectual movements, inventions and equanimity. These points include the Moon — the Aquarius Moon, which is intellectually restless and may be the most socially conscious Moon placement.
Now, these events stand alone in the diurnal chart for the day he left. Let’s consider a few transits — that is, contact between real-time planets (in the diurnal) and the ones that are standing still in his natal chart.
Here is a fun one: In the prior article, we described how prominent Mercury is in Dylan’s chart — it shows up on his descendent, or western horizon. It was also prominent as a transit on the day he left: Mercury in Sagittarius was crossing his ascendant the day he left, as if it came to pick him up. This is another image in Dylan’s life of embodying or fully taking on the energy of Mercury-Hermes.
One last: with a character like Dylan, Chiron is going to be instructive. Chiron is in late Aquarius in the chart for his heading on the road. Chiron in Aquarius is the essence of the Beat Generation of writers, and the related youth movement. I think the Beat Generation kicks off when Allen Ginsberg organizes a series of readings in a garage-gallery in autumn 1955, in San Francisco, the very month that Chiron entered Aquarius for that cycle. This included reading part of his poem Howl, which would soon be considered one of the great works of American poetry.
Fast-forward five years and Bob Dylan is leaving home at the end of this transit — just as Chiron makes a series of squares to all those late Taurus planets in his natal chart. He was really, really feeling that quest for freedom. He was being provoked by his astrology, or you could say, the time was right. The last aspect Chiron makes, and the one he’s under at the time, is a square to his natal Jupiter in Taurus. Chiron square Jupiter is about a quest of some kind, a social crusade or fighting for the underdog. Indeed.
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, May 20, 2011, #860 – BY ERIC FRANCIS
Aries (March 20-April 19) — With Mars (the main Aries planet) making a long trip through Taurus, you may be feeling especially lusty, indeed, driven to passion. The question is, what are you going to do with it all? Do you have the opportunity to express even half of what you’ve got going on inside? I suggest you do two things. One is, do your best to create some opportunities to share that energy, with others or by indulging yourself. The second is, while you’re doing that, notice what gets in the way. Is it your circumstances? Are there people you feel you would offend or betray? Is it your own psychology? What is the relationship between the two? The question to ask yourself is, are you in a situation where you can really be yourself, and if not, what adjustments can you make?
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — As planets collect in your sign, previously hidden material is coming to light. That includes everything from fears to unacknowledged desires; from conflict to passion; from a sense of potential to a sense of loss. The effect is like awareness gradually rising, revealing a diversity of emotions that you may not feel, in total, amount to a good thing. I don’t think you’ll have that perception for long. With feelings, it’s necessary to embrace the full spectrum, in order to be able to draw the power from the battery and put it to creative use. There’s a message behind all the seemingly diverse information you’re getting; that involves what it means to be a whole person rather than living with the sensation that you’re made of many fragments. There are aspects of your psyche that will benefit from hearing one another’s point of view, and that is what you will access as the Sun enters Gemini this weekend.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — It seems like every day that goes by, you know a little less. This is the result of being a consciously curious person who is aware of the functioning of your own mind. Curiosity is your friend right now; this is a sensation of being aware of not knowing, but enjoying the feeling as you sleuth out the elements of a situation. The situation in question is you, and it’s almost always healthy to turn your curiosity on yourself. I assure you the world would be a lot better place if we all invested more energy doing this, and fortunately you’re not shy about it. The key now is to go deeper than you usually do. What tends to repel you from that depth is that the deeper you go into yourself, the more you encounter density and stark tension rather than the fleet-footed mental process that you like so much. But just like the most valuable minerals are kept underground, so too are the most vital aspects of who you are.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — As the Sun enters the sign Gemini, I want to share an observation that I’ve cultivated over many moons as an astrologer: your sign embodies the notion of the twins just as much as the actual sign of the twins, or any of the other supposedly dualistic signs. Yet for you this happens in a way that is hidden, and that also tells us something about most of the human race. We see division in the world without necessarily understanding that it has a counterpart within us. In the weeks ahead, you can go a long way toward healing the inner splits that often cause you so much struggle. Finding inner accord is not so much about ‘middle ground’ as it is about common ground. Your different pursuits in life are not as different as you think. As time goes on, you’re likely to see that they all support one another. You can make relationship choices that are designed to facilitate your inner harmony.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — This is an important time to articulate your goals to yourself. You have them; you merely need to put them into some tangible form, such as on a white board or a computer file (both of which have writing in common). This is also a time to purge old goals from your repertoire, the ones you know you no longer wish to pursue, the ones you have decided are not rewarding. When you do that, you’ll notice a bunch of things that you were doing in support of those old objectives that you can now call off, and collect your energy around what you actually want. I suggest you do this sooner rather than later, since the opportunity to make some excellent progress is on its way. You will be able to make more of it if you’re better prepared, which translates to knowing what you want and having some energy available.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Your solar chart is set up for a dual career kind of life (so is everyone who has Virgo rising or Gemini on the 10th house cusp). That is to say, there are two distinct sides to your true career, or you have two distinct careers, each of which needs love and attention. What is interesting about the present moment is the way you seem to be integrating them. If you’re not actively doing this, then you have an invitation that will be opening up over the next few weeks. The solution set may be embarking on a project of some kind that utilizes all of your skills, talents and desires in a new way. When you consider them now, these different aspects of who you are may seem totally unrelated. But they have you in common — and there is something you can do or create that draws on all of who you are at once. It may be thrust on you suddenly; know what you want, and be ready to leap.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — An eclipse is approaching in the angle of your chart that describes your relationship to what some call the ‘higher self’. That same angle of your chart also brings in the themes of ethics, your sense of justice and — oddly enough — your mother’s hidden psychological legacy. Was she of two minds about something important? Did she try to split her character, being decent folk in one part of her life, and less than friendly in another? Or did she live two lives in some other way? The split has carried itself into your life, though it may not be obvious how. If you find yourself in some kind of ethical or spiritual crisis during the next few weeks, you might want to look to her life as a map, or as a source of information. If you happen to have an aunt, she would be the place to go for some useful information.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Planets are lining up in your opposite sign Taurus, including ever-important Venus and Mars. This leads me to some curiosity about the nature of a relationship in your life. To what extent is it really happening, and to what extent is it the product of your imagination? The answer is probably a mix of both, though this is a good time for a reality check. I suggest you make a timeline of the history of the relationship. With that, I suggest you make a map of all the people you’re attracted to, and those who you suspect are attracted to you. Not a list, a map. Who are they? How do they relate to one another? Look for patterns — and see if you notice what they say about you. For example, what aspects of yourself do each of these people represent? This should be pretty interesting.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — I know I’ve told the story of our old web designer Jordan, who created the astrological sign Sagittaurus. True, it was a typo (plastered all over the 2003 annual edition and later removed) but it was a good one — and over the next couple of weeks, it comes true. Your ruling planet Jupiter arrives in Taurus for more than a year, uninterrupted. This is about your wellbeing, in particular, it’s an invitation to take better care of yourself and invest more of your resources into pleasure. There’s a clue that your ideas are worth more than your labor. I will admit, this is a challenging notion for most people, who are accustomed to punching a clock. So if you’ve ever had a scheme or concept whereby you make a living from your creative work product rather than your time or your effort, now is the time to get it going. Many other factors are stacked in your favor, but you have to make the moves.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You need some diversity. If you have some other way you express yourself, that’s the thing to do now. The other side of your brain needs attention. If you usually use words, switch to pictures. If you use pictures, maybe switch to music or movement. If you speak another language, find someone else who does. In fact, if you have some particular specialized jargon you love (fashion, photography, tropical fish, the Grateful Dead), look up your best friend who also speaks that language. You will find these things entertaining as well as liberating. Part of what you’ll get is balance, and part of what you’ll experience is the sensation of not being alone, which will come as a relief. It’s not that you are alone, but if your astrology lately has you feeling like the only pea in a pod, there will at least be two.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — Get ready to start making improvements to your living space, or finding a new, better, brighter one. Clear out old stuff; clean your windows; drill into corners and closets and bring the physical remnants of the past to light, so you can move through it. This is about Jupiter moving into Taurus, your solar 4th house — your physical environment, which translates to your emotional environment. While that doesn’t happen till the first week of June, I suggest you start early, while Jupiter is in a fire sign, and your house of ideas. Speaking of which: if you have been a little late in the game of initiating your ideas, go for it. Even making a small move now could lead to something significant materializing. The first step is the most meaningful one and in truth you are never too late.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — I suggest you take a low-key approach to improving your financial situation, mainly by using trusted methods of making income rather than new ones. Think of this as a time when you can collect on old or established investments or ventures rather than having to invent some. That will happen soon enough, as you convey your older methods into newer ones, which you may be considering in their formative stages. You have an excellent chart setup for turning concepts into income, but that takes three things: clear ideas, the ability to stick to them, and trust. Of the three, trust is the most important element, which is why I am suggesting you get the ball rolling on what you already have faith in, rather than what will likely challenge your sense of your own credibility. Once you taste success, you will recognize the feeling that it’s associated with.