Since 1997’s Time Out of Mind, an atmospheric return-to-form after a long period of wandering, death has been Dylan’s chief concern, to the extent that some have read it as a personal obsession. Which, of course, has only aggravated him.
Yes, his recent songs deal with mortality. “But I didn’t see any one critic say: ‘It deals with my mortality’—you know, his own,” Dylan observed. It seems that he has accepted this grievance as an artistic failure and has returned with songs whose subjects cannot be misinterpreted. The last two tracks on Tempest addressed the sinking of the Titanic and the murder of John Lennon—historical events that now exist through a greater cultural consciousness. He continues and improves upon this method throughout Rough and Rowdy Ways, using notes from history to reflect something universal about our own brief, ordinary legacies. “I hope that the gods go easy with me,” he sings in “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You.” For a minute, you forget the status of the man singing; his prayer sounds as humble, as fragile as anyone’s.