I have listened to Bob Dylan’s “Goin To Acapulco” (The Basement Tapes are in the car at the moment) quite a bit recently and at first listen it seems one of his more whiney efforts. Maybe a lament about fame perhaps or the difficulties of travel or the benefits of non monogamy. It could be any or all of these, but slowly, slowly the quiet warmth of its descriptions of loving have captured another little bit of my imagination. Part of the appeal of the song is its languorous, half arsed, almost somnolent rhythms: as if the effort of it all is just about too much.
There’s nothing approaching profundity or obscurity here, it all seems obvious. The chorus (Goin’ to Acapulco, goin’ on the run/Goin’ down to see some girl, gonna have some fun) is almost Ramones like in its banality, but it states incredibly starkly what is hoped for: fun, sex, escape. These are valuable things, these are the milestones of living in such a way as to maintain the capacity for joy and pleasure.
Throughout “Goin’ To Acapulco” Dylan’s narrator maps out a very late sixties kind of relationship with his lover, Rosemarie, marked by the usual casual sex and open ended domestic arrangements. Rosemarie knows the score (“She puts it to me plain as day/and gives it to me for a song”); she knows that love is not some contract to be pointscored, that love is a gift. A gift without terms and conditions, a gift that is never going to change the world, a gift that doesn’t require a prior purchase. It isn’t about compliance to some standard or template. Just a gift, a gift that is not about desire but about the need for love itself.
Dylan’s narrator needs love but it doesn’t make him special: “And I’m just the same as anyone else/when it comes to scratching for my meat.” Quite the opposite really, love brings Dylan’s narrator down to earth: ” I just make it down to Rosemarie’s and get somethin’ quick to eat.” It is not specialness or individuality or enrichment: it is about sustenance. Rosemarie is a figure that operates to deprive Dylan’s narrator of all of his importance, Rosemarie and Dylan’s narrator are lovers because they sustain each other: not because of who they are or aren’t.
And because they sustain each other when ” the wheel don’t drop, and the train don’t stop” it doesn’t really matter, they have enough in the tank to keep going. They keep it simple, and uncomplicated. But they also take what they do for each other seriously: “Now if someone offers me a joke, I just say no thanks/I try to tell it like it is, and stay away from pranks.” And it doesn’t end with fidelity (casual though it is) because it is really about care: “Everytime you know when the well runs dry/I just go pump on it some” sings the narrator.
Rosemarie in the closing is classically positioned (in phallocentric terms): “Rosemarie, she likes to go to big places/And just sit there, waitin’ for me to come.” But the pumping and waiting are motifs of care, applications of attention and labour, not of release. There is no climax. Just offerings, spaces made, time shared.
I think what has entranced me is not the mother-lover figure of Rosemarie (who strikes me as knowing what she wants and how to get it and also that it doesn’t depend on meeting some scruffy guy in Mexico) but rather the gentleness with which each accepts the gifts of the other.
There is an openness, a willingness to acknowledge the limitations of the other. And for me this is a powerful contrast to the simplicity of the song, the complexity of acknowledging the other is what enables fun, sex, and escape.
When we’re young we don’t know enough about the other, we can’t see responsibility as it applies to others only ourselves. That why it appears so simple when we’re twenty. But even back then it wasn’t simple, it wasn’t easy and responsibility free: it just looked that way. The complexity and responsibility of loving isn’t less when we’re young, the complications that seem so apparent now were right there, even then. I didn’t think of them, didn’t know to look for them, and wouldn’t have wanted to know.
The hurt and joy of back then are testimony to their presence. Complexity and complication are the hallmarks of dealing with an actual complicated, complex other. We can respond to complexity and complication with resentment about the attention and labour it requires of us, but when we do it right (when we give and receive) we sustain and are sustained. Acknowledgments are mutual, our own complicatedness and complexity is acknowledged while we do the same.
This is a better deal than carefree days holding hands. Being barefoot in the park never deals with our own complexity. So Dylan’s narrator and Rosemarie know that complexity is everywhere but knowing that they need love they take the simple step of conceding their own and each other’s complexity. By this means love becomes simple again: others are what they are and I can only love what they are. And because we can’t be loved alone this is the step we all take, or try to, or avoid, or deny.