Bob Dylan Countdown #196: “Percy’s Song”

There are some things that occur in life that are beyond understanding, impossible for our feeble human intellects to reconcile. The randomness of an accident that costs human lives certainly belongs on that list. Whatever your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, such an event can’t possibly be explained away. Those left behind, be they loved ones or uninvolved observers, persist, but their own existences are forever altered by the memories of this event, as if their DNA has been adjusted.

Echoes of these truths exists in Dylan’s placidly dejected delivery of “Percy’s Song,” an account of one man’s struggle to come to terms with an accident that kills four. While the narrator’s friend, who caused the accident, survives, the 99-year jail sentence he receives effectively ends his life as well.

I’m sure that some people read injustice into the song, and Dylan may throw a few hints in that direction with his depiction of the judge as unwavering and unwilling to hear another side of the story. To me though, the song, which was unearthed on Biograph after years in the vaults, is more about the fragility of existence and what becomes of a person once that fragility is brought into the harsh light. Springsteen’s “Wreck On The Highway” has the same kind of feeling, as a man witnesses a car-crash death on his way home and goes home to a family that suddenly feels vulnerable.

I suppose this story could have been told in a few less verses, since the point is made pretty early on. Actually, once the details of the story have been told, all you really need to get the gist of things is that haunting refrain:  “Turn, turn, to the rain and wind.” Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

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