Writers tend to write about things they know. People they know. Places they’ve seen, or imagined, or dreamed up. There’s a “knowing” of sorts in the imagined as well. Typically, however (with exceptions), they don’t invent characters based on just one person from their life-world. They do composites. They mix and match traits and visuals, events and backgrounds, with various highs and lows, drawing on years of experiences . . . joyous, comical, and tragic. There may well be one friend or lover in the foreground of the Idea, but dozens likely jostle and push for their own special place in the imagination of the artist. Was Dylan thinking of just Joan Baez, or Suze Rotolo, or Sara Lownds when he wrote “To Ramona”? Who knows? But it’s unlikely. And does it really matter?
“To Ramona” — by Bob Dylan (1964)
It’s a good bet that when Sinéad Lohan covered the song, she wasn’t thinking of the women in Dylan’s life, though she may have thought how best to honor the original while still making the song her own. In retrospect, the song’s lyrics sound like an early confession of her growing ambivalence regarding the music scene, and not a dialogue between two lovers — hers or Dylan’s. Among the wonders of fully realized art is that we can often translate and transfer its essence, its meaning, into our own walk along the shore. We can remake it into something essential to our own life-world. The artist starts that journey, hands it off to unknown and unseen others, and the audience takes it where they may.
There is talent in the listening, reading, and seeing, too. A talent, a gift worth pursuing. Pass the baton!