I first fell in love with language listening to my mother and grandmother arguing in Yiddish, an evocative but mysterious tongue whose words I felt rather than understood literally, and whose musical rhythms both captivated and frightened me.

The next linguistic influence to absorb my attention was television, in particular the trashy, staccato patterns of detective show speech, the allusive clipped way that Bogart and company expressed themselves. The only books I ever read were assigned: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, etc. Relics from a make-believe world to which I felt no connection. I ate a lot of chocolate and nothing had ever motivated me to sit still long enough to read voluntarily. The key that unlocked that door and opened my eyes to the magic of the printed word, was a song I heard in high school. Or, rather a voice.

In my little corner of Brooklyn at the time, everything seemed clear: who was good and who was bad, what was right and what was wrong, what was important and what wasn’t. Girls, sports, hating Communists, trying to look and act cool, loving the flag, girls, rock’n’roll music, respect for authority, and girls, these were the unquestioned pillars. I didn’t doubt any of this. Nobody I knew did openly. Yes, the calendar may have read 1965, but it was still the 1950’s.

So somebody at Lincoln High told me about this record and this folksinger that was really cool, and my reaction was, What’s that, like the Kingston Trio? The first time I heard Gates of Eden though, it shook me up. It sounded nothing like Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley, and something kept drawing me back to it, this one song I couldn’t begin to understand, again and again.

Why? The voice wouldn’t go away, the urgency that it was time to wake up. To open my eyes and take heed.

Listening to this song I had my first conscious encounter with Mystery, with realizing I didn’t know how things were exactly, which was the necessary pre-condition to my becoming a reader, and then a writer. Although I couldn’t characterize it as such, it was also my first brush with Prophecy, with what I would later come to believe was the voice of Jeremiah re-born.

Initially, what jolted me wasn’t anything Bob Dylan said, because I couldn’t understand that in any rational manner, it was how he sounded. I would listen to that voice and that song over and over, usually sitting in the dark. And what I eventually took away was: life is more complicated than you think, kiddo, nothing is as clear or straightforward as whoever’s in power would have it appear, there’s another world beneath the surface that’s more real than our transitory everyday one, an internal world of the spirit and feelings, and that is where you should look.

Gates of Eden awakened a longing in me, to free myself from illusion, from false promises, from what I was being told or sold, and a yearning for something else: the ineffable, knowable truth. From there I went directly to literature. And to the short story.

Years later I read that Hemingway said, “When you write a short story, it’s what you don’t put in it that gives the short story all its power…”

This is the same power I found, and continue to find, in Gates of Eden, the power of what’s missing. This is my aesthetic.

The singer depicts an external world of superficiality we’ve created around us; call it American postwar society, the rules we go by, mores and laws, authority, the tyranny of everyday life, even rationality itself. He contrasts this illusory surface, this sham reality no matter how immutable it may appear, with a vision of clarity, of spirit, of genuine human feeling, that may be buried, but is true and ultimate. As I later learned, when Bob Dylan first presented the song in concert, he introduced it, with typical irony, as just “a sacrilegious lullaby in D Minor.”

It starts with a stark terrifying recitation of opposites (war and peace, light and darkness, ignorance and knowledge) and their unknowable nature. It calls into question the very nature of truth itself, as well as our ability to ascertain it. Truth glides, it’s not a stationery hard and fixed entity, but there’s a place of the spirit where these opposites unite, “beneath the Trees of Eden,” an internal space of calm reality, inside us. Or, at least, that’s how I heard it.

The verses go on to portray humanity alienated and suffering in a mechanical materialist world, trapped in place by false promises of salvation, indifferent authority, threatened constantly with destruction, with no release from futility but a meaningless death. Each verse also holds out hope though that casting off illusions will open the gates to a world of spirit with which one may harmonize, a holy world without sins, kings, trials, or promises, beyond logic and rationality, accessible in dreams.

In the end what I came away with is faith that I could probe beneath the surface of what only appears to be real. I went on a quest to find other kinds of truth, to listen to dreams, and to transcend without rejecting rationality. That led me somehow to find Nine Stories, where halfway through “A Perfect Day For Bananafish,” I found myself hopelessly and forever hooked.