In "Red River Shore," Dylan sings of a wise woman he wanted to wed who offered him the best advice she had: "Go home and lead a quiet life." Whether real or symbolic, the woman's advice must have been considered close to sacred.
But what is "a quiet life"? The term is often used spiritually to mean a life apart from the wicked world, a life that sees politics as unable to overcome the tragic flaws of human nature, and so a life without faith in politics but rather in artistic creation or the redemption offered by God or both.
"A quiet life" had undeniable virtues for Dylan. It is a life that provides escape from the expectations of crowds, managers, critics, and fans. It is a life in which failed marriages, failed loves, failed friendships, and failed songs swirl into meaningless and are replaced by a divine presence, relationship, and life that has supreme meaning and is supremely safe.
However, the arc of Dylan's career doesn't lead from intense social involvement and a quest for fame to social isolation. There is a constant tension, as if the need to express an opinion and the need for fame were at one end of the spectrum with the need for anonymity at the other with Dylan rushing passionately between the two, as if trying to prove Frost wrong, that he can go down two roads simultaneously.
And Dylan has been lucky when he rushed back toward fame. He has retained his audience and critical support, his health, and his determination. Not everyone famous, though, wanted to leave fame and then return to it. Greta Garbo is perhaps the most famous of the well-known in search of a quiet life, although she didn't say what is often ascribed to her. Instead of "I want to be alone," she said, "I want to be let alone," which is less about becoming a hermit and more about the exhaustions of fame. But my favorite example is Gardner McKay, a television actor in the 1960s show Adventures in Paradise. After three years, McKay voluntarily left 20th Century Fox. Marilyn Monroe wanted the handsome actor to star with her in a film, a role that would have offered enormous fame. McKay declined. He ended up as an agronomist's assistant in the Amazon rain forest and died in 20001.
Dylan's retreats to the quiet life were often hardly quiet. Highway 61 Revisited was a very public struggle to find hidden selves separate from the identity fame had given him. He has not given up touring or making records or painting or writing. He seems to need both the recognition and the quiet.
Of course, he has written extensively about the quietest of lives. The anticipation of death has been on his mind constantly from the very beginning of his writing career. Maybe Heaven was the "home" the woman from the Red River Shore invited him to inhabit.