What does a Nobel prize winner do at 4 in the morning?

Well it’s four in the morning by the sound of the birds
I’m starin’ at your picture, I’m hearin’ your words
Baby, they ring in my head like a bell

So sings Dylan in “Under Your Spell”. So if you’re Dylan likelihood is you’ll be awake and listening to the birds and writing your next song.

Dylan comes in a long line of poets and singers who have taken inspiration from birds early in the morning, and identified with birds as singers. Here’s a section from “Understanding Bob Dylan” on this literary tradition. And if you want to read more about poets such as Rudyard Kipling, Wallace Stevens, Seamus Heaney and Bob Dylan gazing out their windows in the night and hearing the sound of birds, buy a copy of “Understanding Bob Dylan”. Continue reading


Now available on Kindle

Understanding Bob Dylan is now available on Kindle. Go to https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Bob-Dylan-Making-Changed/dp/1461147816 to download a copy

Sad-Eyed Lady and the literary tradition

Here’s the second post about “Sad-Eyed Lady” from my book “Understanding Bob Dylan”. Who knew that it fits sweetly into an age old tradition about writing on women’s bodies. For those of you interested in the meaning of this song, read on….


Perhaps “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” isn’t drivel after all!!! And, as it turns out, the song fits sweetly into a long tradition of “love” poems known as “blason”, which Belknap defines as[1]:

a poetic genre dedicated to the praise of the female by the particularization of her attributes. This technique conventionally allowed the poet to describe or metaphorically elaborate one feature per line, creating a vertical compilation whose constituents are thematically continuous but linearly independent.

Basically, a poem about different parts of the female body. Belknap gives an example of traditional blason from Bartholomew Griffin, the 16th century English poet:

My Lady’s hair is threads of beaten gold,/Her front the purest Chrystal eye hath seen:/Her eyes the brightest stars the heavens hold,/Her cheeks red roses such as seld have been….

Continue reading

Ladies on Blonde on Blonde

The most viewed post on this blog has been the one on “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, so here are a couple of posts about that song and other ladies on “Blonde on Blonde”, taken from my book “Understanding Bob Dylan” which focuses on literary archetypes Dylan has used. First, here are the ladies:

The ladies treat me kindly

While “Blonde on Blonde” ends with one sad-eyed lady, there are plenty of other references to suspicious women and ladies on the album. But before we come to that, let’s take a moment to appreciate one of Dylan’s best-loved songs, “Visions of Johanna”, and realize how much creative energy went into its composition. Among other things, “Visions of Johanna” is about the night, which makes three appearances in the first two verses. As most people in the western hemisphere (or at least those who have any appreciation of music) know, the song starts:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?

“Ain’t it just the night to play tricks”? Well is it or ain’t it? Is that, like, a rhetorical question? Don’t we already all know that it’s just like the night to play tricks when we’re trying to be so quiet? Or is this Dylan just playing tricks with this kick-assonanced line, full of “t”s,”s”s and “k”s, so by the time we get to the end of the second line we do feel kind of stranded:

We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it

Thirteen “t”s. four “st”s and one almost “st” (sit), a half rhyme on “night” and “quiet” and “deny it”, a quarter rhyme on “like” and night”, even a rhyme on “ain’t it” and “sit”, all in two lines – not bad! But, back to the question, “ain’t it just like night to play tricks”? It is, because the night playing tricks, in the context of all the other sexual references on Blonde on Blonde refers to the slang meaning of the term, which is the sexual act between a prostitute and customer. Dylan is not alone in imagining the night as a prostitute, e.e. cummings went there in “Paris”, published in 1928:

this April sunset completely utters
utters serenely silently a cathedral

before whose upward lean magnificent face
the streets turn young with rain…

there and here the lithe indolent prostitute
Night, argues

with certain houses

If it wasn’t enough to have the most alliterative two lines in history starting the song, Dylan takes us back to the night playing tricks in the second verse:

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane.

OK Bob, that’s a clever internal rhyme the – night playing tricks and the night watchman clicking his flashlight, but did you really have to be such a show-off and introduce a third internal rhyme in the third line of the song:

Lights flicker from the opposite loft

Night-light-trick-flick-click. This sensational use of internal rhyming and alliteration just shows us how good Dylan is at writing great sounding songs. But if Visions of Johanna had stopped there, it wouldn’t have fascinated us all for the last almost 40 years. It’s the themes that Dylan weaves through the song and the album that have made it stick (or click) – themes which have been among the most common in western literature for several hundred years. Here I focus on ladies of the night, and in later chapters look at how the song has drawn on other literary traditions such as insomnia literature. Continue reading

over 1000 copies sold

Understanding Bob Dylan has now sold over 1000 copies, all through word of mouth. Clearly there is something readers like about this book. You can order a copy at:


2nd edition of Understanding Bob Dylan out now

The snd edition is available on Amazon.com with new analysis of some songs such as “Visions of Johanna” and an index. Buy it at:


Please write a review of Understanding Bob Dylan

If you have bought the book and enjoyed it, please write a review on Amazon for other potential readers. You can post the review at:


Love, sex, money in a “Simple Twist of Fate”, “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”

Love, sex, money in a “Simple Twist of Fate”, “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”

Here are adapted extracts from Understanding Bob Dylan about one of literature’s and Dylan’s favourite themes – love and money, with some sex thrown in, and with a focus on that not so simple but very fateful song “Simple Twist of Fate”, drawing on Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” notebook where he wrote the album’s original lyrics; and with reference as well to “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Boots of Spanish Leather”.

To read more, buy the book on Amazon


All royalties are going to a charity. Continue reading

Opening chapter of “Understanding Bob Dylan”

This chapter will give readers a sense of what the book is and isn’t about. It’s hard to do justice to the themes covered in the book in short extracts, so I’m planning to put up more entries focusing on particular songs soon. Continue reading

Understanding Bob Dylan out now

Available only online at Amazon: