Tag Archives: Bob Dylan lyrics

Understanding Bob Dylan out now

Available only online at Amazon:


Advertisements

Wandering and wondering in Don’t think twice, it’s alright

Few symbols are closer to American hearts and desires than the highway. Without the highway, those lines crisscrossing the continent, there would be no modern cities, no suburbs, and no American dream. Travelling is a poetic common denominator which draws its power as an image from the way we have imbibed from an early age its uses in stories, songs and poems. Which is why the highway is so important to the songs of an American writer like Dylan. Continue reading

Boots of Spanish Leather and letters

Here is another extract from my book, this time from the chapter about Dylan and writing. If you’re interested in Dylan’s take on writing in his songs, and the extensive literary tradition on which this draws, read on.

Like the rest of the book, this chapter draws on numerous song-writers, poets and novelists who have used the same theme, including Franz Kafka, Umberto Eco, Elias Canetti and Vladimir Nabokov.

Written in my soul?

Western literature has at its heart a fascination with the creative process, and a fear of creativity and the written word. There is a reverence for literature past, manifesting itself in the many writers who have used their literary predecessors as sources. And there are many novels and poems that dwell on the creative act, and an equal number that include destruction of a book or a word as a central or hidden feature. Who wouldn’t be scared of baring their soul to the world in a book? And if your job is to sit all day writing, wouldn’t you eventually start writing about writing? But if the focus of the creative act is to write about the process and perhaps pointlessness of writing, doesn’t that become a little self-referential – and, where’s the point? Dylan draws on and is part of this tradition.

Dylan ambivalence about creating is perhaps most evident when he refers to the written word in his songs. Take that extraordinary, poignant and much admired and discussed lost love song, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, released in 1964, which I already discussed from the angle of money and love in the last chapter. Ricks includes a brilliant analysis of its cadences, rhymes and rhythms, and Gray reveals its heritage in traditional British folk ballads, particularly “Gypsey Davy” which was perhaps written at the beginning of the eighteenth century.[1] But the key element of the song is that, after refusing any gifts from his (or her) love, what is received is a letter:

I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin’,
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’. Continue reading

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Here’s a post from the beginning of chapter two of “Understanding Bob Dylan”. which starts with an analysis of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, the beautiful but puzzling song that ends “Blonde on Blonde”. The chapter looks at how Dylan writes about those subjects that have been an endless preoccupation of modern western writers: love, sex and money, focusing on “Sad-Eyed Lady” and the rest of “Blonde on Blonde”, “Love minus zero”, “Simple Twist of Fate” (see the post below) and a few other Dylan favorites.

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?

So begins the puzzling, evocative, mesmeric “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, the last track of “Blonde on Blonde” which Dylan released in 1966, a song that has caught many Dylanists in its headlights. “Puzzling” –  some would say meaningless –  because this song contains weirdly complex imagery. “With your mercury mouth in the missionary times” – good luck working that one out. It’s a song that has elicited fundamentally different views from admirers and critics – and sometimes the same person. Dylan encyclopaedist, and author of “Song and Dance Man” Michael Gray, hated the song, then loved it. First he wrote a damning two page criticism which concluded: Continue reading