Tag Archives: lonesome death of hattie carroll

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