BOB DYLAN – ALBUM LINER NOTES COLLECTED

Dylan album liner notes

(but not The Bootleg Series)

1 – from Bob Dylan (1962)

Excitement has been running high since the young man with a guitar ambled into a Columbia recording studio for two sessions in November, 1961. For at only 20, Dylan is the most unusual new talent in American folk music.

His talent takes many forms. He is one of the most compelling white blues singers ever recorded. He is a songwriter of exceptional facility and cleverness. He is an uncommonly skillful guitar player and harmonica player.

In less than one year in New York, Bob Dylan has thrown the folk crowd into an uproar. Ardent fans have been shouting his praises. Devotees have found in him the image of a singing rebel, a musical Chaplin tramp, a young Woody Guthrie, or a composite of some of the best country blues singers.

A good deal of Dylan’s steel-string guitar work runs strongly in the blues vein, although he will vary it with country configurations, Merle Travis picking and other methods. Sometimes he frets his instrument with the back of a kitchen knife or even a metal lipstick holder, giving it the clangy virility of the primitive country blues men. His pungent, driving, witty harmonica is sometimes used in the manner of Walter Jacobs, who plays with the Muddy Waters’ band in Chicago, or the evocative manner of Sonny Terry.

Another strong influence on Bob Dylan was not a musician primarily, although he has written music, but a comedian — Charlie Chaplin. After seeing many Chaplin films, Dylan found himself beginning to pick up some of the gestures of the classic tramp of silent films. Now as he appears on the stage in a humorous number, you can see Dylan nervously tapping his hat, adjusting it, using it as a prop, almost leaning on it, as the Chaplin tramp did before him.

Yet despite his comic flair, Bob Dylan has, for one so young, a curious preoccupation with songs about death. Although he is rarely inarticulate, Dylan can’t explain the attraction of these songs, beyond the power and emotional wallop they give him, and which he passes on to his listeners. It may be that three years ago, when a serious illness struck him, that he got an indelible insight into what those death-haunted blues men were singing about.                            

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941. After living briefly in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Gallup, New Mexico, he graduated from high school in Hibbing, Minnesota “way up by the Canadian border.”

For six troubled months, Bob attended the University of Minnesota on a scholarship. But like so many of the restless, questioning students of his generation, the formal confines of college couldn’t hold him.

“I didn’t agree with school,” he says. “I flunked out. I read a lot, but not the required readings.”

He remembers staying up all night plowing through the philosophy of Kant instead of reading “Living With the Birds” for a science course.

“Mostly ,” he summarizes his college days, “I couldn’t stay in one place long enough.”

Bob Dylan first came East in February, 1961. His destination: the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. His purpose: to visit the long-ailing Woody Guthrie, singer, ballad-maker and poet. It was the beginning of a deep friendship between the two. Although they were separated by thirty years and two generations, they were united by a love of music, a kindred sense of humor and a common view toward the world.

The young man from the provinces began to make friends very quickly in New York, all the while continuing, as he has since he was ten, to assimilate musical ideas from everyone he met, every record he heard. He fell in with Dave Van Ronk and Jack Elliott, two of the most dedicated musicians then playing in Greenwich Village, and swapped songs, ideas and stylistic conceptions with them. He played at the Gaslight Coffeehouse, and in April, 1961, appeared opposite John Lee Hooker, the blues singer, at Gerde’s Folk City. Word of Dylan’s talent began to grow, but in the surcharged atmosphere of rivalry that has crept into the folk-music world, so did envy. His “Talkin’ New York” is a musical comment on his reception in New York.

Recalling his first professional music job, Bob says:

“I never thought I would shoot lightning through the sky in the entertainment world.

                               

In 1959, in Central City, Colorado, he had that first job, in rough and tumble striptease joint.

“I was onstage for just a few minutes with my folk songs. Then the strippers would come on. The crowd would yell for more stripping, but they went off, and I’d come bouncing back with my folky songs. As the night got longer, the air got heavier, the audience got drunker and nastier, and I got sicker and finally I got fired.”        

Bob Dylan started to sing and play guitar when he was ten. Five to six years later he wrote his first song, dedicated to Brigitte Bardot. All the time, he listened to everything with both ears — Hank Williams, the late Jimmie Rodgers, Jelly Roll Morton, Woody Guthrie, Carl Perkins, early Elvis Presley. A meeting with Mance Lipscomb, Texas songster, left its mark on his work, as did the blues recordings of Rabbit Brown and Big Joe Williams. He speaks worshipfully of the sense of pace and timing the great blues men had, and it has become a trademark of his work already. His speed at assimilating new styles and digesting them is not the least startling thing about Bob Dylan.

The future

“I just want to keep on singing and writing songs like I am doing now. I just want to get along. I don’t think about making a million dollars. If I had a lot of money what would I do?” he asked himself, closed his eyes, shifted the hat on his head and smiled

“I would buy a couple of motorcycles, a few air-conditioners and four or five couches.”

His Songs

The number that opens this album, “You’re No Good,” was learned from Jesse Fuller, the West coast singer. Its vaudeville flair and exaggeration are used to heighten the mock anger of the lyrics.

“Talkin’ New York” is a diary note set to music. In May, 1961, Dylan started to hitchhike West, not overwhelmingly pleased at what he had seen and experienced in New York. At a truck stop along the highway he started to scribble down a few impressions of the city he left behind. They were comic, but tinged with a certain sarcastic bite, very much in the Guthrie vein.

Dylan had never sung “In My Time of Dyin'” prior to this recording session. He does not recall where he first heard it. The guitar is fretted with the lipstick holder he borrowed from his girl, Susie Rotolo, who sat devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording sessions.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” is a traditional Southern mountain folk song of considerable popularity and age, but probably never sung quite in this fashion before.

“Fixin’ to Die,” which echoes the spirit and some of the words of “In My Time of Dyin’,” was learned from an old recording by Bukka White.

A traditional Scottish song is the bare bones on which Dylan hangs “Pretty Peggy-O.” But the song has lost its burr and acquired instead a Texas accent, and a few new verses and fillips by the singer.

A diesel-tempoed “Highway 51” is of a type sung by the Everly Brothers, partially rewritten by Dylan. His guitar is tuned to an open tuning and features a particularly compelling vamping figure. Similarly up tempo is his version of “Gospel Plow,” which turns the old spiritual into a virtually new song.

Eric Von Schmidt, a young artist and blues singer from Boston, was the source of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” “House of the Risin’ Sun” is a traditional lament of a New Orleans woman driven into prostitution by poverty. Dylan learned the song from the singing of Dave Van Ronk: “I’d always known ‘Risin’ Sun’ but never really knew I knew it until I heard Dave sing it.” The singer’s version of “Freight Train Blues” was adapted from an old disk by Roy Acuff.

“Song to Woody,” is another original by Bob Dylan, dedicated to one of his greatest inspirations, and written much in the musical language of his idol.

Ending this album is the surging power and tragedy of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s blues — “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The poignance and passion of this simple song reveals both the country blues tradition — and its newest voice, Bob Dylan — at their very finest.

 – Stacey Williams (actually Robert Shelton)

From the New York Times, Friday, September, 29 1961

Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Folk-Song Stylist

By ROBERT SHELTON

    A bright new face in folk music is appearing at Gerde’s Folk City. Although only 20 years old, Bob Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.

    Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers up with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.

    Mr. Dylan’s voice is anything but pretty. He is consciously trying to recapture the rude beauty of a Southern field hand musing in melody on his back porch. All the “husk and bark” are left on his notes, and a searing intensity pervades his songs.

    Mr. Dylan is both comedian and tragedian. Like a vaudeville actor on the rural circuit, he offers a variety of droll musical monologues. “Talking Bear Mountain” lampoons the overcrowding of an excursion boat. “Talking New York” satirizes his troubles in gaining recognition and “Talkin’ Hava Negilah” burlesques the folk-music craze and the singer himself.

    In his serious vein, Mr. Dylan seems to be performing in a slow-motion film. Elasticized phrases are drawn out until you think they may snap. He rocks his head and body. He closes his eyes in reverie, seems to be groping for a word or a mood, then resolves the tension benevolently by finding the word and the mood.

        Mr. Dylan’s highly personalized approach toward folk song is still evolving. He has been sopping up influences like a sponge. At times, the drama he aims at is off-target melodrama and his stylization threatens to topple over as a mannered excess.

    But if not for every taste, his music-making has the mark of originality and inspiration, all the more noteworthy for his youth. Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.

2 – from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition, none has equaled Bob Dylan singularity of impact. As Harry Jackson, a cowboy singer and a painter, has exclaimed: “He’s so goddamned real it’s unbelievable!” The irrepressible reality of Bob Dylan is a compound of spontaneity, candor, slicing wit and an uncommonly perceptive eye and ear for the way many of us constrict our capacity for living while a few of us don’t.

Not yet twenty-two at the time of this albums release, Dylan is growing at a swift, experience-hungry rate. In these performances, there is already a marked change from his first album (“Bob Dylan,” Columbia CL 1779/CS 8579), and there will surely be many further dimensions of Dylan to come. What makes this collection particularly arresting that it consists in large part of Dylan’s own compositions The resurgence of topical folk songs has become a pervasive part of the folk movement among city singers, but few of the young bards so far have demonstrated a knowledge of the difference between well-intentioned pamphleteering and the creation of a valid musical experience. Dylan has. As the highly critical editors of “Little Sandy Review” have noted, “…right now, he is certainly our finest contemporary folk song writer. Nobody else really even comes close.”

The details of Dylan’s biography were summarized in the notes to his first Columbia album; but to recapitulate briefly, he was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. His experience with adjusting himself to new sights and sounds started early. During his first nineteen years, he lived in Gallup, New Mexico: Cheyenne, South Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Phillipsburg, Kansas; Hibbing, Minnesota (where he was graduated from high school), and Minneapolis (where he spent a restless six months at the University of Minnesota).

“Everywhere he went,” Gil Turner wrote in his article on Dylan in “Sing Out,” “his ears were wide open for the music around him. He listened to the blues singers, cowboy singers, pop singers and others — soaking up music and styles with an uncanny memory and facility for assimilation. Gradually, his own preferences developed and became more , the strongest areas being Negro blues and county music. Among the musicians and singers who influenced him were Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, Mance Lipscomb and Big Joe Williams.” And, above all others, Woody Guthrie. At ten he was playing guitar, and by the age of fifteen, Dylan had taught himself piano, harmonica and autoharp.

In February 1961, Dylan came East, primarily to visit Woody Guthrie at the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. The visits have continued, and Guthrie has expressed approval of Dylan’s first album, being particularly fond of the “Song to Woody” in it. By September of 1961, Dylan’s singing in Greenwich Village, especially at Gerde’s Folk City, had ignited a nucleus of singers and a few critics (notably Bob Shelton of the “New York Times”) into exuberant appreciation of his work. Since then, Dylan has inexorably increased the scope of his American audiences while also performing briefly in London and Rome.

The first of Dylan’s songs in this set is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In 1962, Dylan said of the song’s background: “I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and they know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many wars…You people over 21 should know better.” All that he prefers to add by way of commentary now is: “The first way to answer these questions in the song is by asking them. But lots of people have to first find the wind.” On this track, and except when otherwise noted, Dylan is heard alone-accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica.

“Girl From the North Country” was first conceived by Bob Dylan about three years before he finally wrote it down in December 1962. “That often happens,” he explains. “I carry a song in my head for a long time and then it comes bursting out.” The song-and Dylan’s performance-reflect his particular kind of lyricism. The mood is a fusion of yearning, poignancy and simple appreciation of a beautiful girl. Dylan illuminates all these corners of his vision, but simultaneously retains his bristling sense of self. He’s not about to go begging anything from this girl up north.

“Masters of War” startles Dylan himself. “I’ve never really written anything like that before,” he recalls. “I don’t sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it in this one. The song is a sort of striking out, a reaction to the last straw, a feeling of what can you do?” The rage (which is as much anguish as it is anger) is a away of catharsis, a way of getting temporary relief from the heavy feeling of impotence that affects many who cannot understand a civilization which juggles it’s own means for oblivion and calls that performance an act toward peace.

“Down the Highway” is a distillation of Dylan’s feeling about the blues. “The way I think about the blues,” he says, “comes from what I learned from Big Joe Williams. The blues is more than something to sit home and arrange. What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What’s depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.”

“Bob Dylan’s Blues” was composed spontaneously. It’s one of what he calls his “really off-the-cuff songs. I start with an idea, and then I feel what follows. Best way I can describe this one is that it’s sort of like walking by a side street. You gaze in and walk on.”

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” represents to Dylan a maturation of his feelings on this subject since the earlier and almost as powerful “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” which is not included here but which was released as a single record by Columbia. Unlike most of his song-writing contemporaries among city singers, Dylan doesn’t simply make a polemical point in his compositions. As in this sing about the psychopathology of peace-through-balance-of-terror, Dylan’s images are multiply (and sometimes horrifyingly) evocative. As a result, by transmuting his fierce convictions into what can only be called art, Dylan reaches basic emotions which few political statements or extrapolations of statistics have so far been able to touch. Whether a song or a singer can then convert others is something else again.

“Hard Rain,” adds Dylan, “is a desperate kind of song.” It was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the impossible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion. “Every line in it,” says Dylan, “is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.” Dylan treats “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” differently from most city singers . “A lot of people,” he says, “make it sort of a love song-slow and easy-going. But it isn’t a love song. It’s a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better. It’s as if you were talking to yourself. It’s a hard song to sing. I can sing it sometimes, but I ain’t that good yet. I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. I sometimes am able to do it, but it happens, when it happens, unconsciously. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool-a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points. As for me, I can make myself feel better some times, but at other times, it’s still hard to go to sleep at night.” Dylan’s accompaniment on this track includes Bruce Langhorne (guitar), George Barnes (bass guitar), Dick Wellstood (piano), Gene Ramey (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).

“Bob Dylan’s Dream” is another of his songs which was transported for a time in his mind before being written down. It was initially set off after all-night conversation between Dylan and Oscar Brown, Jr., in Greenwich Village. “Oscar,” says Dylan, “is a groovy guy and the idea of this came from what we were talking about.” The song slumbered, however, until Dylan went to England in the winter of 1962. There he heard a singer (whose name he recalls as Martin Carthy) perform “Lord Franklin,” and that old melody found a new adapted home in “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” The song is a fond looking back at the easy camaraderie and idealism of the young when they are young. There is also in the “Dream” a wry but sad requiem for the friendships that have evaporated as different routes, geographical and otherwise, are taken.

Of “Oxford Town,” Dylan notes with laughter that “it’s a banjo tune I play on the guitar.” Otherwise, this account of the ordeal of James Meredith speaks grimly for itself.

“Talking World War III Blues” was about half formulated beforehand and half improvised at the recording session itself. The “talking blues” form is tempting to many young singers because it seems so pliable and yet so simple. However, the simpler a form, the more revealing it is of the essence of the performer. There’s no place to hide in the talking blues. Because Bob Dylan is so hugely and quixotically himself, he is able to fill all the space the talking blues affords with unmistakable originality. In this piece, for example, he has singularly distilled the way we all wish away our end, thermonuclear or “natural.” Or at least, the way we try to.

“Corrina, Corrina” has been considerably changed by Dylan. “I’m not one of those guys who goes around changing songs just for the sake of changing them. But I’d never heard Corrina, Corrina exactly the way it first was, so that this version is the way it came out of me.” As he indicates here, Dylan can be tender without being sentimental and his lyricism is laced with unabashed passion. The accompaniment is Dick Wellstood (piano), Howie Collins (guitar), Bruce Langhorne (guitar), Leonard Gaskin (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).

“Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” was first heard by Dylan from a recording by a now-dead Texas blues singer. Dylan can only remember that his first name was Henry. “What especially stayed with me,” says Dylan, “was the plea in the title.” Here Dylan distills the buoyant expectancy of the love search.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Dylan isn’t limited to one or two ways of feeling his music. He can be poignant and mocking, angry and exultant, reflective and whoopingly joyful. The final “I Shall Be Free” is another of Dylan’s off-the-cuff songs in which he demonstrates the vividness, unpredictability and cutting edge of his wit.

This album, in sum, is the protean Bob Dylan as of the time of the recording. By the next recording, there will be more new songs and insights and experiences. Dylan can’t stop searching and looking and reflecting upon what he sees and hears. “Anything I can sing,” he observes, “I call a song. Anything I can’t sing, I call a poem. Anything I can’t sing or anything that’s too long to be a poem, I call a novel. But my novels don’t have the usual story lines. They’re about my feelings at a certain place at a certain time.” In addition to his singing and song writing, Dylan is working on three “novels.” One is about the week before he came to New York and his initial week in that city. Another is about South Dakota people he knew. And the third is about New York and a trip from New York to New Orleans.

Throughout everything he writes and sings, there is the surge of a young man looking into as many diverse scenes and people as he can find (“Every once in a while I got to ramble around”) and of a man looking into himself. “The most important thing I know I learned from Woody Guthrie,” says Dylan. “I’m my own person. I’ve got basic common rights-whether I’m here in this country or any other place. I’ll never finish saying everything I feel, but I’ll be doing my part to make some sense out of the way we’re living, and not living, now. All I’m doing is saying what’s on my mind the best way I know how. And whatever else you say about me, everything I do and sing and write comes out of me.”

It is this continuing explosion of a total individual, a young man growing free rather than absurd, that makes Bob Dylan so powerful and so personal and so important a singer. As you can hear in these performances.

— Nat Hentoff

3 – from The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)

11 Outlined Epitaphs

By Bob Dylan

 

I end up then

in the early evenin’

blindly punchin’ at the blind

breathin’ heavy

stutterin’

an’ blowin’ up

where t’ go?

what is it that’s exactly wrong?

who t’ picket?

who t’ fight?

behind what windows

will I at least

hear someone from the supper table

get up t’ ask

“did I hear someone outside just now?”

yesterday

an hour ago

it came t’ me

in a second’s flash

an’ was all so clear

it still is now

yes it is

it’s maybe hidin’

it must be hidin’

the shot has shook

me up . . . for I’ve never

heard that sound before

bringing wild thoughts at first

ragged wild

numb wild

now though they’ve leveled out

an’ been wrung out

leavin’ nothin’ but the strangeness

the roots within a washed-out cloth

drippin’ from the clothesline pole

strange thoughts

doubtin’ thoughts

useless an’ unnecessary

the blast it’s true

startled me back but for a spell

content with

all pictures, posters an’ the like

that’re painted for me

ah but I turned

an’ the nex’ time I looked

the gloves of garbage

had clobbered the canvas

leavin’ truckloads of trash

clutterin’ the colors

with a blindin’ sting

forcin’ me t’ once again

slam the shutters of my eyes

but also me to wonderin’

when they’ll open

much much stronger

than anyone whose own eyes’re

aimed over here at mine

“when will he open up his eyes?”

“who him? doncha know? he’s a crazy man

he never opens up his eyes”

“but he’ll surely miss the world go by”

“nah! he lives in his own world”

“my my then he really must be a crazy man”

“yeah he’s a crazy man”

 

an’ so on spangled streets

an’ country roads

I hear sleigh bells

jingle jangle

virgin girls

far into the field

sing an’ laugh

with flickerin’ voices

softly fadin’

I stop an’ smile

an’ rest awhile

watchin’ the candles

of sundown dim

unnoticed

unnoticed for my eyes’re closed

 

The town I was born in holds no memories

but for the honkin’ foghorns

the rainy mist

the rocky cliffs

I have carried no feelings

up past the Lake Superior hills

the town I grew up in is the one

that has left me with my legacy visions

it was not a rich town

my parents were not rich

it was not a poor town

an’ my parents were not poor

it was a dyin’ town

(it was a dyin’ town)

a train line cuts the ground

showin’ where the fathers an’ mothers

of me an’ my friends had picked

up an’ moved from

north Hibbing

t’ south Hibbing.

old north Hibbing . . .

deserted

already dead

with its old stone courthouse

decayin’ in the wind

long abandoned

windows crashed out

the breath of its broken walls

being smothered in clingin’ moss

the old school

where my mother went to

rottin’ shiverin’ but still livin’

standin’ cold an’ lonesome

arms cut off

with even the moon bypassin’ its jagged body

pretendin’ not t’ see

an’ givin’ it its final dignity

dogs howled over the graveyard

where even the markin’ stones were dead

an’ there was no sound except for the wind

blowin’ through the high grass

an’ the bricks that fell back

t’ the dirt from a slight stab

of the breeze . . . it was as though

the rains of wartime had

left the land bombed-out an’ shattered

 

south Hibbing

is where everybody came t’ start their

town again. but the winds of the

north came followin’ an’ grew fiercer

an’ the years went by

but I was young

an’ so I ran

an’ kept runnin’ . . .

 

I am still runnin’ I guess

but my road has seen many changes

for I’ve served my time as a refugee

in mental terms an’ in physical terms

an’ many a fear has vanished

an’ many an attitude has fallen

an’ many a dream has faded

an’ I know I shall meet the snowy North

again-but with changed eyes nex’ time ’round

t’ walk lazily down its streets

an’ linger by the edge of town

find old friends if they’re still around

talk t’ the old people

an’ the young people

runnin’ yes . . .

but stoppin’ for a while

embracin’ what I left

an’ lovin’ it-for I learned by now

never t’ expect

what it cannot give me

 

In times behind, I too

wished I’d lived

in the hungry thirties

an’ blew in Woody

t’ New York City

an’ sang for dimes

on subway trains

satisfied at a nickel fare

an’ passin’ the hat

an’ hittin’ the bars

on eighth avenue

an’ makin’ the rounds

t’ the union halls

but when I came in

the fares were higher

up t’ fifteen cents an’ climbin’

an’ those bars that Woody’s guitar

rattled . . . they’ve changed

they’ve been remodeled

an’ those union halls

like the cio

an’ the nmu

come now! can you see’em

needin’ me

for a song

or two

 

ah where are those forces of yesteryear?

why didn’t they meet me here

an’ greet me here?

 

the underground’s gone deeper

says the old chimney sweeper

the underground’s outa work

sing the bells of New York

the underground’s more dangerous

ring the bells of Los Angeles

the underground’s gone

cry the bells of San Juan

but where has it gone to

ring the bells of Toronto

 

strength now shines through my window

regainin’ me an’ rousin’ me

day by day

from the weariness

of walkin’ with ghosts

that rose an’ had risen

from the ruins an’ remains

of the model T past

even though I clutched t’ its sheet

I was still refused

an’ left confused

for there was nobody there

t’ let me in

a wasteland wind whistled

from behind the billboard “there’s nobody home

all has moved out”

flatly denied

I turned indeed

flinched at first

but said “ok

I get the message”

feelin’ unwanted? no

unloved? no

I felt nothin’

for there was nobody there

I didn’t see no one

t’ want or unwant

to love or unlove

maybe they’re there

but won’t let me in

not takin’ chances

on the ones the grittin’ of my teeth

for only a second

would mean

my mind has just been

swallowed whole

an’ so I step back t’ the street

an’ then turn further down the road

poundin’ on doors

lost?

not really

just out lookin’

a stranger?

no not a stranger but rather someone

who just doesn’t live here

never pretendin’ t’ be knowin’

what’s worth seekin’

but at least

without ghosts by my side

t’ betray my childishness

t’ leadeth me down false trails

an’ maketh me drink from muddy waters

yes it is I

who is poundin’ at your door

if it is inside

who hears the noise

 

Jim Jim

where is our party?

where all member’s held equal

an’ vow t’ infiltrate that thought

among the people it hopes t’ serve

an’ sets a respected road

for all of those like me

who cry

“I am ragin’ly against absolutely

everything that wants t’ force nature

t’ be unnatural (be it human or otherwise)

an’ I am violently for absolutely

everything that will fight those

forces (be them human or otherwise)”

oh what is the name of this gallant group?

lead me t’ the ballot box

what man do we run?

how many votes will it take

for a new set of teeth

in the congress mouths?

how many hands have t’ be raised

before hair will grow back

on the white house head?

a Boston tea party don’t mean the

same thing . . . as it did in the newborn

years before. even the

meanin’ of the word

has changed. ha

ha . . . t’ say the least

yes that party is truly gone

but where is the party t’ dump the feelings

of the fiery cross burners

an’ flamin’ match carriers?

if there was such a party

they would’ve been dumped

long before this . . . who is supposed

t’ dump ’em now?

when all can see their threads hang weak

but still hold strong

loyal but dyin’

fightin’ for breath

who then will kill its misery?

what sea shall we pollute?

when told t’ learn

what others know

in order for a soothin’ life

an’ t’ conquer many a brainwashed dream

I was set forth the forces on records an’ books

from the forces that were sold t’ me

an’ could be found in hung-up style

wanderin’ through crowded valleys

searchin’ for what others knew

with the eagles’ shadows

silent

hungry

watchin’ waitin’

from high mountains

an’ me just walkin’

butterflies in my head

an’ bitter by now

(here! take this kid an’ learn it well

but why sir? my arms’re so heavy

I said take it. it’ll do yuh good

but I ain’t learned last night’s lesson yet.

am I gonna have t’ get mad with you?

no no gimme gimme just stick it on top

a the rest a the stuff

here! if yuh learn it well yuh’ll

get an A . . . an’ don’t do anything

I wouldn’t do)

and with each new brightnin’ phrase

more messy

till I found myself almost swallowed

deep in burden

spinnin’

walkin’ slower

heavier heavier

glassy-eyed

but at last I heard

the eagle drool

as I zombie strolled

up past the foothills

thunderstruck

an’ I stopped cold

an’ bellowed

“I don’t wanna learn no more

I had enough”

an’ I took a deep breath

turned around

an’ ran for my life

shoutin’ shoutin’

back t’ the highway

away from the mountain

not carin’ no more

what people knew about things

but rather how they felt about things

runnin’ down another road

through time an’ dignity

an’ I have never taken off my boots

no matter how the miles have burnt

my feet . . .

an’ I’m still on that road, Jim

I’m still sleepin’ at night by its side

an’ eatin’ where it’ll lead me t’ food

where state lines don’t stand

an’ knowledge don’t count

when feelings are hurt

an’ I am on the side a them hurt feelings

plunged on by unsensitive hammers

an’ made t’ bleed by rusty nails

an’ I look t’ you, Jim

where is the party for those kind of feelings?

how’re the gamblers that wheel an’ deal an’

shuffle ’em around gonna be got outa the game?

from here in

beyond this

an’ from now on

 

Al’s wife claimed I can’t be happy

as the New Jersey night ran backwards

an’ vanished behind our rollin’ ear

“I dig the colors outside, an’ I’m happy”

“but you sing such depressin’ songs”

“but you say so on your terms”

“but my terms aren’t so unreal”

“yes but they’re still your terms”

“but what about others that think

in those terms”

“Lenny Bruce says there’re no dirty

words . . . just dirty minds an’ I say there’re

no depressed words just depressed minds”

“but how’re you happy an’ when ‘re you happy”

“I’m happy enough now”

“why?”

“cause I’m calmly lookin’ outside an’ watchin’

the night unwind”

“what’d yuh mean unwind?”

“I mean somethin’ like there’s no end t’ it

an’ it’s so big

that every time I see it it’s like seein’

for the first time”

“so what?”

“so anything that ain’t got no end’s

just gotta be poetry in one

way or another”

“yeah, but . . . “

“an’ poetry makes me feel good”

“but . . .”

“an’ poetry makes me feel happy”

“ok but . . . “

“for the lack of a better word”

“but what about the songs you sing on stage?”

“they’re nothin’ but the unwindin’ of

my happiness”

 

Woody Guthrie was my last idol

he was the last idol

because he was the first idol

I’d ever met

face t’ face

that men are men

shatterin’ even himself

as an idol

an’ that men have reasons

for what they do

an’ what they say

an’ every action can be questioned

leavin’ no command

untouched an’ took for granted

obeyed an’ bowed down to

forgettin’ your own natural instincts

(for there’re a million reasons

in the world

an’ a million instincts

runnin’ wild

an’ it’s none too many times

the two shall meet)

the unseen idols create the fear

an’ trample hope when busted

Woody never made me fear

and he didn’t trample any hopes

for he just carried a book of Man

an’ gave it t’ me t’ read awhile

an’ from it I learned my greatest lesson

 

you ask “how does it feel t’ be an idol?”

it’d be silly of me t’ answer, wouldn’t it . . .?

 

A Russian has three an’ a half red eyes

five flamin’ antennas

drags a beet-colored ball an’ chain

an’ wants t’ slip germs

into my Coke machine

“burn the tree stumps at the border”

about the sex-hungry lunatics

out warmongerin’ in the early mornin’

“poison the sky so the planes won’t come”

yell the birch colored knights with

patriotic shields

“an’ murder all the un-Americans”

say the card-carryin’ American

book burners

(yes we burned five books last week)

as my friend, Bobby Lee,

walks back an’ forth

free now from his native Harlem

where his ma still sleeps at night

hearin’ rats inside the sink

an’ underneath her hardwood bed

an’ walls of holes

where the cold comes in

scared

wrapped in blankets

an’ she, God knows,

is kind

an’ gentle

ain’t there no closer villains

that the baby-eaten’ Russians

rats eat babies too

 

I talked with one

of the sons of Germany

while walkin’ once on foreign ground

an’ I learned that

he regards

Adolf Hitler

as we here in the states

regard

Robert E. Lee

 

fasten up your holster

mr. gunslinger

an’ buy new bolts

for your neck

there is only up wing

an’ down wing

 

last night I dreamt

that while healin’ ceiling

up in Harlem

I saw Canada ablaze

an’ nobody knowin’

nothin’ about it

except of course

who held the match

 

Yes, I am a thief of thoughts

not, I pray, a stealer of souls

I have built an’ rebuilt

upon what is waitin’

for the sand on the beaches

carves many castles

on what has been opened

before my time

a word, a tune, a story, a line

keys in the wind t’ unlock my mind

an’ t’ grant my closet thoughts backyard air

it is not of me t’ sit an’ ponder

wonderin’ an’ wastin’ time

thinkin’ of thoughts that haven’t been thunk

thinkin’ of dreams that haven’t been dreamt

an’ new ideas that haven’t been wrote

an’ new words t’ fit into rhyme

(if it rhymes, it rhymes

if it don’t, it don’t

if it comes, it comes

if it won’t, it won’t)

 

no I must react an’ spit fast

with weapons of words

wrapped in tunes

that’ve rolled through the simple years

teasin’ me t’ treat them right

t’ reshape them an’ restring them

t’ protect my own world

from the mouths of all those

who’d eat it

an’ hold it back from eatin’ its own food

(influences?

hundreds thousands

perhaps millions

for all songs lead back t’ the sea

an’ at one time, there was

no singin’ tongue t’ imitate it)

t’ make new sounds out of old sounds

an’ new words out of old words

an’ not t’ worry about the new rules

for they ain’t been made yet

an’ t’ shout my singin’ mind

knowin’ that it is me an’ my kind

that will make those rules . . .

if the people of tomorrow

really need the rules of today

rally ’round all you prosecutin’ attorneys

the world is but a courtroom

yes

but I now the defendants better ‘n you

and while you’re busy prosecutin’

we’re busy whistlin’

cleanin’ up the courthouse

sweepin’ sweepin’

listenin’ listenin’

winkin’ t’ one another

careful

careful

your spot is comin’ up soon

 

Oh where were these magazines

when I was bummin’ up an’ down

up an’ down the street?

is it that they too just sleep

in their high thrones . . . openin’

their eyes when people pass

expectin’ each t’ bow as they go by

an’ say “thank you Mr. Magazine.

did I answer all my questions right?”

ah but mine is of another story

for I do not care t’ be made an oddball

bouncin’ past reporters’ pens

cooperatin’ with questions

aimed at eyes that want t’ see

“there’s nothin’ here

go back t’ sleep

or look at the ads

on page 33″

I don’t like t’ be stuck in print

starin’ out at cavity minds

who gobble chocolate candy bars

quite content an’ satisfied

their day complete

at seein’ what I eat for breakfast

the kinds of clothes I like t’ wear

an’ the hobbies that I like t do

I never eat

I run naked when I can

my hobby’s collectin’ airplane glue

 

“come come now Mr. Dylan our readers want

t’ know the truth”

“that is the bare hungry sniffin’ truth”

“Mr. Dylan, you’re very funny, but really now”

“that’s all I have t’ say today”

“but you’d better answer”

“that sounds like some kind a threat”

“it just could be ha ha ha ha”

“what will my punishment”

“a rumor tale on you ha ha”

“a what kind of tale ha ha ha ha”

“yes well you’ll see, Mr. Dylan, you’ll see”

 

an’ I seen

or rather I have saw

your questions’re ridiculous

an’ most of your magazines’re also ridiculous

caterin’ t’ people

who want t’ see

the boy nex’ door

no I shall not corporate with reporters’ whims

there’re other kinds of boys nex’ door.

even though they’ve slanted me

they cannot take what I do away from me

they can disguise it

make it out t’ be a joke

an’ make me seem

the ridiculous one

in the eyes of their readers

they can build me up

accordin’ t’ their own terms

so that they are able

t’ bust me down

an’ “expose” me

in their own terms

givin’ blind advice

t’ unknown eyes

who have no way of knowin’

that I “expose” myself

every time I step out

on the stage

 

The night passes fast for me now

an’ after dancin’ out its dance

undresses leavin’ nothin’ but its naked dawn

proudly standin’

smilin’ smilin’

turnin’ turnin’

gently gently

I have seen it sneak up countless

times . . . leavin’ me conscious

with a thousand sleepy thoughts

untamed

an’ tryin’ t’ run

I think at these times

of many things an’ many people

I think of Sue most times

beautiful Sue

with the lines of a swan

frightened easy

as a fawn in the forest

by this time deep in dreams

with her long hair spread out

the color of the sun

soakin’ the dark

an’ scatterin’ light

t’ the dungeons of my constant night

I think love poems

as a poor lonesome invalid

knowin’ of my power

t’ destroy

the good souls of the road

that know no sickness

except that of kindness

(you ask of love?

there is no love

except in silence

an’ silence doesn’t say a word)

ah but Sue

she knows me well

perhaps too well

an’ is above all

the true fortuneteller of my soul

I think perhaps the only one

(you ask of truth?

there is no truth

what fool can claim t’ carry the truth

for it is but a drunken matter

romantic? yes

tragic? no I think not)

the door still knocks

an’ the wind still blows

bringin’ me my memories

of friends an’ sounds an’ colors

that can’t escape

trapped in keyholes

Eric . . . bearded Eric

far in Boston

buried beneath my window

yes I feel t’ dig the ground up

but I’m so tired

an’ know not where t’ look for tools

rap tap tap

the rattlin’ wind

blows Geno in

tellin’ me of philistines

that he’d run into durin’ the night

he stomps across my floor

I laugh

an’ drink cold coffee an’ old wine

light of feelin’

as I listen t’ one of my own tongues

take the reins

guide the path

an’ drop me off . . . headin’ back again

t’ take care of his end of the night

slam an’ Geno

then too is gone

outside a siren whines

leadin’ me down another line

I jump but get sidetracked

by clunkin’ footsteps

down the street

(it is as though my mind

ain’t mine t’ make up

any more)

I wonder if the cockroaches

still crawl in Dave an’ Terri’s

fifteenth street kitchen

I wonder if they’re the same cockroaches

ah yes the times’ve changed

Dave still scorns me for not readin’ books

an’ Terri still laughs at my rakish ways

but fifteenth street has been abandoned

we have moved . . .

the cats across the roof

mad in love

scream into the drain pipes

bringing’ in the sounds of music

the only music

an’ it is I who is ready

ready t’ listen

restin’ restin’

a silver peace

reigns an’

becomes the nerves of mornin’

an’ I stand up an’ yawn

hot with jumpin’ pulse

never tired

never sad

never guilty

for I am runnin’ in a fair race

with no racetrack but the night

an’ no competition but the dawn

 

So at last at least

the sky for me

is a pleasant gray

meanin’ rain

or meanin’ snow

constantly meanin’ change

but a change forewarned

either t’ the clearin’ of the clouds

or t’ the pourin’ of the storms

an’ after it’s desire

returnin’

returnin’ with me underneath

returnin’ with it

never fearful

finally faithful

it will guide me well

across all bridges inside all tunnels

never failin’ . . .

 

with the sounds of Francois Villon

echoin’ through my mad streets

as I stumble on lost cigars

of Bertolt Brecht

an’ empty bottles

of Brendan Behan

the hypnotic words

of A. L.. Lloyd

each one bendin’ like its own song

an’ the woven’ spell of Paul Clayton

entrancin’ me like China’s plague

unescapeable

drownin’ in the lungs of Edith Piaf

an’ in the mystery of Marlene Dietrich

the dead poems of Eddie Freeman

love songs of Allen Ginsberg

an’ jail songs of Ray Bremser

the narrow tunes of Modigliani

an’ the singin’ plains of Harry Jackson

the cries of Charles Aznavour

with melodies of Yevtushenko

through the quiet fire of Miles Davis

above the bells of William Blake

an’ beat visions of Johnny Cash

an’ the saintliness of Pete Seeger

 

strokin’ my senses

down down

drownin’ drownin’

when I need t’ drown

for my road is blessed

with many flowers

an’ the sounds of flowers

liftin’ lost voices of the ground’s people

up up

higher higher

all people

no matter what creed

no matter what color skin

no matter what language an’ no matter what land

for all people laugh

in the same tongue

an’ cry

in the same tongue

endless endless

it’s all endless

an’ it’s all songs

it’s just one big world of songs

an’ they’re all on loan

if they’re only turned loose t’ sing

 

lonely? ah yes

but it is the flowers an’ the mirrors

of flowers that now meet my

loneliness

an’ mine shall be a strong loneliness

dissolvin’ deep

t’ the depths of my freedom

an’ that, then, shall

remain my song

 

there’s a movie called

Shoot the Piano Player

the last line proclaimin’

“music, man, that’s where it’s at”

it is a religious line

outside, the chimes rung

an’ they

are still ringin’

4 – from Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)

Some Other Kinds Of Songs . . .

Poems by Bob Dylan

baby black’s

been had

ain’t bad

smokestacked

chicken shacked

dressed in black

silver monkey

on her back

mammy ma

juiced pa

janitored

between the law

brothers ten

rat-faced

gravestoned

ditch dug

firescaped an’ substroked

choked

baby black

hits back

robs, pawns

lives by trade

sits an’ waits on fire plug

digs the heat

eyes meet

picket line

across the street

head rings

of bed springs

freedom’s holler

you ask of order

she’d hock

the world

for a dollar an’ a quarter

baby black

dressed in black

gunny sack

about t’ crack

been gone

carry on

i’m givin’ you

myself t’ pawn

 

__________

 

for françoise hardy

at the seine’s edge

a giant shadow

of notre dame

seeks t’ grab my foot

sorbonne students

whirl by on thin bicycles

swirlin’ lifelike colors of leather spin

the breeze yawns food

far from the bellies

or erhard meetin’ johnson

piles of lovers

fishing

kissing

lay themselves on their books. boats.

old men

clothed in curly mustaches

float on the benches

blankets of tourist

in bright red nylon shirts

with straw hats of ambassadors

(cannot hear nixon’s

dawg bark now)

will sail away

as the sun goes down

the doors of the river are open

i must remember that

i too play the guitar

it’s easy t’ stand here

more lovers pass

on motorcycles

roped together

from the walls of the water then

i look across t’ what they call

the right bank

an’ envy

your

trumpet

player

 

__________

 

“i could make you crawl

if i was payin’ attention”

he said munchin’ a sandwich

in between chess moves

“what d’ you wanna make

me crawl for?”

“i mean i just could”

“could make me crawl”

“yeah, make you crawl!”

“humm, funny guy you are”

“no, i just play t’ win,

that’s all”

“well if you can’t win me,

then you’re the worst player

i ever played”

“what d’ you mean?”

“i mean i lose all the time”

his jaw tightened an’ he took

a deep breath

“hummm, now i gotta beat you”

 

straight away an’ into the ring

juno takes twenty pills an’

paints all day. life he says

is a head kinda thing. outside

of chicago, private come down

junkie nurse home heals countless

common housewives strung out

fully on drugstore dope, legally

sold t’ help clean the kitchen.

lenny bruce shows his seventh

avenue hand-made movies, while a

bunch of women sneak little white

tablets into shoes, stockings, hats

an’ other hidin’ places. newspapers

tell neither. irma goes t’ israel

an’ writes me that there, they

hate nazis much more ‘n we over here

do. eichmann dies yes, an’ west

germany sends eighty-year-old

pruned-out gestapo hermit off t’

the penitentiary. in east berlin

renata tells me that i must wear

tie t’ get in t’ this certain place

i wanna go. back here, literate

old man with rebel flag above

home sweet home sign says he won’t

vote for goldwater. “talks too

much. should keep his mouth shut”

 

i walk between backyards an’ see

little boy with feather in his hair

lyin’ dead on the grass. he gets

up an’ hands feather t’ another

little boy who immediately falls

down. “it’s my turn t’ be the good

guy . . . take that, redskin” bang bang.

henry miller stands on other side

of ping pong table an’ keeps

talkin’ about me. “did you ask

the poet fellow if he wants

something t’ drink” he says t’

someone gettin’ all the drinks.

i drop my ping pong paddle

an’ look at the pool. my worst

enemies don’t even put me down

in such a mysterious way.

college student trails me with

microphone an’ tape machine.

what d’ you think a the communist

party? what communist party?

he rattles off names an’ numbers.

he can’t answer my question. he

tries harder. i say “you don’t

have t’ answer my question” he

gets all squishy. i say

there’s no answer t’ my question

any more ‘n there’s an answer t’

your question. ferris wheel runs

in california park an’ the sky trembles.

turns red. above hiccups an’ pointed

fingers. i tell reporter lady that yes

i’m monstrously against the house

unamerican activities committee

an’ also the cia an’ i beg her please

not t’ ask me why for it would take

too long t’ tell she asks me about

humanity an’ i say i’m not sure

what that word means. she wants me

t’ say what she wants me t’ say. she

wants me t’ say what she

can understand. a loose-tempered fat

man in borrowed stomach slams wife

in the face an’ rushes off t’ civil

rights meeting. while some strange

girl chases me up smoky mountain

tryin’ t’ find out what sign i am.

i take allen ginsberg t’ meet fantastic

great beautiful artist an’ no trespassin’

 

boards block up all there is t’ see.

eviction. infection gangrene an’

atom bombs. both ends exist only

because there is someone who wants

profit. boy loses eyesight. becomes

airplane pilot. people pound their

chests an’ other people’s chests an’

interpret bibles t’ suit their own

means. respect is just a misinterpreted word

an’ if Jesus Christ himself came

down through these streets, Christianity

would start all over again. standin’

on the stage of all ground. insects

play in their own world. snakes

slide through the weeds. ants come an’

go through the grass. turtles an’ lizards

make their way through the sand. everything

crawls. everything . . .

an’ everything still crawls

 

__________

 

jack o’diamonds

jack o’diamonds

one-eyed knave

on the move

hits the street

sneaks. leaps

between pillars of chips

springs on them like samson

thumps thumps

strikes

is on the prowl

you’ll only lose

shouldn’t stay

jack o’diamonds

is a hard card t’ play

 

jack o’diamonds

wrecked my hand

left me here t’ stand

little tin men play

their drums now

upside my head

in the midst of cheers

flowers

four queens

with pawed out hearts

make believe

they’re still good

but i should drop

fold

an’ dean martin should apologize

t’ the rolling stones

ho hum

weird tablestakes

young babies horseback ride

their fathers’ necks

two dudes in hopped-up ford

for the tenth time

have rolled through town

it’s your turn baby t’

cut the deck

on you’re goin’ under

stayed too long

chinese gong

down the way

says jack o’diamonds

(a high card)

jack o’diamonds

(but ain’t high enough)

 

jack o’diamonds

is a hard card t’ play

 

jack o’diamonds used t’ laugh at me

now wants t’ collect from me

used t’ be ashamed of me

now wants t’ walk ‘long side of me

jack o’diamonds

one-armed prince

wears but a single glove

as he shoves

never loves

the moon’s too bright

as he’s fixed mirrors

’round the room at night

it’s hard t’ think

there’s probably somethin’

in my drink

should pour it out

inside the sink

would throw it in his face

but it’d do no good

give no gain

just leave a stain

jack o’diamonds

an’ all his crap

needs some acid

in his lap

what hour now

it feels late somehow

my hounddog bays

need more ashtrays

i can’t even remember

the early days

please don’t stay

gather your bells an’ go

jack o’diamonds

(can open for riches)

jack o’diamonds

(but then it switches)

a colorful picture but

beats only the ten

jack o’diamonds

is a hard card t’ play

 

jack o’diamonds stays indoors

wants me t’ fight his wars

jack o’diamonds is a hard card t’ play

never certain. in the middle

commentin’ on the songs of birds

chucklin’ at screamin’ mothers

jack o’diamonds drains

fish brains

raffles what’s left over

across the table

t’ little boy card sharks

who just sat down

t’ get off their feet

bad luck run’s all in fun

it’s your choice. your voice

you choose

you lose

run for cover

hallaluyah

you choose t’ lose

take yourself

disappear

jack o’diamonds

(a king’s death)

jack o’diamonds

(at the ace’s breath)

jack o’diamonds

is a hard card t’ play

 

__________

 

run go get out of here

quick

leave joshua

split

go fit your battle

do your thing

i lost my glasses

can’t see jericho

the wind is tyin’ knots

in my hair

nothin’ seems

t’ be straight

out there

no i shan’t go with you

i can’t go with you

 

on the brooklyn bridge

he was cockeyed

an’ stood on the edge

there was a priest talkin’ to him

i was shiftin’ myself around

so i could see from all sides

in an’ out of stretched necks

an’ things

cops held people back

the lady in back of me

burst into my groin

“sick sick some are so sick”

like a circus trapeze act

“oh i hope he don’t do it”

he was on the other side of the railin’

both eyes fiery wide

wet with sweat

the mouth of a shark

rolled up soiled sleeves

his arms were thick an’ tattooed

an’ he wore a silver watch

i could tell at a glance

he was uselessly lonely

i couldn’t stay an’ look at him

i couldn’t stay an’ look at him

because i suddenly realized that

deep in my heart

i really wanted

t’ see him jump

 

(a mob. each member knowin’

that they all know an’ see the same thing

they have the same thing in common.

can stare at each other in total blankness

they do not have t’ speak an’ not feel guilty

about havin’ nothing t’ say. everyday boredom

soaked by the temporary happiness

of that their search is finally over

for findin’ a way t’ communicate a leech cookout

giant cop out. all mobs i would think.

an’ i was in it an’ caught by the excitement of it)

 

an’ i walked away

i wanted t’ see him jump so bad

that i had t’ walk away an’ hide

uptown uptown

orchard street

through all those people on

orchard street

pants legs in my face

“comere! comere!”

i don’t need no clothes

an’ cross the street

skull caps climb

by themselves out of manholes

an’ shoeboxes ride

the cracks of the sidewalk

fishermen —

i’ve suddenly been turned into

a fish

but does anybody

wanna be a fisherman

any more ‘n i

don’t wanna be a fish

 

(swingin’ wanda’s

down in new orleans

rumbles across

brick written

swear word

vulgar wall

in new york city)

 

no they can’t make it

off the banks of their river

i am in their river

(i wonder if he jumped

i really wonder if he jumped)

i turn corner

t’ get off river

an’ get off river

still goin’ up

i about face

an’ discover

that i’m on another river

 

(this time. king rex

blesses me with plastic beads

an’ toot toot whistles

paper rings an’ things.

royal street.

bourbon street

st. claude an’ esplanade

pass an’ pull

everything out of shape

joe b. stuart

white southern poet

holds me up

we charge through casa

blazin’ jukebox

gumbo overflowin’

get kicked out of colored bar

streets jammed

hypnotic stars explode

in louisiana murder night

everything’s wedged

arm in arm

stoned galore

must see you in mobile then

down governor nichel

an’ gone)

 

ok i can get off this river too

on bleeker street

i meet many friends

who look back at me

as if they know something

i don’t know

rocco an’ his brothers

say that some people

are worse hung up than me

i don’t wanna hear it

a basketball drops through

the hoop

an’ i recall that the

living theater’s been busted

 

(has the guy jumped yet?)

intellectual spiders

weave down sixth avenue

with colt forty-fives

stickin’ out of their

belly buttons

an’ for the first time

in my life

i’m proud that

i haven’t read into

any masterpiece books

(an’ why did i wanna see that

poor soul so dead?)

 

first of all two people get

together an’ they want their doors

enlarged. second of all, more

people see what’s happenin’ an’

come t’ help with the door

enlargement. the ones that arrive

however have nothin’ more than

“let’s get these doors enlarged”

t’ say t’ the ones who were

there in the first place. it follows then that

the whole thing revolves around

nothing but this door enlargement idea.

third of all, there’s a group now existin’

an’ the only thing that keeps them friends

is that they all want the doors enlarged.

obviously, the doors’re then enlarged

fourth of all,

after this enlargement

the group has t’ find

something else t’ keep

them together or

else the door enlargement

will prove t’ be

embarrassing

 

on fourteenth street

i meet someone

who i know in front

wants t’ put me

uptight

wants me t’ be on

his level

in all honesty

he wants t’ drag

me down there

i realize gravity

is my only enemy

loneliness has clutched

hands an’ squeezes you

into wrongin’ others

everybody has t’ do things

keep themselves occupied

the workin’ ones

have their minds on

the weekends

victims of the system

pack movie theaters

an’ who an’ of what

sadistic company is he

from that has the right

t’ condemn others as trivial

whose fault

an’ who really is t’ blame

for one man carryin’ a gun

it is impossible that

it’s him

slaves are of no special color

an’ the links of chains

fall into no special order

how good an actor do you have to be

and play God

(in greece, a little old lady

a worker lady

looks at me

rubs her chin

an’ by sign language asks

how come i’m so unshaven

“the sea is very beautiful here”

 

i reply

pointin’ t’ my chin.

an’ she believes me

needs no other answer

i strum the guitar

she dances

laughs

her bandana flies

i too realize that

she will die here

one the side of this sea

her death is certain here

my death is unknown

an’ i come t’ think that

i love her)

 

i talk t’ people every day

involved in some scene

good an’ evil are but words

invented by those

that are trapped in scenes

 

on what grounds are the

grounds for judgment

an i think also

that there is not

one thing anyplace

anywhere that makes any

sense. there are only tears

an’ there is only sorrow

there are no problems

 

i have seen what i’ve loved

slip away an’ vanish. i still

love what i’ve lost but t’ run

an’ try t’ catch it’d

be very greedy

for the rest of my life

i will never chase a livin’ soul

into the prison grasp

of my own self-love

 

i can’t believe that i have

t’ hate anybody

an’ when i do

it will only be out of fear

an’ i’ll know it

 

i know no answers an’ no truth

for absolutely no soul alive

i will listen t’ no one

who tells me morals

there are no morals

an’ i dream a lot

 

so go joshua

go fit your battle

i have t’ go t’ the woods

for a while

i hope you understand

but if you don’t

it doesn’t matter

i will be with you

nex’ time around

don’t think about me

i’ll be ok

just go ahead out there

right out there

do what you say

you’re gonna do

an’ who knows

someday

someone might even

write

a song

about you

 

__________

 

i used t’ hate enzo

i used t’ hate him

so much that i could’ve killed him

he was rotten an’ ruthless

an’ after what he could get

i was sure of that

my beloved one met him

in a far-off land

an’ she stayed longer there

because of him

i croaked with exhaustion

that he was actually makin’ her happy

i never knew him

sometimes i would see him

on my ceilin’

i could’ve shot him

the rovin’ phony

the romantic idiot

i know about guys for

i myself am a guy

poison swings its pendulums

with a seasick sensation

an’ i used t’ want t’ trample on him

i used t’ want t’ massacre him

i used t’ want t’ murder him

i wanted t’ be like him so much

that i ached

i used t’ hate enzo

 

__________

 

michelangelo would’ve wept

if he saw but once where charlie slept

(whoa, charlie, i’m afraid you’ve stepped

beyond the borders of being kept)

what price what price what price disgrace

for sleepin’ on a cherub’s face?

 

__________

 

an amazon chick

with an amazin’ pancho villa face

thumb out on highway

stands in the boilin’ sun

countin’ cars go by

zoom

catch that

u-turn

watch truck

yes i knew zapata well

some of my friends

my very best

have even looked

like the japanese

at certain times

i myself think they’re

grand . . . make great radios

do you ever see liz taylor

down there

pack is heavy

there is ink

runnin’ down its dusty straps

amarillo

ain’t far

am going there too

won’t need floor scrubbed

voice dubbed

or anything

won’t need anything

a place fumbles in the sky

must make it t’ trinidad

tonight

a flyin’ saucer texan

covered in cuff links

ate his steak for breakfast

an’ now his car radiator

has blown up down the road

back here, a sixty-three

mercury convertible

crashes into girl

an’ ten birds

just crossed

the colorado border

 

__________

 

johnny (little johnny)

with his father’s hammer

nailed five flies

t’ the kitchen window

trapped baby bumblebees

in orange juice bottles

rib whipped his

younger brother

an’ stuck his sister’s hand

in the garbage disposal

pleasin’ johnny

dad’s football star

named all the girls

that did it

he did

an’ never knew a

one that didn’t

bruiser johnny

sore loser johnny

bad in math

but his parents fixed it

got too drunk in bars

an’ his parents fixed

that too

lovin’ johnny

crew-cut johnny

well molded

clean lived in

something his parents

could be proud of

no matter what the

cost to him

a structure of a manly duckling

but his parents

couldn’t buy him

into the college

where he wanted t’ go

genius johnny

poutin’ johnny

punchin’ johnny

crashed his

here son have a car good boy

cadillac into

a couldn’t care less

railroad bridge

his parents supported him still

they bought new hankies

an’ johnny got lots of flowers

 

an’ so as spoked prongs

pierce from perilous heights

plungin’

through soft pillows,

there IS a sound

that rings

no praise

no praise

but you must be

aware of poor johnny

t’ hear it

 

__________

 

you tell me about politics

this that

you speak of rats.

geese. a world of peace

you stumble stammer

pound your fist

an’ i tell you there are no politics

you swear

tell me how much you care

you cheat the lunch counter man

out of a pack of cigarettes

an’ i tell you there are no politics

you tell me of goons’

graves. ginks an’ finks

an’ of what you’ve read

an’ how things should be

an’ what you’d do if . . .

an i say someone’s been

tamperin’ with your head

you jump

raise your voice

an’ gyrate yourself

t’ the tone of principles

your arm is raised

an’ i tell you there are no politics

in the afternoon you run

t’ keep appointments

with false lovers

an’ this leaves you

drained by nightfall

you ask me questions

an’ i say that every question

if it’s a truthful question

can be answered by askin’ it

you stomp

get mad

i say it’s got nothin’ t’ do with

gertrude stein

you turn your eyes

t’ the radio

an’ tell me what a

wasteland exists in television

you rant an’ rave

of poverty

your fingers crawl the walls

the screen door leaves black marks

across your nose

your breath remains on

window glass

bullfight posters hang crooked above your head

an’ the phone rings constantly

you tell me how much i’ve changed

as if that is all there is t’ say

out of the side of your mouth

while talkin’ on the wires

in a completely different

tone of voice

than you had a minute ago

when speakin’ t’ me about something else

i say what’s this about changes?

you say “let’s go get drunk”

light a cigarette

“an’ throw up on the world”

you go t’ your closet

mumblin’ about the phoniness of churches

an’ spastic national leaders

i say groovy but

also holy hollowness too

yes hollow holiness

an’ that some of my best friends

know people that go t’ church

you blow up

slam doors

say “can’t no one say nothin’ t’ you”

s say “what do You think?”

your face laughs

you say “oh yeeeeeaah?”

i’m gonna break up i say

an’ reach for your coat

‘neath piles of paper slogans

i say your house is dirty

you say you should talk

your hallway stinks as

we walk through it

your stairs tilt drastically

your railing’s rotted

an’ there’s blood at the

bottom of your steps

you say t’ meet bricks with bricks

i say t’ meet bricks with chalk

you tell me monster floor plans

an’ i tell you about a bookie shop

in boston givin’ odds on the presidential

race

i’m not gonna bet for a while i say

little children

shoot craps

in the alley garbage pot

you say “nothin’s perfect”

an’ i tell you again

there are no

politics

 

__________

 

high treachery sails

unveils

its last wedding song

bang sing the bells

the low pauper’s prayer

rice rags in blossom

blow in a fleet

ribbons in the street

white as a sheet

(a Mexican cigarette)

the people’ve been set

t’ try t’ forget

that their

whole life’s a honeymoon

over soon

i’m not gettin’ caught

by all this rot

as i vanish down the road

with a starving actress

on each arm

(for better or best

in sickness an’ madness)

i do take thee

i’m already married

so i’ll continue as one

faithful done

ah fair blondy

ye lead me blindly

I am in the gravel

an’ down on the gamut

for our anniversary

you can make me nervous

clink sings the tower

clang sang the preacher

inside of the altar

outside of the theater

mystery fails

when treachery prevails

the forgotten rosary

nails

itself t’ a cross

of sand

an’ rich men

stare t’ their

private own-ed murals

all is lost Cinderella

all is lost

5 – from Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

i’m standing there watching the parade/

feeling combination of sleepy john estes.

jayne mansfield. humphry bogart/morti-

mer snerd. murph the surf and so forth/

erotic hitchhiker wearing japanese

blanket. gets my attention by asking didn’t

he see me at this hootenanny down in

puerto vallarta, mexico/i say no you must

be mistaken. i happen to be one of the

Supremes/then he rips off his blanket

an’ suddenly becomes a middle-aged druggist.

up for district attorney. he starts scream-

ing at me you’re the one. you’re the one

that’s been causing all them riots over in

vietnam. immediately turns t’ a bunch of

people an’ says if elected, he’ll have me

electrocuted publicly on the next fourth

of july. i look around an’ all these people

he’s talking to are carrying blowtorches/

needless t’ say, i split fast go back t’ the

nice quiet country. am standing there writing

WHAAT? on my favorite wall when who should

pass by in a jet plane but my recording

engineer “i’m here t’ pick up you and your

lastest works of art. do you need any help

with anything?”

 

(pause)

 

my songs’re written with the kettledrum

in mind/a touch of any anxious color. un-

mentionable. obvious. an’ people perhaps

like a soft brazilian singer . . . i have

given up at making any attempt at perfection/

the fact that the white house is filled with

leaders that’ve never been t’ the apollo

theater amazes me. why allen ginsberg was

not chosen t’ read poetry at the inauguration

boggles my mind/if someone thinks norman

mailer is more important than hank williams

that’s fine. i have no arguments an’ i

never drink milk. i would rather model har-

monica holders than discuss aztec anthropology/

english literature. or history of the united

nations. i accept chaos. I am not sure whether

it accepts me. i know there’re some people terrified

of the bomb. but there are other people terrified

t’ be seen carrying a modern screen magazine.

experience teaches that silence terrifies people

the most . . . i am convinced that all souls have

some superior t’ deal with/like the school

system, an invisible circle of which no one

can think without consulting someone/in the

face of this, responsibility/security, success

mean absolutely nothing. . . i would not want

t’ be bach. mozart. tolstoy. joe hill. gertrude

stein or james dean/they are all dead. the

Great books’ve been written. the Great sayings

have all been said/I am about t’ sketch You

a picture of what goes on around here some-

times. though I don’t understand too well

myself what’s really happening. i do know

that we’re all gonna die someday an’ that no

death has ever stopped the world. my poems

are written in a rhythm of unpoetic distortion/

divided by pierced ears. false eyelashes/sub-

tracted by people constantly torturing each

other. with a melodic purring line of descriptive

hollowness — seen at times through dark sunglasses

an’ other forms of psychic explosion. a song is

anything that can walk by itself/i am called

a songwriter. a poem is a naked person . . . some

people say that i am a poet

 

(end of pause)

 

an’ so i answer my recording engineer

“yes. well i could use some help in getting

this wall in the plane”

6 – from Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

On the slow train time does not interfere & at the Arabian crossing waits White Heap, the man from the newspaper & behind him the hundred Inevitables made of solid rock & stone — the Cream Judge & the Clown — the doll house where Savage Rose & Fixable live simply in their wild animal luxury . . . . Autumn, with two zeros above her nose arguing over the sun being dark or Bach is as famous as its commotion & that she herself — not Orpheus — is the logical poet “I am the logical poet” she screams “Spring? Spring is only the beginning!” she attempts to make Cream Judge jealous by telling him of down-to-earth people & while the universe is erupting, she points to the slow train & prays for rain and for time to interfere — she is not extremely fat but rather progressively unhappy . . . . the hundred Inevitables hide their predictions & go to bars & drink & get drunk in their very special conscious way & when tom dooley, the kind of person you think you’ve seen before, comes strolling in with White Heap, the hundred Inevitables all say “who’s that man who looks so white?” & the bartender, a good boy & one who keeps the buffalo in his mind, says, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ve seen the other fellow someplace” & when Paul Sargent, a plainclothes man from 4th street, comes in at three in the morning & busts everybody for being incredible, nobody really gets angry — just a little illiterate most people get & Rome, one of the hundred Inevitables whispers “I told you so” to Madam John . . . Savage Rose & Fixable are bravely blowing kisses to the Jade Hexagram Carnaby Street & to all the mysterious juveniles & the Cream Judge is writing a book on the true meaning of a pear — last year. he wrote one on famous dogs of the civil war & now he has false teeth & no children . . . . when the Cream met Savage Rose & Fixable, he was introduced to them by none other than Lifelessness — Lifelessness is the Great Enemy & always wears a hip guard — he is very hipguard . . . . Lifelessness said when introducing everybody “go save the world” & “involvement! that’s the issue” & things like that & Savage Rose winked at Fixable & the Cream went off with his arm in a sling singing “summertime & the livin is easy” . . . . the Clown appears — puts a gag over Autumn’s mouth and says “there are two kinds of people — simple people & normal people” this usually gets a big laugh from the sandpit & White Heap sneezes — passes out & rips open Autumn’s gag & says “What do you mean you’re Autumn and without you there’d be no spring! you fool! without spring, there’d be no you! what do you think of that???.” then Savage Rose & Fixable come by & kick him in the brains & color him pink for being a phony philosopher — then the Clown comes by and screams “You phony philosopher!” & jumps on his head — Paul Sargent comes by again in an umpire’s suit & some college kid who’s read all about Nietzsche comes by & says “Neitzsche never wore an umpire’s suit” & Paul says “You wanna buy some cloths, kid?” & then Rome & John come out of the bar & they’re going up to Harlem . . . . we are singing today of the WIPE-OUT GANG — the WIPE-OUT GANG buys, owns & operates the Insanity Factory — if you do not know where the Insanity Factory is located, you should hereby take two steps to the right, paint your teeth & go to sleep . . . . the songs on this specific record are not so much songs but rather exercises in tonal breath control. . . . the subject matter — though meaningless as it is — has something to do with the beautiful strangers . . . . the beautiful strangers, Vivaldi’s green jacket & the holy slow train

 

you are right john cohen — quazimodo was right — mozart was right. . . . I cannot say the word eye any more . . . . when I speak this word eye, it is as if I am speaking of somebody’s eye that I faintly remember . . . . there is no eye — there is only a series of mouths — long live the mouths — your rooftop — if you don’t already know — has been demolished . . . . eye is plasma & you are right about that too — you are lucky — you don’t have to think about such things as eye & rooftops & quazimodo.

7 – from John Wesley Harding (1968)

There were three kings and a jolly three too. The first one had a broken nose, the second, a broken arm and the third was broke. “Faith is the key!” said the first king. “No, froth is the key!” said the second. “You’re both wrong,” said the third, “the key is Frank!”

It was late in the evening and Frank was sweeping up, preparing the meat and dishing himself out when there came a knock upon the door. “Who is it?” he mused. “It’s us, Frank,” said the three kings in unison, “and we’d like to have a word with you!” Frank opened the door and the three kings crawled in.

Terry Shute was in the midst of prying open a hairdresser when Frank’s wife came in and caught him. “They’re here!” she gasped. Terry dropped his drawer and rubbed the eye. “What do they appear to be like?” “One’s got a broken vessel and that’s the truth, the other two I’m not so sure about.” “Fine, thank you, that’ll be all.” “Good” she turned and puffed. Terry tightened his belt and in an afterthought, stated: “Wait!” “Yes?” “How many of them would you say there were?” Vera smiled, she tapped her toe three times. Terry watched her foot closely. “Three?” he asked, hesitating. Vera nodded.

“Get up off my floor!” shouted Frank. The second king, who was first to rise, mumbled, “Where’s the better half, Frank?” Frank, who was in no mood for jokes, took it lightly, replied, “She’s in the back of the house, flaming it up with an arrogant man, now come on, out with it, what’s on our minds today?” Nobody answered.

Terry Shute then entered the room with a bang, looking the three kings over and fondling his mop. Getting down to the source of things, he proudly boasted: “There is a creeping consumption in the land. It begins with these three fellas and it travels outward. Never in my life have I seen such a motley crew. They ask nothing and they receive nothing. Forgiveness is not in them. The wilderness is rotten all over their foreheads. They scorn the widow and abuse the child but I am afraid that they shall not prevail over the young man’s destiny, not even them!” Frank turned with a blast, “Get out of here, you ragged man! Come ye no more!” Terry left the room willingly.

“What seems to be the problem?” Frank turned back to the three kings who were astonished. The first king cleared his throat. His shoes were too big and his crown was wet and lopsided but nevertheless, he began to speak in the most meaningful way, “Frank,” he began, “Mr. Dylan has come out with a new record. This record of course features none but his own songs and we understand that you’re the key.” “That’s right,” said Frank, “I am.” “Well then,” said the king in a bit of excitement, “could you please open it up for us?”

Frank, who all this time had been reclining with his eyes closed, suddenly opened them both up as wide as a tiger. “And just how far would you like to go in?” he asked and the three kings all looked at each other. “Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there,” said the first chief. “All right,” said Frank, “I’ll see what I can do,” and he commenced to doing it. First of all, he sat down and crossed his legs, then he sprung up, ripped off his shirt and began waving it in the air. A lightbulb fell from one of his pockets and he stamped it out with his foot. Then he took a deep breath, moaned and punched his fist through the plate-glass window. Settling back in his chair, he pulled out a knife, “Far enough?” he asked. “Yeah, sure, Frank,” said the second king. The third king just shook his head and said he didn’t know. The first king remained silent. The door opened and Vera stepped in. “Terry Shute will be leaving us soon and he desires to know if you kings got any gifts you wanna lay on him.” Nobody answered.

It was just before the break of day and the three kings were tumbling along the road. The first one’s nose had been mysteriously fixed, the second one’s arm had healed and the third one was rich. All three of them were blowing horns. “I’ve never been so happy in all my life!” sang the one with all the money.

“Oh mighty thing!” said Vera to Frank, “Why didn’t you just tell them you were a moderate man and leave it at that instead of goosing yourself all over the room?” “Patience, Vera,” said Frank. Terry Shute, who was sitting over by the curtain cleaning an ax, climbed to his feet, walked over to Vera’s husband and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Yuh didn’t hurt yer hand, didja Frank?” Frank just sat there watching the workmen replace the window. “I don’t believe so,” he said.

8 – from Planet Waves (1974)

Back to the Starting

Point! The Kickoff, Hebrew

Letters on the wall, Victor Hugo’s

house in Paris, NYC in early

autumn, leaves flying in the park, the

clock strikes Eight. Bong – I dropped a

double brandy & tried to recall the events…

beer halls & pin balls, polka bands, barbwire

& thrashing clowns, objects, headwinds &

Snowstorms, family outings with strangers –

Furious gals with garters & Smeared Lips

on bar stools that stank from sweating

pussy – doing the Hula – perfect,

priests in OVERhauls, glassy eyed,

Insomnia! Space guys off duty with

big dicks & ducktails All wired up &

voting for Eisenhower, waving flags &

jumping off of fire engines, getting

killed on motorcycles whatever –

We sensed each other beneath

the mask, pitched a tent in the

Street & joined the traveling circus,

Love at first sight! History

became a Lie! The sideshow took

over – what a sight…the thresh-

hold of the Modern Bomb,

Temples of the Pawhee, the

Cowboy Saint, the Arapahoe,

snapshots of – Apache poets

searching thru the ruins for a

glimpse of Buddah – I lit out

for parts unknown. found Jacob’s

Ladder up Against An adobe wall &

bought A serpent from a passing Angel –

Yeah the ole days Are gone

forever And the new ones Aint far behind, the

Laughter is fading away, echos of a star,

of Energy Vampires in the Gone World going

Wild! Drinking the blood of innocewnt people,

Innocent Lambs! The Wretched of the Earth,

My brothers of the flood, Cities of the flesh –

Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Bismarck, South

Dakota, Duluth! Duluth – where Baudelaire Lived

& Goya cashed in his Chips, where Joshua brought

the house down! From there, it was straight up – a Little

jolt of Mexico, and some good LUCK, a

Little power over the Grave, some

more brandy & the teeth of

a Lion & a compass

9 – from Blood On The Tracks (1975)

In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young. The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God’s green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud.

And here at home, something died. The bacillus moved among us, slaying that old America where the immigrants lit a million dreams in the shadows of the bridges, killing the great brawling country of barnstormers and wobblies and home-run hitters, the place of Betty Grable and Carl Furillo and heavyweight champions of the world. And through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism. Painters lift the easel to scrawl their innocence on walls and manifestos. Symphonies died on crowded roads. Novels served as furnished rooms for ideology.

And as the evidence piled up, as the rock was pushed back to reveal the worms, many retreated into that past that never was, the place of balcony dreams in Loew’s Met, fair women and honorable men, where we browned ourselves in the Creamsicle summers, only faintly hearing the young men march to the troopships, while Jo Stafford gladly promised her fidelity. Poor America. Tossed on a pilgrim tide. Land where the poets died.

Except for Dylan.

He had remained, in front of us, or writing from the north country, and remained true. He was not the only one, of course; he is not the only one now. But of all the poets, Dylan is the one who has most clearly taken the rolled sea and put it in a glass.

Early on, he warned us, he gave many of us voice, he told us about the hard rain that was going to fall, and how it would carry plague. In the teargas in 1968 Chicago, they hurled Dylan at the walls of the great hotels, where the infected drew the blinds, and their butlers ordered up the bayonets. Most of them are gone now. Dylan remains.

So forget the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhymes into dust. Remember that he gave us voice, When our innocence died forever, Bob Dylan made that moment into art. The wonder is that he survived.

That is no small thing. We live in the smoky landscape now, as the exhausted troops seek the roads home. The signposts have been smashed; the maps are blurred. There is no politician anywhere who can move anyone to hope; the plague recedes, but it is not dead, and the statesmen are as irrelevant as the tarnished statues in the public parks. We live with a callous on the heart. Only the artists can remove it. Only the artists can help the poor land again to feel.

And here is Dylan, bringing feeling back home. In this album, he is as personal and as universal as Yeats or Blake; speaking for himself, risking that dangerous opening of the veins, he speaks for us all. The words, the music, the tones of voice speak of regret, melancholy, a sense of inevitable farewell, mixed with sly humor, some rage, and a sense of simple joy. They are the poems of a survivor. The warning voice of the innocent boy is no longer here, because Dylan has chosen not to remain a boy. It is not his voice that has grown richer, stronger, more certain; it is Dylan himself. And his poetry, his troubadour’s traveling art, seems to me to be more meaningful than ever. I thought, listening to these songs, of the words of Yeats, walker of the roads of Ireland: “We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

Dylan is now looking at the quarrel of the self. The crowds have moved back off the stage of history; we are left with the solitary human, a single hair on the skin of the earth. Dylan speaks now for that single hair.

If you see her,

Say hello.

She might be in Tangiers…*

So begins one of these poems, as light as a slide on ice, and as dangerous. Dylan doesn’t fall in. Instead, he tells us the essentials; a woman once lived, gone off, vanished into the wild places of the earth, still loved.

If you’re makin’ love to her,

Kiss her for the kid.

Who always has respected her,

for doin’ what she did…*

It is a simple love song, of course, which is the proper territory of poets, but is about love filled with honor, and a kind of dignity, the generosity that so few people can summon when another has become a parenthesis in a life. That song, and some of the other love poems in this collection, seem to me absolutely right, in this moment at the end of wars, as all of us, old, young, middle-aged, men and women, are searching for some simple things to believe in. Dylan here tips his hat to Rimbaud and Verlaine, knowing all about the seasons in hell, but he insists on his right to speak of love, that human emotion that still exists, in Faulkner’s phrase, in spite of, not because.

 

And yes, there is humor here too, a small grin pasted over the hurt, delivered almost casually, as if the poet could control the chaos of feeling with a few simply chosen words:

Life is sad

Life is a bust.

All ya can do.

Is do what you must.

You do what you must do,

And ya do it will.

I’ll do it for you,

Ah, honey baby, can’t ya tell?**

A simple song. Not Dante’s Inferno, and not intended to be. But a song which conjures up the American road, all the busted dreams of open places, boxcars, the Big Dipper pricking the velvet night. And it made me think of Ginsberg and Corso and Ferlinghetti, and most of all, Kerouac, racing Deam Mariarty across the country in the Fifties, embracing wind and night, passing Huck Finn on the riverbanks, bouncing against the Coast, and heading back again, with Kerouac dreaming his songs of the railroad earth. Music drove them; they always knew they were near New York when they picked up Symphony Sid on the radio. In San Francisco they declared a Renaissance and read poetry to jazz, trying to make Mallarme’s dream flourish in the soil of America. They failed, as artist generally do, but in some ways Dylan has kept their promise.

Now he has moved past them, driving harder into self. Listen to “Idiot Wind.” It is a hard, cold-blooded poem about the survivor’s anger, as personal as anything ever committed to a record. And yet is can also stand as the anthem for all who feel invaded, handled, bottled, packaged; all who spent themselves in combat with the plague; all who ever walked into the knives of humiliation or hatred. The idiot wind trivialized lives into gossip, celebrates fad and fashion, glorifies the dismal glitter of celebrity. Its products live on the covers of magazines, in all of television, if the poisoned air and dead grey lakes. But most of all, it blows through the human heart. Dylan knows that such a wind is the deadliest enemy of art. And when the artists die, we all die with them.

Or listen to the long narrative poem called “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts.” It should not be reduced to notes, or taken out of context; it should be experienced in full. The compression of story is masterful, but its real wonder is in the spaces, in what the artist left out of his painting. To me, that has always been the key to Dylan’s art. To state things plainly is the function of journalism; but Dylan sings a more fugitive song: allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and ellipses, and by leaving things out, he allows us the grand privilege of creating along with him. His song becomes our song because we live in those spaces. If we listen, if we work at it, we fill up the mystery, we expand and inhabit the work of art. It is the most democratic form of creation.

Totalitarian art tells us what to feel. Dylan’s art feels, and invites us to join him.

That quality is in all the work in this collection, the long, major works, the casual drawings and etchings. There are some who attack Dylan because he will not rewrite “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Gates of Eden.” They are fools because they are cheating themselves of a shot at wonder. Every artist owns a vision of the world, and he shouts his protest when he sees evil mangling that vision. But he must also tell us the vision. Now we are getting Dylan’s vision, rich and loamy, against which the world moved so darkly. To enter that envisioned world, is like plunging deep into a mountain pool, where the rocks are clear and smooth at the bottom.

So forget the Dylan whose image was eaten at by the mongers of the idiot wind. Don’t mistake him for Isaiah, or a magazine cover, or a leader of guitar armies. He is only a troubadour, blood brother of Villon, a son of Provence, and he has survived the plague. Look: he has just walked into the courtyard, padding across the flagstones, strumming a guitar. The words are about “flowers on the hillside bloomin’ crazy/Crickets talkin’ back and forth in rhyme…” A girl, red-haired and melancholy, begins to smile. Listen: the poet sings to all of us:

But I’ll see you in the sky above,

In the tall grass,

In the ones I love.

You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.***

— Pete Hamill, New York, 1974

10 – from Desire (1975)

Where do I begin…on the heels of Rimbaud moving like a dancing bullet thru the secret streets of a hot New Jersey night filled with venom and wonder. Meeting the Queen Angel in the reeds of Babylon and then to the fountain of sorrow to drift away in the hot mass of the deluge… To sing praise to the King of those dead streets, to grasp and let go in a heavenly way — streaming into the lost belly of civilization at a standstill. Romance is taking over. Tolstoy was right. These notes are being written in a bathtub in Maine under ideal conditions, in every Curio Lounge from Brooklyn to Guam, from Lowell to Durango oh sister, when I fall into your spacy arms, can not ya feel the weight of oblivion and the songs of redemption on your backside we surface alongside miles standish and take the rock. We have relations in Mozambique. I have a brother or two and a whole lot of karma to burn… Isis and the moon shine on me. When Rubin gets out of jail, we celebrate in the historical parking lot in sunburned California… (Bob Dylan)

SONGS OF REDEMPTION

Hurricane, the only innocent Hurricane. protest song: Pro (in favor) – Attest (testify for) the character case of Boxer Mr. Carter framed on bum rap Passaic County N.J. whom Dylan minstrel visited in jail. Doctor Poet W.C. Williams dying nearby said “A new world is only a new mind.” & spent life redeeming pure North Jersey language so later poets could sing “tough iron metal” talk rhymes

“They want to put his ass in stir
They want to pin this triple murder on him
…He coulda been the champion of the wooorld-”
& end plain as day
“…Shame!
to live in a land where Justice is a game!”
so every Patterson kid will know News furthermore that
“Rubin sits like Buddha in a 10 foot cell.”

Big daily Announcement. song’ll hit the streets Supreme Courts’ll have coughed & weeped. Rubin Carter sprung pray God if there’s One in America – familiar harmonica pierces ears that just heard about

“criminals in their coats & ties…”

Old bards & Minstrels rhymed their years’ news on pilgrimage road – Visitations town to town singing Kings’ shepherds’ cowboys’ & lawyers’ secrets – Good Citizen Minstrel truth’s instantaneously heard. Big Sound in conscious generations. Local newsboy-prophet song echoes old youthful idealistic William ZanZinger poem. amplified alive. 1975. Dead protest? Woody Guthrie lineage road bards’ll still make us weep where there’s suffering to be sung.

Dylan’s Redemption Songs! If he can do it we can do it. America can do it. “It’s all right Ma I can make it.” Yes! with tough gold metal compassion. he’s giving away Gold again – but remember. good Anarchists. “To live outside the Law you must be honest.” Drunken aggressive beer bottles’ll never redeem anybody – But clear conscious song can. every syllable pronounced. every consonant sneered out with lips risen over teeth to pronounce them exactly to a T in microphone. snarled out NOT for bummer ego put-down but instead for egoless enunciation of exact phrasings so everyone can hear intelligence – which is only your own heart Dear.

Isis here recorded. the singer later developed onstage sung for weeks whiteface, big grey hat stuck with November leaves & flowers – no instrument in  hand. thin Chaplinesque body dancing to syllables sustained by Rolling Thunder band rhythm following Dylan’s spontaneous ritards & talk-like mouthings for clarity. “It’s only natchural.” So you can hear it! With two-part dialogue! Big discovery. these songs are the culmination of Poetry-music as dreamt of in the 50′s & early 60′s – poets reciting-chanting with instruments and bongos – Steady rhythm behind the elastic language. poet alone at microphone reciting-singing surreal-history love text ending in giant “YEAH!” when minstrel gives his heart away & says he wants to stay. Dylan will stay here with us! “You may not see me tomorrow.” So he now lets loose his long-vowel yowls & yawps over smalltowns’ antennaed rooftops, To Isis Moon Lady Language Creator Birth Goddess. Mother of Ra. Saraswati & Kali-Matoo. Hecate. Ea. Astarte. Sophia & Aphrodite. Divine. Mother.

Oh Sister. who’s he talking about? Eternal sister? Good citizen sisters. he’s still tender friend – lost alone loved like a thin terrified guru by every seeker in America who’s heard that long-vowelled voice in heroic ecstasy triumphant. “How does it feel?” And now come down from that Mountain of Sound. singing like a Biblical mortal

“Oh sister am I not a brother to you
And one deserving of affection?
And is our purpose not the same on this Earth
To love and follow his direction?
….
We grew up together from the cradle to the grave
….
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore.
You may not see me tomorrow.”

Follows the first City Narrative. solid facts beating foreward with drums & violins – like a jagged short story. ballad sung by hero making hero of unlikely sensitive gangster Gallo. hard iron metal Villonesque stoicism & sympathy, with long lamenting refrain over name anonymous in 25 years Joey. with dialogue movie panoramic cold suns over Brooklyn – and your inside news the papers didn’t interpret for the murdered outlaw.

Black Diamond Bay’s also a short novel in verse. oldfashioned Dylan surrealist mind-jump inventions line by line. except D. says he’s reading Joseph Conrad storyteller. so hear continuous succession of Panama Hat Necktie details, exploding boilers & characters disappearing in tornados – Suddenly a big dissolve & you’re sitting with minstrel Dylan in L.A. household watching the same poem Cronkited on TV news: bard sings the awful movie where everybody loses & what can you say? My father age 80 also bowed his head & said, “What can you do?” under his breath. Interesting, this long real-life spy hallucination tale opening the mind – suddenly put back into the Samsara tube with a cynic lament. it’s hopelessness – the condition of World on its own bummer. not ours or Dylan’s – we’re only 25% responsible the Crazy Wisdom Lama says.

By the time Dylan made the great disillusioned national rhyme Idiot Wind
“… Blowing like a circle round your skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol…”

he must’ve been ready for another surge of unafraid prophetic feeling – odd weeks seeking community he’d gone back to Other End Bleeker Street music house & jammed & drunk with ancient friend song improvisor Bob Neuwirth & also anonymous genius street studio guitarists drummers violin prodigies Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth & Botticelli-faced little David Mansfield from New Jersey – stopped his red car in East Village for ravenhaired Scarlet Rivera walking with her violin case – giant adolescent T-Bone Burnett materialized from Texas. Steven Soles from Blues New York – Half-month was spent solitary on Long Island with theatrist Jacques Levy working on song facts phrases & rhymes. sharing information seriousness – Lots of high rhythmic art. like the fast Mexican 11 syllables beginning Durango “Hot Chili Peppers in the blistering sun” masterpieces emerged – Song became conscious poetry. the best you can say in total rhythm. allowing for mother’s radiotalk. allowing for the singer to open his whole body for Inspiration to breathe out a long mad vowel to nail down the word into everyone’s heart – That’s where you get the funny syncopation – waiting to pronounce the line just right as the music marches by. free. hopeless. jumping in and out the fatal chords. “We not make it through the night.”

“But he’s still like an electric bullet.” the Buddhist boy said. where’s the great slowdown tenderness where everyone knows where Dylan’s at under his minstrel Hat? Two songs his own heart-life sings alone. total. One More Cup of Coffee for the Road – voice lifts in Hebraic cantillation never heard before in U.S. song. ancient blood singing – a new age, a new Dylan again redeemed. at ease – A little bit like America now. not paranoid any more. it’s the real Seventies – (every generation-decade flowers in the middle. Poetry Renaissance 1955. Peace Vietnam Berkeley 1965) – for now the congregation of poets sings across the land with new old soul-joy. shit burned out. ego recognized & allow’d its place. pleasure-lust put aside with suicidal pain. heart stilled & singing clear. cantillating like synagogue cantor. “’fore I go down to the Valley below.”

How far has he gone? All the way from scared solitude inner prophetics – building on that mind-honesty strangeness – to openhearted personal historical confession. As Coffee for Road’s Semitic mode. Sara. is profound ancient tune revealing family paradigm – telling Wife & World the last secrets of solitary weeping art:

“Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland for you”

Who woulda thought he’d say it. so everybody’d finally know him. same soul crying vulnerable caught in a body we all are? – enough Person revealed to make Whitman’s whole nation weep. And behind it all the vast lone space of No God. or God. mindful conscious compassion. lifetime awareness. we’re here in America at last. redeemed. O Generation. keep on working!

Allen Ginsberg
Co-Director
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
Naropa Institute
York Harbor, Maine
10 November 1975

11 – from Bob Dylan At Budokan (1978)

The more I think about it, the more I realize what I left

behind in Japan – my soul, my music and that sweet girl in

the geisha house – I wonder does she remember me? If the

people of Japan want to know about me, they can hear this

record – also they can hear my heart still beating in Kyoto

at the Zen Rock Garden – Someday I will be back to reclaim it.

12 – from Biograph (1985)

The first glimpses of Bob Dylan come from friends and classmates in his hometown of Hibbing,

Minnesota. Most of them had a frame of reference that didn’t stretch much farther than the

small, gray mid-western mining town where they lived. Young Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman

on May 24 , 1941 looked mighty different around Hibbing. The explosive film Blackboard

Jungle had touched his life and so had the late-night rhythm and blues stations from Chicago.

When most of the other kids in Hibbing were still riding bicycles, Dylan was thinking about

leather jackets and motorcycles. He hounded the local record store for the newest singles from

Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf. John Lee Hooker and

others. Soon Dylan had formed his own bands, The Golden Chords, The Shadow Blasters,

Elston Gunn & The Rock Boppers. When he took the stage for a high school talent show, fellow

students were shocked at the slight kid who opened his mouth and came out wailing with a

fully-realized Little Richard howl. He would not be long for Hibbing, Minnesota.

 

“My family settled in Hibbing I think in about ‘46 or ‘47. My father had polio when I was very

young. There was a big epidemic. He lost his job in Duluth and we moved to the Iron Range

and moved in with my grandmother Florence and my grandfather who was still alive at the

time. We slept in the living room of my grandma’s house for about a year or two, I slept on a

roll-a-way bed, that’s all I remember. Two of my uncles, my father’s brothers, had gone to

electrical school and by this time had gotten electrician licenses. They had moved from

Duluth to up here where they operated out of a store called Micka Electric, wiring homes and

things… my father never walked right again and suffered much pain his whole life. I never

understood this until much later but it must have been hard for him because before that he’d

been a very active and physical type guy. Anyway, the brothers took him in as a partner, my

uncle Paul and my uncle Maurice, and this is where he worked for the rest of his life. Later,

they bought the store and started selling lamps, clocks, radios anything electrical and then

much later TV’s and furniture. They still did wiring though and that was their main thing. I

worked on the truck sometimes but it was never meant for me. This was not a rich or poor

town, everybody had pretty much the same thing and the very wealthy people didn’t live

there, they were the ones that owned the mines and they lived thousands of miles away:”

 

“I always wanted to be a guitar player and a singer.” Bob Dylan said recently on a break from

sessions for a new album. “Since I was ten, eleven or twelve, it was all that interested me.

That was the only thing that I did that meant anything really. Henrietta was the first rock n’

roll record I heard. Before that I’d listen to Hank Williams a lot. Before that, Johnny Ray. He

was the first singer whose voice and style, I guess, I totally fell in love with. There was just

something about the way he sang When Your Sweetheart Sends A Letter… that just knocked

me out. I loved his style, wanted to dress like him too, that was real early though. I ran into

 

 

 

him in the elevator in Sydney, Australia late in ‘78 and told him how he impressed me so

when I was growing up… I still have a few of his records.”

 

After high school graduation in 1959, Dylan traveled first to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He

enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota but ended spending more time in the nearby

Bohemian district known as Dinkytown, where he played in a coffee house, The Ten O’Clock

Scholar. Dylan was taken in by the artistic community and it was there that he first became

acquainted in the rural folk-music of artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Roscoe Holcomb,

and the great Woody Guthrie. “By that time, I was singing stuff like Ruby Lee by the Sunny

Mountain Boys, and Jack O’Diamonds by Odetta and somehow because of my earlier rock n’

roll background was unconsciously crossing the two styles. This made me different from your

regular folk singers, who were either folk song purists or concert-hall singers, who just

happened to be singing folk songs. I’d played by myself with just a guitar and harmonica or as

part of a duo with Spider John Koerner, who played mostly ballads and Josh White type blues.

He knew more songs than I did. Whoa Boys Can’t Ya Line ‘M, John Hardy, Golden Vanity, I

learned all those from him. We sounded great, not unlike the Delmore Brothers. I could

always hear my voice sounding better as a harmony singer. In New York, I worked off and on

with Mark Spoelstra and later with Jim Kweskin. Jim and I sounded pretty similar to Cisco and

Woody.”

 

“Minneapolis was the first big city I lived in if you want to call it that,” remembered Dylan. “I

came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the beat scene, the Bohemian, BeBop

crowd, it was all pretty much connected… St. Louis, Kansas City, you usually went from town

to town and found the same setup in all these places, people comin’ and goin’, nobody with

any place special to live. You always ran into people you knew from the last place. I had

already decided that society, as it was, was pretty phony and I didn’t want to be part of that…

also, there was a lot of unrest in the country. You could feel it, a lot of frustration, sort of like

a calm before a hurricane, things were shaking up. Where I was at, people just passed

through, really, carrying horns, guitars, suitcases, whatever, just like the stories you hear, free

love, wine, poetry, nobody had any money anyway. There were a lot of poets and painters,

drifters, scholarly types, experts at one thing or another who had dropped out of the regular

nine-to-five life, there were a lot of house parties most of the time. They were usually in lofts

or warehouses or something or sometimes in the park, in the alley wherever there was space.

It was always crowded, no place to stand or breathe. There were always a lot of poems

recited – ‘Into the room people come and go talking of Michelangelo, measuring their lives in

coffee spoons’… ‘What I’d like to know is what do you think of your blue-eyed boy now, Mr.

Death. T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings. It was sort of like that and it kind of woke me up… Suzie

Rotolo, a girlfriend of mine in New York, later turned me on to all the French poets but for

then it was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti – Gasoline, Coney Island of the

Mind… oh man, it was wild – I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

that said more to me than any of the stuff I’d been raised on. On The Road, Dean Moriarty,

this made perfect sense to me… anyway the whole scene was an unforgettable one, guys and

girls some of whom reminded me of saints, some people had odd jobs – bus boy, bartender,

exterminator, stuff like that but I don’t think working was on most people’s minds – just to

make enough to eat, you know. Most of everybody, anyway, you had the feeling that they’d

just been kicked out of something. It was outside, there was no formula, never was ‘main

stream’ or ‘the thing to do’ in any sense. America was still very ‘straight’, ‘post-war’ and sort

of into a gray-flannel suit thing, McCarthy, commies, puritanical, very claustrophobic and

what ever was happening of any real value was happening away from that and sort of hidden

from view and it would be years before the media would be able to recognise it, and choke-

hold it and reduce it to silliness. Anyway, I got in at the tail-end of that and it was magic…

everyday was like Sunday, it’s like it was waiting for me, it had just as big an impact on me as

Elvis Presley, Pound, Camus, T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, mostly expatriate Americans who

 

 

were off in Paris and Tangiers. Burroughs, Nova Express, John Rechy, Gary Snyder,

Ferlinghetti, Pictures From The Gone World, the newer poets and folk music, jazz, Monk,

Coltrane, Sonny and Brownie, Big Bill Broonzy, Charlie Christian… it all left the rest of

everything in the dust… I there knew I had to get to New York though, I’d been dreaming

about that for a long time.”

 

Dylan mapped out his strategy. Then performing as a solo guitarist and singer, he was playing

at a St. Paul local coffee house and pizza parlor called The Purple Onion. The Purple Onion

was located next to the main highway heading out of town. It was owned by Bill Danialson,

who took a liking to Dylan and occasionally allowed him to sleep in the back room. It was a

particularly heavy winter in the Midwest and Dylan’s plan was to play at the club until the

snow subsided enough for him to hitch-hike East. It never happened.

 

Recalled Dylan, “I just got up one morning and left. I’d spent so much time thinking about it I

couldn’t think anymore. Snow or no snow, it was time for me to go. I made a lot of friends

and I guess some enemies too, but I had to overlook it all. I’d learned as much as I could and

used up all of my options. It all got real old real fast. When I arrived in Minneapolis it had

seemed like a big city or a big town. When I left it was like some rural outpost that you see

once from a passing train. I stood on the highway during a blizzard snowstorm believing in

the mercy of the world and headed East, didn’t have nothing but my guitar and suitcase. That

was my whole world. The first ride I got, you know, was from some old guy in a jalopy, sort of

a Bela Lugosi type, who carried me into Wisconsin. Of all the rides I’ve ever gotten it’s the

only one that stands out in my mind. People hitch-hiked a lot back then, they rode the bus or

they stuck out their thumb and hitchhiked. It was real natural. I wouldn’t do that today.

People aren’t as friendly and there’s too many drugs on the road.”

 

It would be several months before Dylan actually arrived in New York. He stopped first in

Madison, Wisconsin and fell in with the folk and blues community there. Then he moved on to

Chicago, where he had some phone numbers to try and ended up staying there for a couple of

months. Eventually Dylan got a ride to New York with a couple college kids. “They needed

two people to help drive to New York and that’s how I left. Me and a guy named Fred

Underhill went with them. Fred was from Williamstown or somewhere and he knew New

York.”

 

Dylan and Underhill were dropped off on the New York side of the George Washington Bridge

and immediately took a subway to Greenwich Village. It was the worst New York Winter in 60

years and the snow was knee-deep. “Where I came from there was always plenty of snow so I

was used to that,” said Dylan, “but going to New York was like going to the moon. You just

didn’t get on a plane and go there, you know. New York! Ed Sullivan, the New York Yankees,

Broadway, Harlem… you might as well have been talking about China. It was some place

which not too many people had ever gone, and anybody who did go never came back.”

 

The frail-looking Dylan was a voracious learner. Once in New York, he was at the center of all

the action. It was chance to actually see and sometimes meet the artists he’d come to admire,

including Woody Guthrie. Dylan listened to everybody and took it all in. “I was lucky to meet

Lonnie Johnson at the same club I was working and I must say he greatly influenced me. You

can hear it in that first record, I mean Corrina, Corrina… that’s pretty much Lonnie Johnson. I

used to watch him every chance I got and sometimes he’d let me play with him. I think he and

Tampa Red and of course Scrapper Blackwell, that’s my favorite style of guitar playing… the

harmonica part, well I’d always liked Wayne Raney and Jimmy Reed, Sonny Terry… ‘Lil Junior

Parker, ‘told you baby, bam bam bam bam, once upon a time, bam bam bam bam, if I’d be

yours, bam bam bam bam (foottap) li’l girl you’d be mine… but that’s all right… I know you

love some other man’… but I couldn’t get it in the rack like that or adjust the equipment to an

 

 

 

 

 

amplified slow pace so I took to blowing out… actually Woody had done it… I had to do it

that way to be heard on the street, you, now, above the noise… like an accordion… Victoria

Spivey, too, oh man, I loved her… I learned so much from her I could never put into words,”

Dylan soon developed a style that would synthesise many different folk influences. At the time

it was a bold move. Even the stodgiest standards sounded different Dylan’s way. Some purists

didn’t appreciate the irreverence. “I could sing How High The Moon or If I Gave My Heart To

You and it would come out like Mule-Skinner Blues.”

 

“There was just a clique, you know,” said Dylan, “Folk music was a strict and rigid

establishment. If you sang Southern Mountain Blues, you didn’t sing Southern Mountain

Ballads and you didn’t sing City Blues. If you sang Texas Cowboy songs, you didn’t play

English ballads. It was really pathetic. You just didn’t If you sang folk songs from the thirties,

you didn’t do bluegrass tunes or Appalachian Ballads. It was very strict. Everybody had their

particular thing that they did. I didn’t much ever pay attention to that. If I liked a song, I

would just learn it and sing it the only way I could play it. Part of it was a technical problem

which I never had the time nor the inclination for, if you want to call it a problem. But it

didn’t go down well with the tight-thinking people. You know, I’d hear things like ‘I was in

the Lincoln Brigade’ and ‘the kid is really bastardising up that song’. The other singers never

seemed to mind, although. In fact, quite a few of them began to copy my attitude in guitar

phrasing and such.”

 

Performing first at Village clubs like the Gas Light, The Commons, Café Rienzi and later Gerde’s

Folk City, Dylan had a quirky stage presence, equal parts humor and intensity. He also took

several jobs as a guitarist or harmonica player. One session was a record date with noted folk

artist Carolyn Hester. Rehearsing for the Hester session at the house of a friend, Dylan first met

the distinguished Columbia Records producer and talent-scout John Hammond (Aretha

Franklin, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and later Bruce Springsteen). Hammond kept young

Dylan in mind.

 

Dylan was soon to receive one of the most important reviews of his life, possibly the last one

that meant as much. Noted New York Times folk critic Robert Shelton had raved about Dylan’s

shows at Gerde’s Folk City, in an unprecedented review, for Dylan was merely the opening act

and not the main headliner (“… there is no doubt he is bursting at the seams with talent”)

Nineteen year old Dylan read and re-read the review, showing it to friends and re-reading it

again. By the next morning, Dylan was fresh and ready for his Hester session. The crinkled

review was still in his hand. It was only the second time he’s worked in a major studio, the first

being a short stint on harmonica for a Harry Belafonte record earlier that summer. Hammond

signed Dylan that afternoon.

 

“I couldn’t believe it”, said Dylan. “I left there and I remember walking out of the studio. I

was like on a cloud. It was up on 7th Avenue and when I left I was happening to be walking by

a record store. It was one of the most thrilling moments in my life. I couldn’t believe that I

was staring at all the records in the window, Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra, Patty Page, Mitch

Miller, Tony Bennet and so on and so on. I, myself, would be among them in the window. I

guess I was pretty naive, you know. It was even before I made a record, just knowing that I

was going to make one and it was going to be in that window. I wanted to go in there dressed

in the rags like I was and tell the owner, ‘you don’t know me now, but you will’. It never

occurred to me that it could have been otherwise. I didn’t know that just because you make a

record it has to be displayed in a window next to Frank Sinatra, let alone they have to carry it

in the store. John Hammond recorded me soon after that.”

 

Dylan’s first album was recorded in a matter of hours. The session was over when they ran out

of tape and Hammond estimated the entire cost at $402. These were, indeed, the good old

 

 

days. All of the material was recorded and it’s important to note that Dylan would maintain that

spirit of studio spontaneity for the next twenty years. Most of the music included in this

collection was recorded in two or three takes.

 

“You didn’t get a lot of studio time then,” he said, “Six months to make a record… It wasn’t

even conceivable. My early records, all the way up to the late seventies, were done in periods

of hours. Days, maybe. Since the late sixties, maybe since Sgt Pepper on, everybody started to

spend more of their time in the studio, actually making songs up and building them in the

studio. I’ve done a little bit of that but I’d rather have some kind of song before I get there. It

just seems to work out better that way.”

 

Much was made in subsequent years of the fact that Dylan had only one of his compositions

(Song To Woody) on that album, “I just took in what I had,” he explained, “I tried a bunch of

stuff and John Hammond would say, ‘Well, let’s use this one’ and I’d sing that one and he’d

say. ‘Let’s use that one’. I must have played a whole lot of songs. He kept what he kept, you

know. He didn’t ask me what I wrote and what I didn’t write. I was only doing a few of my

own songs back then, anyway. You didn’t really do too many of your own songs back then.

And if you did… you’d just try to sneak them in. The first bunch of songs I wrote, I never

would say I wrote them. It was just something you didn’t do.”

st

The first album was released just before Dylan’s 21 birthday, and it sold an unremarkable

5,000 copies. While the executives fretted over whether their “rising young star” was still a

sound investment, Dylan was taking large steps in finding his songwriting voice. His live show

strengthened and deepened as he added more of his own material. He was able to take an

audience from laughter to thoughtful silence in a handful of sharply chosen words. Dylan’s

second album featured Dylan compositions and it was a success.

 

Along with the applause, remained the traditionalist doubters, as always. Blowin’ In The Wind,

first published in Broadside Magazine in 1962, did much to silence the opposition. It was an

indisputably strong song, simple and timeless from the first listening. It would become the

fastest selling single in Warner Brothers history in the hands of Peter, Paul and Mary, and the

first to bring a new social awareness to the pop charts. To this day it’s Dylan’s most covered

composition, from Bobby Darin’ to Marlene Dietrich. When folk music found it’s largest

audience it was because of this song.

 

The songs that followed during this period stung and inspired and often took their stories

directly from newspaper or word of mouth accounts. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll was

the actual story of a Baltimore maid mistakenly murdered by a drunken socialite. The socialite

escaped with a six-month sentence. Dylan wrote of the brutal injustice with a masterful touch,

never did it approach the heavy-handed. It was exactly this delicate quality that made Dylan’s

social commentary so original and his imitators so obvious.

 

“When I started writing those kinds of songs, there wasn’t anybody doing things like that,”

said Dylan. “Woody Guthrie had done similar things but he hadn’t really done that type of

song. Besides, I had learned from Woody Guthrie and knew and could sing anything he had

done. But now the times had changed and things would be different. He contributed a lot to

my style lyrically and dynamically but my musical background had been different, with rock

n’ roll and rhythm and blues playing a big part earlier on. Actually attitude had more to do

with it than technical ability and that’s what the folk movement lacked. In other words, I

played all the folk songs with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. This is what made me different and

allowed me to cut through all the mess and be heard. People with no definition of feeling and

that sort of thing, and there were too many of them… I remember when protest song writing

was big, Phil Ochs came to town, Tim Hardin was around, Patrick Sky, Buffy St. Marie, but

 

 

 

there never was any such thing. It was like the term ‘Beatnik’ or ‘Hippie’. These were terms

made up by magazine people who are invisible who like to put a label on something to

cheapen it. Then it can be controlled better by other people who are also invisible. Nobody

ever said, ‘Well, here’s another protest song I’m going to sing.’… Anyway, the guy who was

best at that was Peter LaFarge. He was a champion rodeo cowboy and some time back he’d

also been a boxer. He had a lot of his bones broken. I think he’d also been shot up in Korea.

Anyway, he wrote Ira Hayes, Iron Mountain, Johnny Half-Breed, White Girl and about a

hundred other things. There was one about Custer, ‘the general he don’t ride well anymore’.

We were pretty tight for a while. We had the same girlfriend. Actually, Peter is one of the

great unsung heros of the day. His style was just a little bit too erratic. But it wasn’t his fault,

he was always hurting and having to overcome it. Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of his songs.

When I think of a guitar poet or protest singer, I always think of Peter, but he was a love song

writer too.”

 

His work made a subtle, if pointed shift with Another Side of Bob Dylan. “Tom Wilson, the

producer, titled it that,” noted Dylan. “I begged and pleaded with him not to do it. You know,

I thought it was overstating the obvious. I knew I was going to have to take a lot of heat for a

title like that and it was my feeling that it wasn’t a good idea coming after The Times They Are

A- Changin’, it just wasn’t right. It seemed like a negation of the past which in no way was

true. I know that Tom didn’t mean it that way, but that’s what I figured that people would

take it to mean, but Tom meant well and he had control, so he had it his way. I guess in the

long run, he might have been right to do what he did. It doesn’t matter now.”

 

Wilson recalled at the time, “I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun

Ra and Coltrane and I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. This guy played like the

dumb guys but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted. I said to Albert Grossman, who

was there in the studio, I said, ‘if you put some background to this, you might have a white Ray

Charles with a message.’ But it wasn’t until a year later that everyone agreed that we should put

a band behind him. I had to find a band. But it was a very gradual process.” Wilson takes the

credit for Dylan going electric. “It came from me.”

 

The album, recorded in two nights, proved that Dylan was never simply a revolutionary or even

a political singer in the conventional sense. These were songs about the politics of love.

Throughout all the styles, periods and influences of his work, one of Dylan’s only constants has

been the love song. At composing them there are few as talented. He’s approached the subject

from all sides, from It Ain’t Me, Babe and To Ramona to Lay Lady Lay and Sweetheart Like You.

 

So strong was Dylan’s impact on the folk stages of America in the early sixties that when he

chose to move back to his original high school roots in rock and roll, even to dress differently,

there was an almost immediate uproar. For some time press conferences, articles and interviews

were filled with pointed questions like, “Does it take a lot of trouble to get your hair like that?”

“How do you feel about selling out?” and “How many folk singers are there now?” (Dylan’s

chain-smoking replies were, “No, you just have to sleep on it for about twenty years”, “I don’t

feel guilt”, and “136” respectively). Asked about his music, he said, “It’s mathematical… I use

words like most people use numbers. That’s about the best I can do.”

 

The songs were, as he once said, about objection, obsession or rejection. They had also begun

to cry out for instrumentation. While touring England, Dylan had met and heard the new wave

of English pop bands, from The Beatles to The Animals, The Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, The

Stones, The Who. By January, Dylan was recording his breakthrough Bringing It All Back Home

album. Half the album would feature a hard-edged rock and blues backing, the other half form-

bending solo acoustic music. The Byrds own electrified hit version of Mr. Tambourine Man,

taken from a Dylan demo tape, had become a single. Dylan was reaching a level of popularity

 

beyond even his own expectations. But there were still many folk purists in Dylan’s audience

and all signs were pointing to a showdown.

 

It would come in the Summer of 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival. Never one for

complacency, Dylan had shown up at the folk music capital of the world in a black leather

jacket, plugged in his Fender electric and began the prestigious Sunday night showcase

performance (the bill included Pete Seeger, and Peter, Paul and Mary) with an earsplitting

Maggie’s Farm. Dylan, fresh from having recorded Like A Rolling Stone, blasted through the set

with a vengeance. The reaction, by most accounts, was somewhat less than generous. The

purists booed.

 

“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Dylan shrugged at a San Francisco press

conference in December ‘65. “They certainly booed, I’ll tell you that. You could hear it all

over the place. I don’t know who they were… they’ve done it just about all over… I mean,

they must be pretty rich to go some place and boo. I mean, I couldn’t afford it if I was in their

shoes.”

 

Typically, the controversy fuelled one of Dylan’s most famous periods. At this point he was

writing whole batches of songs in long, all-night sessions – in coffee houses, homes of friends,

on napkins and tablecloths. Dylan was firing on all cylinders. The prolific artist was even

coming in with songs he’d written on the way to the studio. Within minutes they became

records with only one criteria – feel. A story from Al Kooper’s fine book Backstage Passes helps

recall the atmosphere. Then-guitarist Kooper, an early Dylan fan, had wandered into the empty

studio where a session was due to begin. He asked producer Tom Wilson for a spot in the band

and Wilson advised Kooper to be there, guitar in hand, when Dylan arrived. Dylan soon

appeared with guitarist Michael Bloomfield in tow and Kooper was casually switched to organ.

Kooper did not play organ, but the musician kept quiet and improvised when Dylan counted

off his newest song, Like A Rolling Stone. After the take, Wilson objected to the organ playing.

Dylan asked that it be turned up. The next take, released five days later, bumped off The

Beatles Help to become Dylan’s first number-one single. At almost six minutes, it was then the

longest hit in history.

 

Country artist Johnny Tillotson stopped Dylan in the street to tell him Like A Rolling Stone had

gone to number one. Dylan was amazed. It was less than five years from the day he’d stared in

the window of the record store on 7th Avenue and the weight of that fact didn’t escape him.

 

Perhaps only Elvis Presley before him had been able to stir up public emotions and at the same

time redefine popular music. Before Dylan, Chuck Berry had been one of the only popular

artists to sing his own songs. After Dylan, singer-songwriters were no longer akin to

ambidexterity – interesting, but not necessary. “I didn’t know it at the time but all the radio

songs were written in Tin-Pan-Alley, the Brill Building,” Dylan recalled. “They had stables of

songwriters up there that provided songs for artists. I heard of it but not paid much attention.

They were good song writers but the world they knew and the world I knew were totally

different. Most of all the songs, though, being recorded came from there, I guess because

most singers didn’t write there own. They didn’t even think about it Anyway, Tin-Pan-Alley is

gone. I put an end to it. People can record their own songs now. They’re almost expected to

do it. The funny thing about it though is that I didn’t start out as a songwriter, I just drifted

into it. Those other people had it down to a science.”

 

Dylan’s concerts in the mid sixties grew to be strange and mysterious affairs. With Mike

Bloomfield off touring as part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Dylan had settled on a new

band featuring drummer Levon Helm and a stunning new blues-and-rock guitarist, Jamie

(Robbie) Robertson. (Called Levon and The Hawks, the group would years later rename

 

 

themselves and go on to their own success as The Band). Dylan himself was exploring the

inner-limits of his songwriting ability and the outer limits of his stage presence. The result was

an amazing series of performances in 1965 and 1966.

 

Dylan onstage and the tumultuous ‘66 tour of the British Isles are well documented in this

collection. Following wrestlers and carnivals into halls where rock had never been before (or

since), every stop was another drama. Another show on the same tour was released in

underground circles as The Royal Albert Hall Concert and it’s still a cherished recording. The

show actually took place in Manchester but an amazing bit of audience-and-artist dialogue

(Audience member: “Judas!” Dylan: “I don’t believe you… you’re a liar.”) was taken from the

Albert Hall concert days later. These concerts with Bob Dylan and The Band are now thought

to be highlights in rock history but they booed at the time.

 

Remembers Robbie Robertson today, “That tour was a very strange process. You can hear the

violence, and the dynamics of the music. We’d go from town to town, from country to country

and it was like a job. We set up, we played, they booed and threw things at us. Then we went

to the next town, played, they booed, threw things, and we left again. I remember thinking,

‘This is a strange way to make a buck.’”

 

“I give tremendous credit to Bob in that everybody at the time said, ‘Get rid of these guys

they’re terrible’: They said it behind our backs, and they said it with the group standing right

there. Dylan never did anything about it. He never once came to me and said, ‘Robbie, this is

not working…’ The only reason tapes of those shows exist today is because we wanted to

know, ‘Are we crazy?’ We’d go back to the hotel room, listen to a tape of the show and think,

‘Shit. That’s not bad. Why is everybody so upset?’”

 

(It’s an interesting footnote to music history that along an early English tour, Dylan would visit

the home of John Lennon and the two would pen a song together. “I don’t remember what it

was, though,” said Dylan. “We played some stuff into a tape recorder but I don’t know what

happened to it. I can remember playing it and the recorder was on. I don’t remember

anything about the song.”)

 

Lennon would later comment on their relationship. “I’ve grown up enough to communicate

with him… Both of us were always uptight, you know, and of course I wouldn’t know whether

he was uptight because I was so uptight, and then when he wasn’t uptight, I was -all that bit.

But we just sat it out because we just liked being together.”

 

Back in the States, Dylan had reached household name status. Not only was he an unlikely hit-

singles artist, Bob Dylan was now a culture hero and a conversation piece. He was a genius.

He was a sellout. He was a poet, he wasn’t a poet. He was straight. He had to be on something.

It’s conceivable that the artist himself never scheduled a moment to reflect on all the

commotion. He continued writing and touring, even while recording Blonde on Blonde in

Nashville. It has remained as one of the most artful albums in modern music, and one that

came closest to Dylan’s truest musical intentions. He told Ron Rosenbaum in a ‘78 Playboy

interview, “It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever

that conjures up. That’s my sound. I haven’t been able to succeed in getting it all the time.”

 

Those present for the Blonde on Blonde sessions remember it as an unlikely setting for

greatness. Compared to the circus-quality of the live shows, this was a twilight zone of

complacency. While struggling songwriter and then-janitor Kris Kristofferson cleaned the

ashtrays, Dylan recorded with a band that was made up of traditional Nashville studio

musicians and several New York favorites like Robertson and Kooper. “Blonde on Blonde was

very different from what we were doing out on the road,” said Robertson. “This was a very

 

 

 

 

controlled atmosphere. I remember the Nashville studio musicians playing a lot of card games.

Dylan would finish a song, we would cut the song and then they’d go back to cards. They

basically did their routine, and it sounded beautiful. Some songs pushed it somewhere else, like

Obviously Five Believers where we had four screaming guitar solos.”

 

“The sessions happened late at night,” recalled Kooper. “The afternoons were mostly for

songwriting.” Dylan sometimes worked on his hotel piano, other times at a studio typewriter.

Songs like Visions Of Johanna (original title: Seems Like A Freeze-Out) and Sad-Eyed Lady of the

Lowlands would make it to acetate stage and Dylan would often take the discs with him on the

road to play for others. “How does this sound to you?” he would ask. “Have you ever heard

anything like this before?” Usually they hadn’t.

 

Dylan’s singing – once the quality Woody Guthrie liked best about him – had also gotten more

expressive. Part rocker, part wounded romantic, part cynic and part believer, he had learned to

make records now, and the rush was felt on radios all over the world. Like A Rolling Stone,

th

Positively 4 Street and I Want You were classic singles as well as songs. John Lennon said in a

Rolling Stone interview in 1970, “You don’t have to hear what Bob Dylan’s saying, you just

have to hear the way he says it.”

 

More than a few artists, from Bruce Springsteen to David Bowie, have been saddled with the

phrase “the new Bob Dylan” at one time or another in their careers. But for Dylan himself,

there weren’t many examples to look at. As his momentum doubled and redoubled, the still

somewhat frail Dylan charged forward. He amped and pushed himself to the limits of personal

stamina. He worked constantly, rarely ate, rarely stopped. Like James Dean before him, Dylan

left behind a wake of peers who stood in awe of his talent and in fear for his safety and health.

 

Late in July of 1966, their worst fears nearly came true. While joyriding in Woodstock, the back

wheel locked on Dylans Triumph 500. He was thrown from the seat and drilled into the

pavement, suffering a concussion, a number of facial cuts and several broken vertebrae in his

neck. It could have been much worse. Amid macabre Deanish reports that he was either dead,

paralyzed, cryogenically frozen or retired, Dylan quietly recuperated for several months. It was

much-needed time to regroup but long after the wounds healed, he would still be working to

regain his personal equilibrium.

 

While Dylan laid low at his then-home in upstate New York, The Band was recording at the

nearby basement tape studio they had dubbed Big Pink. Dylan was writing a wide range of new

songs and the idea was to record them at a leisurely pace, possibly as demos for other artists.

The sessions stretched through several months of the down-time, and over the period Dylan

and The Band recorded a large group of songs that ran from the seminal I Shall Be Released to

the jaunty story-telling of Million Dollar Bash, to a number of songs too bawdy to even record.

There new characters, new rhythms… and when what Robertson called “a tape of a tape of a

tape of a dub of a tape” slipped out, the world soon had it’s first bootleg album. This, of course,

didn’t much please the victims of the theft. Even though the mood of The Basement Tapes, as

they were called, was forbidden and exciting, (Neil Young for years kept a mastertape copy and

played it during the breaks in his own sessions often) the songs stayed on the shelf until 1975.

 

“The bootleg records,” Dylan commented, “those are outrageous. I mean, they have stuff you

do in a phone booth. Like, nobody’s around. If you’re just sitting and strumming in a motel,

you don’t think anybody’s there, you know… it’s like the phone is tapped… and then it

appears on a bootleg record. With a cover that’s got a picture of you that was taken from

underneath your bed and it’s got a striptease type title and it cost $30. Amazing. Then you

wonder why most artists feel so paranoid.”

 

 

 

 

It would be a while before Dylan officially re-emerged on record with a quietly thoughtful

Nashville album called John Wesley Harding. In his recuperation period, he had watched his

own influence take rock in an explosive new direction. Rock was more topical and meaningful,

the form had been stretched and now studio techniques were changing too. The Beatles

released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Rolling Stones answered with Satanic

Majesties and now the pop world was waiting on Dylan. Dylan was waiting on Dylan, too. Did

he feel confident about meeting the challenge?

 

“Not really,” he smiled, “I didn’t know the studio like those guys did. They had obviously

spent a lot of hours in the studio figuring that stuff out and I hadn’t. And not only hadn’t I, but

I didn’t really care to and I’d lost my (studio) contacts at that point. I’d been out of

commission for a while. All I had were those songs that I’d just sort of scribbled down.”

 

“We recorded that album, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Lots of times people will get

excited and they say, ‘this is great, this is fantastic.’ But usually they’re full of shit. They’re just

trying to tell you something to make you feel good. People have a way of telling you what

they think you want to hear – anytime I don’t know something and I ask somebody, I usually

know less about it after I ask than before. You’ve got to know or you don’t know and I really

didn’t know about that album at all. So I figured the best thing to do would be to put it out as

quickly as possible, call it John Wesley Harding because that was one song that I had no idea

what it was about, why it was even on the album. I figured I’d call the album that, call

attention to it, make it something special… the spelling on that album, I just thought that was

the way he spelled his name. I asked Columbia to release it with no publicity and no hype

because this was the season of hype. And my feeling was that if they put it out with no hype,

there was enough interest in the album anyway, people would go out and get it. And if you

hyped it, there was always that possibility that it would piss people off. They didn’t spend any

money advertising the album and the album just really took off. People have made a lot out of

it, as if it was some sort of ink blot test or something. But it never was intended to be anything

else but just a bunch of songs, really, maybe it was better ‘n I thought.”

 

Nashville Skyline continued Dylan’s string of albums recorded at the CBS studio in the country

music capital of the world. His voice, sweetened by a brief break from cigarettes, Dylan

produced one of his biggest single hits in April of 1969. Written for the movie Midnight

Cowboy, Lay Lady Lay missed the deadline for inclusion on the soundtrack. The producers used

Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ instead. Dylan released Lay Lady Lay himself and it is that love

song that became one of his longest lasting hits. “I don’t know what made me sound that way.

Today I don’t think I could sound that way if I wanted to. Clive Davis really wanted to release

that song as a single. Actually I was slightly embarrassed by it, wasn’t even sure I even liked

the song. He said it was a smash hit… I thought he was crazy. I was really astonished, you

know, when he turned out to be right.”

 

Dylan’s next release was 1970’s Self Portrait, a double album of standards and several live

tracks from his concert at the Isle of Wight. Criticized as trivial at the time, now revered by

critics looking for an argument, the album seemed to make a simple statement – he enjoyed

singing other people’s material – but it also further signaled that Bob Dylan had no

responsibility toward the vocal few who still demanded to know why he stopped writing

“protest songs.” One man, A. J. Weberman, had even become famous for going through

Dylan’s garbage for “clues”.

 

“Self Portrait,” Dylan explained recently, “was a bunch of tracks that we’d done all the time

I’d gone to Nashville. We did that stuff to get a (studio) sound. To open up we’d do two or

three songs, just to get things right and then we’d go on and do what we were going to do.

And then there was a lot of other stuff that was just on the shelf. But I was being bootlegged

 

 

 

 

at the time and a lot of stuff that was worse was appearing on bootleg records. So I just

figured I’d put all this stuff together and put it out, my own bootleg record, so to speak. You

know, if it actually had been a bootleg record, people probably would have sneaked around

to buy it and played it for each other secretly. Also I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and

I figured this record would put an end to that… I was just so fed up with all that who people

thought I was nonsense.”

 

It would be his last work of the sixties, a decade that Dylan had largely spent in a spin-cycle of

touring and recording. He had become a part of everybody else’s sixties experience but did he

feel like he’d had one of his own?

 

“I never looked at it that way,” answered Dylan. “I didn’t even consider it being the sixties.

People who were in it, it never occurred to anybody that we were living in the sixties. It was

too much like a pressure cooker. There wasn’t any time to sit around and think about it. Not

like what we’re living now is the eighties where everybody says, ‘These are the eighties and

ain’t it great.’ In the sixties they didn’t say that. Nobody wanted to say that. There were a lot

of people who jumped on the bandwagon who didn’t know it existed before. As far as I know,

they’re the only ones who made a big deal about it. People like to think of themselves as being

important when they write about things that are important. But for people who were active, it

didn’t matter. It could have been the twenties. Nobody really figured it out until the late

sixties that something happened. I remember Joe Strummer said that when he first heard my

records, I’d already been there and gone. And in a way that’s kind of true. It was like a flying

saucer landed… that’s what the sixties were like. Everybody heard about it but only a few

really saw it.”

 

Dylan soon released New Morning, a confident album of originals. It was another critically

heralded return for a man who’d never really left. He’d simply learned to work at his own pace,

a pace that tended not to interfere with the raising of his family.

 

Dylan spent the next few years in New York, popping up only occasionally with performances

like Concert for Bangladesh or a single like Watching The River Flow or George Jackson. In

1973, Kris Kristofferson talked Dylan into joining him on the Durango, Mexico set of the late

Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. Dylan ended up not only scoring the movie,

but turning in a clever performance as Alias, sidekick to Billy the Kid. Knockin’ On Heaven’s

Door, one of Dylan’s most successful singles was released from the soundtrack album. The film

featured Peckinpah’s trademark violent and unpolished beauty, and the music fit it perfectly.

The project seemed to signal a new period of activity. “I think he’s getting ready for

something,” said co-star Kris Kristofferson at the time. “He sat down at the piano the other

night. He had that look in his eyes…”. Said Dylan, “actually, I was just one of Peckinpah’s

pawns. There wasn’t a part for me and Sam just liked me around. I moved with my family to

Durango for about three months. Rudy Wurlitzer, who was writing this thing, invented a part

for me but there wasn’t any dimension to it and I was very uncomfortable in this non-role.

But then time started to slip away and there I was trapped deep in the heart of Mexico with

some madman, ordering people around like a little king. You had to play the dummy all day. I

used to think to myself, ‘Well now, how would Dustin Hoffman play this?’ That’s why I wore

glasses in that reading part. I saw him do it in Papillon. It was crazy, all these generals making

you jump into hot ants, setting up turkey shoots and whatever, and drinking tequila ‘til they

passed out. Sam was a wonderful guy though. He was an outlaw. A real hombre. Somebody

from the old school. Men like they don’t make anymore. I could see why actors would do

anything for him. At night when it was quiet, I would listen to the bells. It was a strange

feeling, watching how this movie was made and I know it was wide and big and breathless, at

least what was in Sam’s mind, but it didn’t come out that way. Sam himself just didn’t have

final control and that was the problem. I saw it in a movie house one cut away from his and I

 

 

 

could tell that it had been chopped to pieces. Someone other than Sam had taken a knife to

some valuable scenes that were in it. The music seemed to be scattered and used in every

other place but the scenes in which we did it for. Except for Heaven’s Door, I can’t say as

though I recognized anything I’d done for being in the place that I’d done it for. Why did I do

it, I guess I had a fondness for Billy the Kid. In no way can I say I did it for the money.

Anyway, I was too beat to take it personal. I mean, it didn’t hurt but I was sleep walking most

of the time and had no real reason to be there. I’d gotten my family out of New York, that was

the important thing, there was a lot of pressure back there. But even so my wife got fed up

almost immediately. She’d say to me, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ It was not an easy

question to answer.”

 

Much in music had changed over the previous few years. Bob Dylan could now look around to

see a world of rock megatours, chartered 747’s, mega-platinum artists, rockers on the cover of

world news magazines and more. Dylan, who first left Minnesota at a time when rock and roll

was still a forbidden entity, was about to venture back at a time when it had become the

biggest business.

 

In 1974 he reunited with The Band and began recording a batch of new songs in Los Angeles.

First titled Ceremonies of the Horseman and later re-titled Planet Waves, the album (and the

first single, On A Night Like This) set the tone for a high-spirited return. Dylan’s first coast-to-

coast US tour was announced. The seats sold out in hours but the event brought on board a

number of new questions. What would Dylan be like? Could he match the intensity of his early

days in huge arenas? Would he mean as much?

 

The questions were dispensed with in short order. Dylan appeared at full strength, with an

adrenalin charged voice and powerful backing from The Band. The concerts were cheered like

victory parties. Remembers Robbie Robertson, “We were hoping to do an extremely different

kind of show. But we rehearsed and eventually settled on a show that wasn’t dissimilar from

our last tours (in ‘65-’66). But this time when we played, everybody loved us. I don’t know if

we needed it but it was a kind of a relief.”

 

All the while, Dylan had some problems with myth-making proportions of the tour. “I think I

was just playing a role on that tour,” he said. “I was playing Bob Dylan and the Band was

playing The Band. It was all sort of mindless. The people that came out to see us came mostly

to see what they missed the first time around. It was just more of a ‘legendary’ kind of thing.

They’ve heard about it, they’d bought the records, whatever, but what they saw didn’t give

any clue to what was. What got it to that level wasn’t what they saw. What they saw you

could compare to early Elvis and later Elvis, really. Because it wasn’t quite the same, when we

needed that acceptance it wasn’t there. By this time it didn’t matter. Time had proven them

all wrong. We were cleaning up but it was an emotionless trip.”

 

“Rock-and-roll had become a highly extravagant enterprise. T-shirts, concert booklets,

lighting shows, costume changes, glitter and glamour… it was just a big show, a big circus

except there weren’t any elephants, nothing really exceptional just Sound and Lights, Sound

and Lights, and more Sound and Lights. That’s what it had become and that’s what it still is. It

is like those guys who watched the H bomb explode on Bikini Island and then turn to each

other and say, ‘Beautiful, man, just incredibly beautiful.’ That’s what this whole scene had

become. The only thing people talked about was energy this, energy that. The highest

compliments were things like, ‘Wow, lotta energy, man.’ It had become absurd. The bigger

and louder something was, the more energy it was supposed to have. You know, like knock

me out, drive me to the wall, kick my brains in, blow me up, whip me ‘til it hurts, that’s what

people were accepting as heavy energy. Actually it was just big industry moving in on the

music. Like the armaments manufacturers selling weapons to both sides in a war, inventing

 

bigger and better things to take your head off while behind your back, there’s a few people

laughing and getting rich off your vanity. Have you ever seen a slaughter-house where they

bring in a herd of cattle? They round them all up, put them all in one area, pacify ‘m and

slaughter them… big business, brings in lots of bucks, heavy energy. It always reminds me of

that. The greatest praise we got on that tour was ‘incredible energy, man’, it would make me

want to puke. The scene had changed somewhat when we stepped into that picture. We were

expected to produce a show that lived up to everybody’s expectations. And we did it. It was

utterly profound.”

 

“What they saw wasn’t really what they would have seen in ‘66 or ‘65. If they had seen that,

that was much more demanding. That was a much more demanding show. People didn’t know

what it was at that point. When people don’t know what something is, they don’t understand

it and they start to get, you know, weird and defensive. Nothing is predictable and you’re

always out on the edge. Anything can happen. I always had those songs though and so I

always figured everything was alright.”

 

When the tour was over-commemorated by a cover in Newsweek, the same magazine that

once questioned his authorship of Blowin’ In The Wind, Dylan responded in surprising style.

Just as he had cultivated his most public performing style yet, he reversed himself, contacted

several acoustic musicians and told his label he was going to record some “private songs.” He

wanted to do them quickly, in a small way.

 

He began recording what is often recognised as his finest album of the seventies, Blood On The

Tracks. Reportedly inspired by the breakup of his marriage, the album derived more of it’s style

from Dylan’s renewed interest in painting. The songs cut deep and their sense of perspective

and reality was always changing. This was acoustic soul music and clearly not the work of an

artist intent on staying in arenas touring on the strength of his own myth.

 

“I’m not concerned with the myth,” Dylan said in a 1977 interview, “because I can’t work

under the myth. The myth can’t write the songs. It’s the blood behind the myth that creates

the art. The myth doesn’t exist for me like it may for other people. I’d rather go on, above the

myth.”

 

After Blood On The Tracks, Dylan stayed in New York. He recorded one of his most successful

albums, Desire, with a new group of musicians led by Scarlet Rivera. Dylan had seen her

playing on a street comer and invited her to join the band. Her violin helped characterize

Hurricane, the unreleased Abandoned Love and many other songs from this period.

 

Dylan also began popping up, in clubs around Greenwich Village, on some of the same stages

where he started out. More than a few visitors in the Village, accustomed to seeing the early

photos of a long-gone Dylan still pasted in the windows, did a triple take when they actually

saw Dylan back again on stage. Slowly, those club performances grew to include others like

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson and others.

Those shows built into the Rolling Thunder Revue, a bicentennial tour of small to mid-size halls

that was documented in a TV special, a number of books and later in Dylan’s own film Renaldo

and Clara. In what was now Dylan’s third or fourth wave of popularity, even candidate Jimmy

Carter was campaigning for president with a speech that quoted Bob Dylan.

 

By the time of Renaldo and Clara’s release, Dylan was already past it. He had relocated to a

converted rehearsal hall in Santa Monica, California and was rehearsing musicians for a band

he could both tour and record with. The resulting eleven piece group was one of his biggest

and most precise. They toured the world in 1978 and also recorded the underrated Street Legal

album. The sound of this period was something close to the dense precision of Blonde on

 

Blonde, with a measure of gospel-blues added. Street Legal defined Dylan’s work for the next

several years. Said Dylan, “The critics treated this record spitefully… I saw one review that

accused me of going ‘Vegas’ and copying Bruce Springsteen because I was using Steve

Douglas, a saxophone player… the Vegas comparison was, well you know, I don’t think the

guy had ever been to Vegas and the saxophone thing was almost slanderous… I mean I don’t

copy guys that are under fifty years old and though I wasn’t that familiar with Bruce’s work,

his saxophone player couldn’t be spoken of in the same breath as Steve Douglas who’d played

with Duane Eddy and on literally all of Phil Spector’s records… I mean no offense to Clarence

or anything but he’s not in the same category and the guy who reviewed my stuff should have

known it… anyway people need to be encouraged, not stepped on and put in a straight

jacket.”

 

After his world tour, reports would soon circulate that Dylan had become a born-again

Christian. The next album told the bigger story. Dylan was inspired with religious thought but

he’d also struck a smoldering studio groove with celebrated rhythm and blues producers Jerry

Wexler and Barry Beckett. This partnership produced one of the most finely recorded albums of

Dylan’s recording career. Slow Train Coming was both a critically praised and successful work.

Dylan received his first Grammy and the album went platinum. It also won the Dove Award for

Inspirational Album of 1979. The follow-up album Saved, with it’s Biblical inscription on the

outer sleeve, fared less well. Religious themes have had a place in his music from the

beginning, but for a time the media searched these songs for clues to his commitment.

Although the messages might have been too much for pop music mentality, the meaning

behind the songs did not fall entirely upon all deaf ears. “Yes mon,” said Bob Marley,… “that is

a good verse too, a revelation, a link-up with a Rasta, as Haile Selassie is the Conquering Lion

of the house of Judah. And me like his song Serve Somebody quite a bit as well… I glad him do

it, too, y’know, because there comes a time when an artist just cannot follow the crowd. If you

are an artist like Bob Dylan, you got to make the crowd follow you. I can tell you that it doesn’t

mean anything to him that people might not like what he is doing. Him still do it. And that is

the most important thing. Him still do it.”

 

Shot of Love, a somewhat more secular LP recorded in Los Angeles, was produced by Dylan

and Chuck Plotkin (with the help of Bumps Blackwell on Shot of Love).

 

The range of influence was wider, the music was technically improved from earlier days but the

feel could have been 1966. This was raw Dylan, live in the studio, scrambling to get to the

heart of his new songs. “People didn’t listen to that album in a realistic way. First of all, Shot

of Love was one of the last songs Bumps Blackwell produced and even though he only

produced one song I gotta say that of all the producers I ever used, he was the best, the most

knowledgeable and he had the best instincts… I would have liked him to do the whole thing

but things got screwed up and he wasn’t so called ‘contemporary’… what came out was

something close to what would have come out if he was really there… also Clydie King and I

sound pretty close to what’s all the best of every traditional style so how could anybody

complain about that… and the record had something that, I don’t know, could have been

made in the ‘40’s or maybe the ‘50’s… there was a cross element of songs on it… the critics, I

hate to keep talking about them, wouldn’t allow the people to make up their own minds… all

they talked about was Jesus this and Jesus that, like it was some kind of Methodist record. I

don’t know what was happening, maybe Boy George or something but Shot of Love didn’t fit

into the current formula. It probably never will. Anyway people were always looking for some

excuse to write me off and this was as good as any… I can’t say if being ‘non commercial’ is a

put down or a compliment.” The next album, Infidels, was a critical and artistic success that

also ushered Dylan into the video age with Sweetheart Like You and Jokerman.

“I don’t feel like I know what I’m going to do even next week, or not do.” Dylan said of the

future. “Mostly I just write songs, make records, and do tours, that takes up most of my time,

so I just expect it to go on that way. I started a book awhile back called Ho Chi Minh in

Harlem. I’d probably like to finish that. Maybe write some stories the way Kerouac did, about

some of the people I know and knew, change the names – New developments, new ideas? I

guess I’d like to do a concept album like, you know, Red Headed Stranger or something,

maybe a children’s album, or an album of cover songs but I don’t know if the people would

let me get away with that … A Million Miles From Nowhere, I Who Have Nothing, All My

Tomorrows, I’m In The Mood For Love, More Than You Know, It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie… I

guess someday I’d like to do an album of standards, also, maybe instrumentals, guitar

melodies with percussion, people don’t know I can do that sort of thing. I can get away with a

lot more in a show than I can on record… I mean I’m aware of sythesisers and drum machines

but they don’t affect my stuff to any great degree. There’s a great temptation to see how false

you can be. I can see where pretty soon the human voice will be synthesised, become totally

unreal. You know, like put in Paul Anka and get him sounding like Howlin’ Wolf or vice versa.

I guess it don’t matter but it’s irritating, it’s a cheap substitution for reality, stimulating little

boys and little girls with sex in a bottle, it’s all got the soul of a robot, your mind thinks its

true but your heart knows it’s wrong. Too much chaos on the airways for the senses to take,

assault on the all too fragile imagination as it is… fill up everything, put in every color, clog it

all up… if you wanna make things clear, you’ve got to leave other things out… like that’s why

the old black and white movies look better than color movies, they give your eye and your

imagination something to do, well, that’s one of the reasons, same thing with the old music

and the new music… probably too much progress or something, I don’t know.”

 

While Dylan had often deflected artistic inquiries in the past, on this day he was almost earnest

in his observations. Bob Dylan’s perspective in the mid eighties is a valuable one, one he

seemed inspired to have gained.

 

“No, I really don’t have a plan. You know what I mean, if you’ve heard my records and know

what was going on at the time I turned them out. A lot of the styles and lyrical dynamics that I

use I feel I have invented myself or stumbled into accidentally. Either back in the sixties or

even in the late seventies or eighties using certain combinations that have never come up

before, so I work mostly in that area. I can’t stop doing it just because a whole lot of other

people have taken certain elements of it and used it for their own thing. I mean Muddy

Waters didn’t stop playing just because the J. Geils Band started making records. I noticed

that George Jones didn’t roll over just because Merle Haggard appeared. It’s actually quite

complimentary to witness your own influence in someone else’s success. But I don’t know, I

guess it can be taken the other way too… look at what happened to Lefty Frizzell. Link Wray

invented heavy metal music but who knows it? T-Bone Walker is really the essence of city

blues, can wipe B. B. Jones off the map but who can tell you that? Isn’t Bessie Smith rock n’

roll? People forget. You have to know there’s always someone else that’s gonna come along

after you. There’s always going to be a faster, bigger and younger gun, right? Pop music on

the radio? I don’t know. I listen mostly to Preacher stations and the country music stations

and maybe the oldies stations… that’s about it. At the moment I like Judy Rodman, I’ve Been

Had By Love Before, more than anything happening on the pop stations. I don’t think of

myself really as a pop singer anyway, so what do I know.”

 

For a man often credited with helping to define rock, Dylan was careful to point out that he

was never owned by it.

 

“The thing about rock n’ roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough, Tutti Frutti and Blue

Suede Shoes were great catch phrases and driving pulse rhythms and you could get high on

the energy but they weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I

 

 

 

got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more

despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings…

My Bonnie Love Is Lang A Growing, Go Down Ye Bloody Red Roses even Jesse James or

Down By The Willow Garden, definitely not x stuff. There is more real life in one line

than there was in all the rock n’ roll themes. I needed that. Life is full of complexities and rock

n’ roll didn’t reflect that. It was just put on a happy face and ride sally ride, there was nothing

even resembling Sixteen Snow White Horses or See That My Grave Is Kept Clean in even the

vaguest way. If I did anything, I brought one to the other. There was nothing serious

happening in music when I started, not even the Beatles. They were singing Love Me Do and

Marvin Gaye… he didn’t do What’s Going On until the ‘70s.”

 

What did he think of the new music?

 

“Nothing is new. Everybody just gets their chance – most of it just sounds recycled and

shuffled around, watered down. Even rap records. I love that stuff but it’s not new, you used

to hear that stuff all the time… there was this one guy, Big Brown, he wore a jail blanket,

that’s all he ever used to wear, summer and winter. John Hammond would remember him too

– he was like Othello, he’d recite epics like some grand Roman orator, really backwater stuff

though, Stagger Lee, Cocaine Smitty, Hattiesburg Hattie. Where were the record companies

when he was around? Even him though, it’s like it was done 30 years before that… and God

knows when else. I think of Luke the Drifter as rap records and as far as concept and

intelligence and warring with words, Mighty Sparrow was and probably still is king. You go

see him and in the audience there’s people just standing up and arguing away with him about

every kind of thing… politics, sex, outer space, whatever, he answers ‘m all back, never breaks

stride, all in his poetry, his shows are like prize fights and he always come out on top, all this

and a fifteen or twenty piece band just blasting away … Calypso King… Mighty Sparrow… he’s

fantastic. Rock n’ roll, I don’t know, rhythm and blues or whatever, I think it’s gone. In its

pure form. There are some guys true to it but it’s so hard. You have to be so dedicated and

committed and everything is against it. I’d like to see Charlie Sexton become a big star, but

the whole machine would have to break down right now before that would happen. It was

easier before. Now it’s just rock, capital R, no roll, the roll’s gone, homosexual rock, working

man’s rock, stock-broker rock, it’s now a highly visible enterprise, big establishment thing.

You know thing’s go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell

House coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it. Everybody’s singing about

ketchup or headache medicine or something. In the beginning it wasn’t anything like that, had

nothing to do with pantyhose and perfume and barbecue sauce… you were eligible to get

busted for playing it. It’s like Lyndon Johnson saying ‘We shall overcome’ to a nation-wide

audience, ridiculous… there’s an old saying, ‘If you want to defeat your enemy, sing his song’

and that’s pretty much still true. I think it’s happened and nobody knows the difference. In

the old days, there’s that phrase again, you paid the price to play. You could get run out of

town or pushed over a cliff. Of course there was always someone there with a net. I’m not

trying to paint just one side of a picture. But, you know, it was tough getting heard, it was

radical. You felt like you were part of some circus side-show. Now it’s the main event. You

can even go to college and study rock and roll, they turn out professors who grade your

records. There’s enough dribble, magazine articles, proclamations, declarations, whatever,

written about it to keep you guessing for a lifetime but it’s not in reading and writing about it,

it’s in doing it… the best stuff was done without the spotlight before the commentaries and

what not… when they came to define it I think they killed something very important about it.

The corporate world, when they figured out what it was and how to use it they snuffed the

breath out of it and killed it. What do they care? Anything that’s in the way, they run over like

a bulldozer, once they understood it they killed it and made it a thing of the past, put up a

monument to it and now that’s what you’re hearing, the headstone, it’s a billion dollar

business. I don’t know, I guess it’s hard to find flaws with this. Used to be they were very

 

 

 

 

 

much afraid, you know, like hide your daughters, that sort of thing… Elvis, Little Richard,

Chuck Berry… they all struck fear into the heart. Now they got a purpose sort of… to sell

soap, blue jeans, anything, it’s become country club music… White House… Kentucky Fried

Chicken… it’s all been neutralised… nothing threatening, nothing magical… nothing

challenging. For me I hate to see it because it set me free, set the whole world on fire, there’s

a lot of us who still can remember, who’ve been there. What I’m telling is no lie but then

again who wants to hear it? You just get yourself worked up over nothing.”

 

Dylan considered the thought.

 

“The truth about anything in this society, as you know, is too threatening. Gossip is King. It’s

like ‘conscience’ is a dirty word. Whatever is truthful haunts you and don’t let you sleep at

night. Especially anybody who’s living a lie gets hurt. You get a lot of ugly reactions from

people not familiar with it. A lot of times you don’t even bother. Not that I’m an expert or

anything but I’ve always tried to stick that into my music in some kind of way or at least not

to leave it untouched. The old stuff stayed in your head long after it was over, you know, even

something as simple as ‘to know, know, know him is to love, love, love him’, it became

monumental in some kind of way, now it’s just blabbering noise and after you shut it off

you’ve forgotten about it and you’re glad – Some Like It Hot. Oh mercy! Spare me please!

These things are just hooks, fish hooks in the back of your neck… nothing means anything,

people just showing off, dancing to a pack of lies – lotta people gotta be dead first before

anybody takes notice, the same people who praise you when you’re dead, when you were

alive they wouldn’t give you the time of day. I like to wonder about some of these people who

elevated John Lennon to such a mega-god as if when he was alive they were always on his

side. I wonder who they think he was singing to when he sang ‘just give me some truth. ‘

Everything is just too commercial, like a sprawling octopus, too much part of the system.

Sometimes you feel like you’re walking around in that movie Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

and you wonder if it’s got you yet, if you’re still one of the few or are you ‘them’ now. You

never know do you? When people don’t get threatened and challenged, I mean in some kind

of way, they don’t get confronted, never have to make decisions, they never take a stand, they

never grow, live their lives in a fishtank, stay in the same old scene forever, die and never get

a break or a chance to say goodbye. I have views contrary to all that. I think that this world is

just a passing-through place and that the dead have eyes and that even the unborn can see

and I don’t care who knows it. I don’t know, I can go off on tangents… things that got nothing

to do with music… The great folk music and the great rock n’ roll, you might not hear it again.

Like the horse and buggy. Sure, a horse and buggy is more soulful than a car but it takes

longer to get where you’re going and besides that, you could get killed on the road.”

 

Sitting across from Bob Dylan on this afternoon, one could see his influences very clearly. His

speech sometimes flecked with the country-isms of his youth, a leather jacket draped on his

shoulders, a sharp hand gesture with a cigarette barely holding its ash… for all the years of

who-is-Bob-Dylan analysis, the answer seemed obvious. He still is, as he always has been, a

lone figure with a guitar and a point-of-view.

 

“Basically, I’m self taught. What I mean by that actually is that I picked it all up from other

people by watching them, by imitating them. I seldom ever asked them to take me aside and

show me how to do it. I started out as a traveling guitar player and singer,” Dylan reflected.

“It had nothing to do with writing songs, fortune and fame, that sort of thing. You know what

I mean. I could always play a song on a concert-hall stage or from the back of a truck, a

nightclub or on the street, whatever, and that was the important thing, singing the song,

contributing something and paying my way. The most inspiring type of entertainer for me has

always been somebody like Jimmie Rodgers, somebody who could do it alone and was totally

original. He was combining elements of blues and hillbilly sounds before anyone else had

 

 

thought of it. He recorded at the same time as Blind Willie McTell but he wasn’t just another

white boy singing black. That was his great genius and he was there first. All he had to do was

appear with his guitar and a straw hat and he played on the same stage with big bands, girly

choruses and follies burlesque and he sang in a plaintive voice and style and he’s outlasted

them all. You don’t remember who else was on the bill. I never saw him. I only heard his

records. I never saw Woody Guthrie in his prime. I think maybe the greatest of all those I ever

saw was Cisco Houston. He was in his last days but you couldn’t tell – he looked like Clark

Gable and he was absolutely magnificent… I always like to think that there’s a real person

talking to me, just one voice you know, that’s all I can handle – Cliff Carlysle… Robert

Johnson, for me this is a deep reality, someone who’s telling me where he’s been that I

haven’t and what it’s like there – somebody whose life I can feel… Jimmie Rodgers or even

Judy Garland, she was a great singer… or Al Jolson… God knows there are so few of them, but

who knows? Maybe there are just enough. I always thought that one man, the lone balladeer

with the guitar could blow an entire army off the stage if he knew what he was doing… I’ve

seen it happen. It’s important to stay away from the celebrity trap. The Andy Warhol fame-

for-a-minute type trip. The media is a great meatgrinder, it’s never satisfied and it must be fed

but there’s power in darkness too and in keeping things hidden. Look at Napoleon. Napoleon

conquered Europe and nobody even knew what he looked like… people get too famous too

fast these days and it destroys them. Some guys got it down – Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou

Reed, secret heroes, – John Prine, David Allen Coe, Tom Waits, I listen more to that kind of

stuff than whatever is popular at the moment, they’re not. just witchdoctoring up the planet,

they don’t set up barriers… Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it

would last forever. Pop culture, what is it? IBM, Calvin Klein, General Motors, Mickey Mouse,

and that whole kind of thing, conformity to fashion, ideas, conformity to other people’s

opinions, conformity in the mirror, lots of singers who can’t even deliver live on stage, use

tapes and things… Van Gogh never sold but a few paintings while he was alive, incredible, as

far as he was concerned he was a failure. I don’t think for a minute though that he’s having

the last laugh cause that’s not what I think it’s about. Artists should remember that – There’s a

tremendous hypocrisy in this thing.”

 

From the demos, to the songs, to the hits and the never-heards, this is a collection of music that

anyone should take the time to listen to in sequence. And when the last notes of Forever Young

disappear, consider this: Dylan’s influence continues to be heard all around us, from his own

work to the music of artists like Springsteen, The Clash, The Pretenders, U2, The Blasters, Tom

Petty and The Heartbreakers and many others. Fan sponsored publications like Telegraph and

Wanted Man pour over set lists from twenty years ago, as well as Dylan’s movements of today.

To many, Dylan’s life is already the stuff of myth. To Dylan, it’s a life only half begun. Just listen

to the fire in his impassioned vocal on the USA for Africa single of We Are The World. A hero

to many, Bob Dylan has his own definition of the word.

 

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with

his freedom, someone who’s not afraid to jump in front of a freight train to save a loved one’s

life, to draw a crowd with my guitar, that’s about the most heroic thing that I can do. To play

a song to calm the king, well everybody don’t get to do that. There’s only certain things a King

wants to hear. And then if he don’t like it, he might send you to the gallows. Sometimes you

feel like a club fighter who gets off the bus in the middle of nowhere, no cheers, no

admiration, punches his way through ten rounds or whatever, always making someone else

look good, vomits up the pain in the backroom, picks up his check and gets back on the bus

heading out for another nowhere. Sometimes like a troubadour out of the dark ages, singing

for your supper and rambling the land or singing to the girl in the window, you know, the one

with the long flowing hair who’s combing it in the candlelight, maybe she invites you up.

Maybe she says ‘Sing me another song, sweetness, sing me that song about the cat and the

fiddle, the knave and the long sea voyage’ or maybe she don’t. You gotta be able to feel your

 

 

 

 

dream before anyone else is aware of it. ‘Your parents don’t like me they say I’m too poor’…

Gotta learn to bite the bullet like Tom Mix, take the blows, like the song says. Or like Charles

Aznavour, ‘you must learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served’ but that’s a

hard thing to do. You got to be strong and stay connected to what started it all, the inspiration

behind the inspiration, to who you were when people didn’t mind stepping on you, it’s easy to

say but the air gets thin at the top, you get light-headed, your environment changes, new

people come into your life…”

 

Bob Dylan stood and walked to a nearby window, he stared out at a small courtyard. A cat

shrieked from an over-hanging balcony. Dylan was restless and ready to go. I asked him he

viewed his impact upon modern culture. He shrugged.

 

“In the big picture, on the big stage, I’m not too sure, to take yourself seriously or to take

seriously what other people are thinking, you know that could be your downfall. I mean it’s a

weakness. I know I’ve done some important things but in what context, I don’t know, and also

for who. It’s hard to relate to fans. I mean I relate to people as people but people as fans, I’m

not sure I know what that means and don’t forget John Lennon was murdered by a so-called

fan – I know it gives them all a bad name but so what? I don’t think of myself as a fan of

anybody, I am more of an admirer, so why should I think of anyone as a fan of me? If they like

you, they do and if they don’t, well that’s their business – nobody owes anybody anything.

And anyway fans are consumers, they buy products and the company tries to please the

consumers. That type of thing can rule your life. If the fan don’t like you he becomes

somebody else’s fan, like the Paul Simon song, Got To Keep The Customer Satisfied – I’m not

gonna live and die behind that – I’m not selling breakfast cereal, or razor blades or whatever.

I’m always hearing people saying how ‘Dylan should do this and do that, make an album like

he did in the sixties. ‘ How the hell do they know? I could make Blonde on Blonde tomorrow

and the same people would probably say its outdated… that’s the way people are. As far as

the sixties go, it wasn’t any big deal. Time marches on. I mean if I had a choice I would rather

have lived at the time of King David, when he was the high King of Israel. I’d love to have

been riding with him or hiding in caves with him when he was a hunted outlaw. I wonder

what he would have been saying and about who – or maybe at the time of Jesus and Mary

Magdalene – that would have been interesting huh, really test your nerve… or maybe even

later in the time of the Apostles when they were overturning the world … what happened in

the ‘60’s? Wiretapping? What was so revolutionary about it? You know, there was a time

when people thought the world was flat and that women didn’t have souls… you can say how

ridiculous and how could they have been so stupid but nevertheless people did think it to be

truth just like right now a lot of what’s thought to be truth will later be proved false… actually

I’m amazed that I’ve been around this long, never thought I would be. I try to learn from both

the wise and the unwise, not pay attention to anybody, do what I want to do. I can’t say I

haven’t done my share of playing the fool. There was never any secret. I was in the right place

at the right time. People dissect my songs like rabbits but they all miss the point. I mean have

you ever seen ‘something’s happening but you don ‘t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones’

played over the war in Lebanon? Or the Aids epidemic. Or Mengele’s bones? Sometimes I

think I’ve been doing this too long. I can understand why Rimbaud quit writing poetry when

he was 19… How would I change my life? Yeah, well, sometimes I think that I get by on only

50% of what I got, sometimes even less. I’d like to change that I guess… that’s about all I can

think of.”

13 – from World Gone Wrong (1993)

ABOUT THE SONGS (what they’re about)

BROKE DOWN ENGINE is a Blind Willie McTell masterpiece. it’s about trains, mystery on the rails-the trains of love, the train that carried my girl from town-The Southern Pacific, Baltmore & Ohio whatever-it’s about variations of human longing-the low hum in meters & syllables. it’s about dupes of commerce & politics colliding on tracks, not being pushed around by ordinary standards. it’s about revival, getting a new lease on life, not just posing there-paint chipped & flaked, mattress bare, single bulb swinging above the bed. it’s about Ambiguity, the fortunes of the priviliged elite, flood control-watching the red dawn not bothering to dress.

LOVE HENRY is a “traditionalist” ballad. Tom Paley used to do it, a perverse tale. Henry-modern corporate man off some foreign boat, unable to handle his “psychosis” responsible for organizing the Intelligentsia, disarming the people, an infantile sensualist-white teeth, wide smile, lotza money, kowtows to fairy queen exploiters & corrupt religious establishments, career-minded, limousine double parked, imposing his will & dishonest garbage in popular magazines. he lays his head on a pillow of down & falls asleep. he shoulda known better, he must’ve had a hearing problem.

STACK-A-LEE is Frank Hutchinson’s version. what does the song say exactly? it says no man gains immortality thru public acclaim. truth is shadowy. in the pre-postindustrial age, victims of violence were allowed (in fact it was their duty) to be judges over their offenders-parents were punished for their children’s crimes (we’ve come a long way since then) the song says that a man’s hat is his crown. futurologists would insist it’s a matter of tatse. they say “let’s sleep on it” but they’re already living in the sanatirium. No Rights Without Duty is the name of the game & fame is a trick. playing for time is only horsing around. Stack’s in a cell, no wall phone. he’s not some egotistical degraded existentialist dionysian idiot. neither does he represent any alternative lifestyle scam (give me a thousand acres of tractable land & all the gang members that exist and you’ll see the Authentic alternative lifestyle, the Agrarian one) Billy didn’t have an insurance plan, didn’t get airsick yet his ghost is more real and genuine than all the dead souls on the boob tube – a monumental epic of blunder and misunderstanding, a romance tale without the cupidity.

BLOOD IN MY EYES is one of two songs done by the Mississippi Sheiks, a little known de facto group whom in their former glory must’ve been something to behold. rebellion against routine seems to be their strong theme. all their songs are raw in the bone & are faultlessly made for these modern times (the New Dark Ages) nothing effete about the Mississippi Sheiks.

WORLD GONE WRONG is also by them & goes against cultural policy. “strange things are happening like never before.” Strange things alright-strange things like courage becoming befuddled & nonfundamental. evil charlatans masquerading in pullover vests & tuxedos talking gobbledyook, monstrous pompous superficial pageantry parading down lonely streets on limited access highways. strange things indeed – irrationalist bimbos & bozos, the stuff of legend, coming in from left field-infamy on the landscape-“pray to the Good Lord” hit the light switch!

JACK-A-ROE is another Tom Paley ballad (Tom, one of the New Lost City Ramblers) the young virgin follows her heart (which can’t be confined) & in it the secrets of the universe. “there was a wealthy merchant” wealthy & philosophically influential perhaps with an odd penchant for young folk. the song cannot be categorized-is worlds away from reality but “gets inside” reality anyway & strips it of its steel and concrete. inverted symmetry, legally stateless, travelling under a false passport. “before you step on board, sir…” are you any good at what you do? Submerge your personality.

DELIA is one sad tale-two or more versions mixed into one. the song has no middle range, comes whipping around the corner, seems to be about counterfeit loyalty. Delia herself, no Queen Gertrude, Elizabeth 1 or even Evita Peron, doesnt ride a Harley Davidson across the desert highway, doesnt need a blood change & would never go on a shopping spree. the guy in the courthouse sounds like a pimp in primary colors. he’s not interested in mosques on the temple mount, armageddon or world war III, doesnt put his face in his knees & weep & wears no dunce hat, makes no apology & is doomed to obscurity. does this song have rectitude? you bet. toleration of the unacceptable leads to the last round-up. the singer’s not talking from a head of booze. Jerry Garcia showed me

TWO SOLDIERS (Hazel & Alice do it pretty similar) a battle song extraordinaire, some dragoon officer’s epaulettes laying liquid in the mud, physical plunge into Limitationville, war dominated by finance (lending money for interest being a nauseating & revolting thing) love is not collateral. hittin’ them where they aint (in the imperect state that they’re in) America when Mother was the the queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chapin, before the Wild One, before the children of the Sun-before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces-before all the ancient & honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock, stopping the mind from thinking in hours, firing a few random shots at the face of time.

RAGGED & DIRTY one of the Willy Browns did this – schmaltz & pickled herring, stuffed cabbage, heavy moral vocabulary – sweetness & sentiment, house rocking, superior beauty, not just standing there-the seductive magic of the thumbs up salute, carefully thought out overtones & stepping sideways, the idols of human worship paying thru the nose, lords of the illogical in smoking jackets, sufferers from a weak education, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle-taking stupid chances-being mistreated just so far.

LONE PILGRIM is from an old Doc Watson record. what attracts me to the song is how the lunacy of trying to fool the self is set aside at some given point. salvation and the needs of mankind are prominent & hegemony takes a breathing spell. “my soul flew to mansions on high” what’s essentially true is virtual reality. technology to wipe out the truth is now available. not everybody can afford it but it’s available. when the cost comes down look out! there wont be songs like this anymore. factually there aren’t any now. by the way, don’t be bewildered by the Never Ending Tour chatter. there was a Never Ending Tour but it ended in ’91 with the departure of guitarist G.E. Smith. that one’s long gone but there have been many others since then. The Money Never Runs Out Tour (fall of ’91) Southern Sympathizer Tour (early ’92) Why Do You Look At Me So Strangely Tour (European ’92) The One Sad Cry Of Pity Tour (Australia & West Coast American ’92) Principles Of Action Tour (Mexico-South American ’92) Outburst Of Consciousness Tour (’92) Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Tour (’93) & others too many to mention. each with their own character and design. to know which was which consult the playlists.

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