Black Diamond Bay; a second view

From:  Ken Smith

Re: Interpretation Black Diamond Bay, Bob Dylan


I think the piece is a reflection on Viet Nam.

Black Diamond Bay => Vietnam (1 too many syllables) => or Black “Vietnam”.

The dark side of the war …. And written the year the war ended.

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.,Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news, It seems there was an earthquake that, Left nothin’ but a Panama hat

And a pair of old Greek shoes, Didn’t seem like much was happenin’, So I turned it off and went to grab another beer. Seems like every time you turn around, There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear

This sealed it for me. Walter Cronkite’s commentary that the war is lost in 1968 was the end of it.  Earthquake (destruction) left the remains of the women from the Veranda (references to the easy life of the French, and use of the French language) and the Greek shoes – the bodies were gone.  “Didn’t seem like much was happenin” (everyone had given up), “went to grab another beer”, (ignore it, it was a mistake, not worth the time anymore).  “Just a hard luck story”, captures the sadness and uselessness of Vietnam, after everything that was sacrificed. I was such a huge cost to the country in lives and resources.

This is one of my more favorite Dylan refrains (one of many/many). I did watch, and remember Cronkite’s commentary.  How serious Cronkite’s statement was to the nation yet Dylan makes it even more powerful, “So I turned it off and went to grab another beer”.   He grabs for the beer, but instead turns around to the TV, and reflects on another “hard luck story, that you’re gonna hear”.  Amazing.

Everything is getting worse on “Black Diamond Bay” at the end of each refrain, as the failed initiative collapses. The last ship sailed: TOO LATE TO GET OUT.   “And I never did plan to go anyway” => this is the epitaph for all those who participated, and not all to apologetic for committing the nation to such a disaster – not responsible for the mess.  “And there’s really nothing any one can say”.

“As the island slowly sank and the loser broke the bank” => ran out of money or political will to continue.  “The dealer said, It’s too late now, You can take your money, but I don’t know how, You’ll spend it in the tomb” => the west is dead, your money’s gone, wasted.

References to soldiers, the Soviets (cold war match – image of the Soviets, the ambassador), and the Greeks (western partners who paid the price).

“the boiler in the basement blew”, the bottom came out from under the whole thing.

“Then the volcano erupted”, boilers blowing up, volcanoes => complete disaster.

“As the fire burns on and the smoke drifts away”, exploding bombs and the smoke from the fire.

I see references to Vietnam everywhere, just a few outlined above.

Thank you   …..  for listening …..


You might also enjoy…. Tony’s 2013 review of the song.

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