Tweedly Dee and Tweedle Dum

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are characters in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There a book which I was read by my father as I grew up as a child.   I suspect many other children of the era had the same experience.

As Wikipedia says “The names have since become synonymous in western popular culture slang for any two people who look and act in identical ways, generally in a derogatory context.”  The Tweedle brothers never contradict each other, even when one of them, according to the rhyme, “agrees to have a battle”.

So what does Dylan make of this children’s rhyme?   It’s a three chord piece with a pounding bongos rhythm and very restrained lead guitar.  The bass is excellently played and  rarely for a Dylan song no slips are made anywhere.  Even with the extended lines, everything works.

Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee
They’re throwing knives into the tree
Two big bags of dead man’s bones
Got their noses to the grindstones

Living in the Land of Nod
Trustin’ their fate to the Hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee

The implication is that Dylan is referring to two people – the leaders of east and west perhaps, the leaders of the Republicans and Democrats… who knows – although given the rest of the album I’d for for the latter.

The opening track, “‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’, includes many references to parades in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where participants are masked, and “determined to go all the way” of the parade route, in spite of being intoxicated. “It rolls in like a storm, drums galloping over the horizon into ear shot, guitar riffs slicing with terse dexterity while a tale about a pair of vagabonds unfolds,” writes Kot. “It ends in death, and sets the stage for an album populated by rogues, con men, outcasts, gamblers, gunfighters and desperados, many of them with nothing to lose, some of them out of their minds, all of them quintessentially American.

The notion of weird and wild characters populating songs of course was the commonplace of Dylans albums of the late 60s.  Although the voice has changed this could almost be a Highway 61 Revisited song.   We don’t get Paul Revere’s horse but we get a lot of other characters.

Well, the rain beating down on my window pane, I got love for you and it’s all in vain, Brains in the pot, they’re beginning to boil, They’re dripping with garlic and olive oil

I write it as one line because that is how it could be, everyday events mixed with the outrageous. Only near the end do we get a differentiation between the two

Tweedle-dee Dee is a lowdown, sorry old man
Tweedle-dee Dum, he’ll stab you where you stand
“I’ve had too much of your company,”
Says Tweedle-dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee

As Dylan says at the start of the next track “Your days are numbered so are mine”.  In a world that makes no sense there is no way out.   But even so, “I know that fortune is waiting to be kind, so give me your hand and say you’ll be mine.”

Index of songs

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