The Devil’s been busy. Dylan’s input into a Wilbury’s meander

by Tony Attwood

This is one of the songs on volume 3 (which is to say the second album) by the Travelling Wilbury’s (as far as I can work out, probably the first to be recorded) that clearly has a fair amount of Dylan in it, but how much is always a matter for debate.

Quite clearly the section Bob sings is his

You see your second cousin
Wasted in a fight
You say he had it coming
You couldn’t do it right
You’re in a western movie, playing the part
The devil’s been busy in your back yard

and it sounds like a flashback to Brownsville Girl, but it is very disconnected from the rest of the song.  It is almost as if he just listened to the tune and wrote his bit, without any reference to the rest.

That is not to knock the opening, which is pure Tom Petty, and I just wonder if Bob would ever be knowingly associated with a song that uses a golf course as its setting.  Does he play golf?  If he does I must have missed it, but whoever wrote this (I guess it is Tom) knows the slang of golf in the way Dylan knows the blues.

Verse two is more Bob, than verse one, with the outer space reference and the theme of being anti-space travel that Dylan delved into at this time.

Steaming down the highway
With your trucks of toxic waste
Where you gonna hide it
In the outer space?

The middle 8 seems a bit of a nothing land to me, it is just there because the guys said, “hey we need a middle 8” – which is something Bob has never done as far as I can recall.  When he puts in a middle 8 he puts it in for a purpose, not just for the sake of it.

But then at last we are onto the real Bob bit.

You see your second cousin
Wasted in a fight
You say he had it coming
You couldn’t do it right
You’re in a western movie, playing the part
The devil’s been busy in your back yard

What makes me think Bob didn’t write the rest of the song is the fact that this obviously Dylan verse is so divorced from the rest of the show.  Forget the golf courses, this is about… well something else, although I am not sure what.

The next break tells us nothing we didn’t know

Sometimes they say you’re wicked
But you know that can’t be bad
Sometimes you’re better off not knowing
It’ll only make you sad

And then it must be George or Jeff Lynne.  No one else in the band is going to write about Piccadilly and know its particular significance are they?  Nor are they going to lay on the silly mock upper-crust accent for “dash” and “cash”, which as a Londoner born and bred I find rather offensive.   The Kinks did it with “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and did it well, but Sir Ray Davies lived just a few miles from me, so he’s entitled to.

But quite what the reference to sticky willy means I don’t really know.   Sticky willy is a plant that geese eat (commonly known as goose grass).  And….?  I don’t know.  If you know, please tell.
.
They’re coming down Picadilly
Dripping at the dash
Wasting sticky Willy
Covering him with their cash
They just might not have noticed, they’ve been beating him so hard
And the devil’s been busy in your back yard

It’s all a bit of a mixture.  Pleasant enough but it’s not going to set the world alight, nor even your house on fire.  But nice to know that Bob can take something this vague and send it off in a totally different direction.  Who cares what the strap line means, this will do.

What else is on this site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs. 

2: The Dylan Chronologies.  

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  .

4:   The Discussion Group    Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.

6: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

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1 Response to The Devil’s been busy. Dylan’s input into a Wilbury’s meander

  1. Dan Guess says:

    I have always assumed Sticky Willy was Bill Clinton as the album’s release (as far as I can remember) coincided with the Lewinski debacle.

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