By Larry Fyffe
The influence of so-called ‘highbrow’ poetry on the mainline music industry’s production of popular music, including rock ‘n roll, significantly increases with the emergence of Bob Dylan on the scene. The quality of song lyrics offered to the public improves with the demand for more depth in the heretofore mundane lyrics of much of the industry’s output.
Gothic literature, with its gloomy and dank settings of old castles, dungeons, and tombs, its deviant, oft violent, behaviour of the physically deformed, and mentally deranged, and its atmosphere of destruction, decadence and decay, is sparked back to life by electrified music.
Samuel Coleridge, the English Romantic writer, with his haunted, conversational style of poetry, sticks out his pale hand to greet modern musicians and today’s singer-songwriters:
“Sir Leoline, the baron rich
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch…….
If thoughts, like these, had any share
They only swelled his rage and pain
And did but work confusion there
His heart was cleft with pain and rage
His cheeks they quivered, his eyes were wild”
(Samuel Coleridge: Christabel)
Bob Dylan grabs hold of the poet’s bony fingers:
“He sits in your room, his tomb, with a fistful of tacks
Preoccupied with his vengeance…….
He looks so truthful, is this how he feels
Trying to peel the moon and expose it
With his business-like anger, and his bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye, he just grows it”
(Bob Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)
So does an Australian Goth band:
“Christabel is waiting, she never seems to cry
Falls into a circle against the Eastern sky
She turns toward another, and then she turns away
Christabel is sleeping, she doesn’t want to play”
(Big Electric Cat: Christabel)
The melancholic spirit of poet John Keats flitters by:
“I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish mist and fever-dew
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too”
(John Keats: La Belle Dame Sans Merci)
Dylan whistles as the dark shadow passes:
“You trampled on me as you passed
Left the coldest kiss upon my brow
All my doubts and fears have gone at last
I’ve nothing more to tell you now”
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)
A British Gothic Rock band sluffs off Keats’ dark thoughts of doom:
“A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where you’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day”
(The Smiths: Cemetery Gates)
The Modernist poetry of TS Eliot be inhabited by the Gothic spirits of some of his Romantic predecessors:
“A crowd of twisted things
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton
Stiff and white”
(TS Eliot: Rhapsody On A Windy Night)
Like leaves of the Fall driven by the wind, the brighter Romantic side of Bob Dylan flees from the grey gloom of Gothic-engendered thoughts:
“Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the reach of crazy sorrow”
(Bob Dylan: Mr. Tambourine Man)
A South African-born folksinger likewise reacts to the doom and gloom of Thomas Eliot’s vision of a society that has lost its way:
“It sang Holly go lightly bright as day
Fresh as the moon and stale as the hay
Cold as the wind and frozen as the frost
You never been seen and you never been lost”
(Johnny Flynn: After Eliot)
What is on the site
1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.