Bob Dylan and Rebellion of the Devil

By Larry Fyffe

The feeling of angst and loneliness wrought by a society of spectator-consumers, with its ‘hollow men’, and its culture of tiresome repetition, TS Eliot captures through the images he uses in his poetry:

“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo”
(Eliot: The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock)

In his music and song lyrics, Bob Dylan seeks out a watchtower from which to sound the alarm, to warn his listeners not to accept passively the negative social consequences engendered by an economy of mass produced mediocrity:

“You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you”
(Dylan: Like A Rolling Stone)

Bob Dylan injects into his songs a feeling of vitality and movement that is lacking in TS Eliot’s city of the walking-dead:

“All along the Watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too
Outside in the distance, a wild cat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl”
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

Allen Ginsberg revitalizes the form and content of poetry, and Dylan does the same with popular music from folk to rock-and-roll, in order to awaken the ‘hollow-eyed’ people to what is happening to them, surrounded and trapped as they are in an alienating militaristic and industrialized environment:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked
Dragging themselves through negro streets at dawn, looking for an angry fix”
(Allen Ginsberg: Howl)

Dylan utilizes the literary technique of the objective correlative to give substance to what the songwriter considers the spirit of vengence and anger prevailing over, and breaking the spirit of love and compassion that survives in modern times; the howling wind, the associated symbol of this  anger:

“The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven at my window with a broken wing”
(Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Allen Ginsberg acknowledges his indebtedness to the imagist and symbolic poetry of Wiliam Blake in name, and by example:

“Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dymno in the machinery of the night…..
Who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes, hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-like tragedy among
the scholars of war”
(Ginsberg: Howl)

Bob Dylan, the songster, by example:

“They walked along by the old canal
A little confused I remember well
And stopped by a strange hotel
With a neon burning bright
He felt the heat of the night”
(Dylan: Simple Twist Of Fate)

In his poetic lyrics, under the influence of Joseph Conrad, TS Eliot, habituated to the heart of darkness, cannot bear the light, so likewise expressed in the following song lyrics:

“So loud the music grew and grew
With ever greater pain
I stepped back in the shadows
For I could not stand the strain
I tried to look, my eyes were blind
I tried to speak, but could not find
The words to say”
(The Strawbs: Blue Angel)

For Wiliam Blake, Jesus and Lucifer are symbols of rebellion against the established order, rays of light, of hope, in the oppressive darkness. A sentiment expressed by Bob Dylan and other musicians:

“But the silver tongued devil’s got nothin’ to lose
I’ll only live till I die
We take our own chances and pay our own dues
The silver tongued devil and I”
(Kris Kristofferson: The Silver Tongued Devil And I)

Kristofferson studied the poetry of William Blake at university.

Now from a band that Dylan connects with:

“I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight”
(Grateful Dead: Friend Of The Devil)

Not to mention from Mick Jagger:

“Please to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer”
(Rolling Stones: Sympathy For The Devil)

And then there’s Bob Dylan himself:

“Somebody seen him hangin’ around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town
He looked into her eyes when she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance, he had a face like a mask
Somebody said from the Bible he’d quote
There was dust on the man in the long black coat”
(Dylan: Man In The Long Black Coat)

Says the Bible:

“How art thou fallen from the heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”
(Isaiah 14:12)

That the God of the Bible allows Mankind to be deceived into doing the devil’s work, and to follow Jesus, to rebel in the search of higher self-knowledge, is a lesson not lost on Bob Dylan: it’s a consistent theme of his art:

“Shake the dust off your feet, don’t look back
Nothing now can hold you down, nothing that you lack
Temptation’s not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned, I got no choice, it run in my vein…..
Well, I’m pressin’ on
To the higher calling of my Lord”
(Dylan: Pressing On)

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this 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.

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

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2 Responses to Bob Dylan and Rebellion of the Devil

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    A slight misquote of Ginsberg. That should be

    “Blake-light tragedy…”

  2. Scott Olesen says:

    Enjoyed this. Really, a whole series of books could be written on this subject

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