Bob Dylan’s Angelina: the alternative view

Angelina / Bob Dylan – A deep sense of regret

by Joost Nillissen

Tony Attwood struggled with this song in his commentary and Len hit the nail on the head with his comment of November 20, 2016. It’s about an ugly divorce.

When I first heard the song I was still happily married to a well endowed woman and the lyrics almost immediately inspired me to paint three large canvasses with images from the song: The pale white horse, the angel with four faces and the well endowed woman .

The paintings are now in another country, gathering dust underneath my ex wife’s bed that she shares with a stranger. I wish her a long and happy life and him an erectile dysfunction ’till the end of his days.

I guess Dylan was in a similar mood when he wrote “Angelina”. Dylan can bite and kick, charm and seduce in his love songs and then say truly terrible things such as “you just kind of wasted my precious time”. He can bear a grudge for a long time, just as he can pine for his lost lover for almost forever.

So this is Dylan, sitting on a bench, looking back, talkin’ to himself.

Let me first admit that I took chances, maybe I didn’t treat you right, cheated on you even. But what did you expect of your song and dance man, always on tour with his band, his concertina?

I’ve been travelling, performing from shore to shore, standing in the spotlight, my hair looking like it’s on fire. Ah, it’s been a long time and in my mind I am knocking on your door. What shall I say? Will you still know me, Angelina?

I am seeing myself, my eyes are like slits, but I have a powerful face that painters would want to paint (and the rest of the crowd would want to film or photograph). I am good looking and your body was well endowed. But your true nature was in your head. The head of a scavenger, a hyena.

If I knock on your door, what will I say? “Okay, I’ve been wrong, I’ve made mistakes, you want me to turn the other cheek?” “You know it all, why must I explain? And no, I cannot change, I know nothing about the man you want me to be, Angelina.”

There is no point in going back. Things were well once, when we lived in the land of milk and honey, a long time ago, almost as as in Biblical times when giants roamed the earth, but it all came to an epic end. Everything exploded. I couldn’t help it, you wanted the divorce, the subpoena.

You are no longer my wife, you cease to exist and who do you think is to blame? I did the best I could, but the game is over and you know why? I am both the best and the worst, good and bad, loyal and falsehearted, both husband and artist. I cannot play this game, Angelina.

I remember the divorce lawyers arriving in their black Mercedes, the scene turned ugly, a combat zone. But, boy, was I ready. I was going to slay them, they were already half dead, and you, my lady, were down to the bone. I planned to hunt them to the ends of the earth and overthrow them. Very generously I let them choose the place of their demise. It could be anywhere, Mexico or Tibet, Jerusalem or Argentina.

Now I’m thinking how it all could go so wrong. We married young, of course, she was only a child when I stole her from her mother, and now she’s got her revenge, but had to sell all of her possessions. And look at me, standing tall with God on my side and four angels around me. You cannot see me, you’re stumbling in the dark, Angelina.

So I have won the battle, but I can also sense the apocalypse, the end of time. One last attempt to reconcile what cannot be reconciled: “Tell me what you want and you’ll have it of course.” Come out and discuss it. In the arena.

But it’s too late, she won’t come out, so everything is lost. It’s now truly over and full of regret I retreat, up the spiral staircase into unknown territory, I see trees of smoke and angels with four faces and I must find a place to weep and beg for mercy.

Angelina appears on the Bootleg 1-3 collection

What is on the site

1: Over 400 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.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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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9 Responses to Bob Dylan’s Angelina: the alternative view

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    A wonderful interpretation, but for the claim that it’s the one that hits the nail right on the head.

    That crucifies Dylan as an artist.

    Were a listener to the song not aware of Dylan’s divorce, nor him or herself divorced, the song still has legs to stand by itself with more than one interpretation able to be applied.

    Having said that, I really enjoyed the article.

  2. thanks, Larry, and you’re right about the nail and the head. Sometimes I think that…
    I’m very WELL read and it is WELL known, but I don’t know what it is.

  3. hans altena says:

    With Dylan’s best songs you enter a palace of mirrors, some distorted, all from different sides picturing you lost in it’s labyrinth, and the beautiful Angelina sure does that, it possibly prints a divorce, but also the days of reckoning, the entanglement of political affaires with those of the individual and the battle beween the way of the artist and the lover for sure, just like Joost mentioned. A pity that the song hit home a bit too much so that Dylan did not give it a place on Shot of Love in a triangle with Carribean Wind and Every Grain of Sand, which tells a story of disillusion, revenge and grace.

  4. hans altena says:

    I meant paints a divorce, automatic correction fooled me once more.

  5. Toon says:

    “I wish her a long and happy life and him an erectile dysfunction ’till the end of his days”, haha, made me laugh out loud, goeie! Love the song, always felt special, this is a new spin on it, will listen to it later again, thanks!

  6. Larry Fyffe says:

    Yeah, sometimes I think I should just let the autocorrect write my comments for me all by itself (lol)

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    I know it makes things all too concise and too clear
    But the one-eyed Jack of Hearts has yellow hair.

  8. Howard Mirowitz says:

    The image of the “angel with four faces” is from the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel wrote in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem, which in Judaism is linked to the coming of the Messiah, who is to rebuild the Holy Temple. Dylan’s lyric equates the empty, scorched, tragic feelings of a love affair coming to a sad end to Ezekiel’s anguish at the exile of Israel, to the despair of oppressed people when their lives are torn by revolution or disaster — an emotion evoked by the image of the “black Mercedes rolling through the combat zone” — to the emptiness of the martyr in the arena, to the feelings that Eve must have had when she was expelled from the Garden, and that Mary and Mary Magdalene must have had watching Jesus die on the cross.

    It’s incredible to me that Dylan not only could perceive the deep, primal unity, the profound connectedness linking these disparate manifestations of despair and sadness and emotional pain, but that he could convey that unity with such a mystically charged lyric. The narrator’s crypto-mythic journey into the avatar of Angelina creates the suggestion of an epiphany, the ghost of a possible meaning … but until we can find a referent for that avatar, until we can fully consummate our own mental encounter with Angelina, the revelation remains veiled by mystery. And that razor-edge balance between mystery and revelation is the whole point of the song.

    Perhaps Angelina is a fusion of Eve, Mary and Mary Magdalene … or perhaps Dylan is saying that all women are such a fusion — or even that Woman encapsulates all the mystery and tragedy of the Fall in Eden and the End of Days. It does not matter. What matters is the emotional identity of our own struggle to penetrate the mystery of Angelina with Dylan’s own struggle to penetrate the mystery in the unity of all human suffering.

  9. Babette says:

    He tells it very clearly in “Angelina” :
    He has made a choice – or rather his nature has taken the choice. His destiny is his musical career. It is his nature to throw himself into emotions and lifestyles, that are not allowed in a marriage.
    “Well, it’s always been my nature to take chances
    My right hand drawing back while my left hand advances
    Where the current is strong and the monkey dances
    To the tune of a concertina
    Blood dryin’ in my yellow hair as I go from shore to shore”

    Some years ealier than “Angelina” 1978 he wrote:
    “If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise
    Remind me to show you the scars”
    Where Are You Tonight?
    https://bobdylan.com/songs/where-are-you-tonight-journey-through-dark-heat/

    Some years later than “Angelina” 1997 he wrote:
    “Every day is the same thing out the door
    Feel further away then ever before
    Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
    Well, I’m lost somewhere
    I must have made a few bad turns”
    Highlands: https://bobdylan.com/songs/highlands/

    And so we can all ask ourselves: Did we take the right choices?

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