Bob Dylan And Ray Bremser : Post-Modernism


by Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan mixes medicine in a Romantic cauldron that brings on dreams of the past, and of the future. He mixes in a dose of Post-Modernist cyanide-cynicism to produce dark visions of chaos and confusion.

The recipe includes:

Love songs of Allen Ginsberg
An’ jail songs of Ray Bremser …
Above the bells of William Blake
An’ the beat visions of Johnny Cash
An’ the saintliness of Pete Seeger
(Bob Dylan: liner notes – The Times They Are A-Changin’)

Beat poet Ray Bremser withdraws into the surrealistic recesses of the subconscious mind, behind a wall that provides protection from the dehumanizing effects of the impersonalization and industrialization of modern times:

No, it wasn’t odd that night
When I went out alone into the streets
And out of my home so long out of sorts –
Was I out of my mind, too, with the dread melancholy
Stuck edgewise into my brain and into my guts
Only man guts, not pig-iron but twisted and flanged
and eroded with rust?
(Ray Bremser: City Madness)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan looks in from the outside, at that feeling of alienation wrought by having been cast out of the natural world – no longer in the jungles of Africa, England’s Sherwood Forest, or the Highlands of Scotland, but living in the cities of America:

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drain pipes
And reciting the alphabet
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

The alliterative irony of the Beat poet, with assonance on the dipthongic ‘e’-sounds within the poem below, references piano jazz mixed with blues singing, signifying a spiritual Paradise lost to the cynical circus on Desolation Row:

And I feel like Nellie Lutcher
Want to sing and fornicate in sheer
Suggestion – most, I want to sit
On a stool, that’s all – just sit and sit
And try to dig the drags
Who go by in their stocking feet
(Ray Bremster: Penal Madness)

Similarly thinks the persona of the singer/songwriter:

I was thinkin’ ’bout Alicia Keys; couldn’t keep from crying
When she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line
I was wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her clear through Tennessee
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

Cue in Marshall McLuhan, clue in mixed-up confusion, post modern tangled-up pot pottery and pop pun on political protest of E.E. Cummings’ weather report for March:

These blues broke out in a gallery
On 9th Street …9th Avenue …43rd Street
Hell – it’s Hell’s Kitchen again
Funny blues –
Bonnie in Washington
Waiting for march and
Cummings coming
Bringing glad tidings
(Ray Bremser: Blues For Bonnie)

Here’s a verse by Cummings:

So rah-rah rah democracy
Let’s all be thankful as hell
And bury the statue of liberty
(because it begins to smell)
(E.E. Cummings: Thanksgiving)

Reflecting on a society that has lost its centre, artists focus on word-play, word fragmentation, moustaches in museums, absurd theatre – all the hallmarks of a society gone mad. And now it’s under the blitz of a new enemy, electronic media controlled by Big Brother, telling the worker bees that they are free, free at last.

The masters are willing to pay in blood as long as it is not their own –
flashing features of Romantic dreams and Gothic nightmares all over the place for the masses to see; free they be to choose their own poison:

We found the museum then, ignored the bright armor
Entered the valley of pottery, mosque of the silly carpenter ….
Saw Anubis and terror
Saw motion of witchery there
Saw the bones of the fifthy embalmer
Saw seven league boots on the feet of those birds
More soary than Bela Lugosi
(Ray Bremser: Follow The East River)

Tom Thumb of the fairy tale is quick of mind and steals the magic seven league boots from the Ogre, and puts them to advantage. He does not pay in his own blood, but turns things around, and for that he is not ‘sorry’; he’s ‘soary’, and free.

Dylan and Bremser depict a spectator society where the souls of the ‘walking dead’ by poetry and music get a bit of a chance at salvation:

Inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But the Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Little Jack Horner and Tom Thumb are fairy tale tricksters who take from others while Bremser be an actual criminal; Bob Dylan’s clever at turning situations to his advantage:

Shake me up that old peach tree
Little Jack Horner’s got nothing on me
Oh me, oh my
Love that country pie
(Bob Dylan: Country Pie)

Even though every Tom Thumb gets the blues sometime:

Sweet Melinda, the peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English and invites you up into her room
And you’re so kind and careful not to go to her too soon
And she takes your voice and leaves you howling at the moon
(Bob Dylan: Just Like Tomb Thumb’s Blues)

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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