Making a liar out of me: Bob Dylan talks directly to his fans

by Tony Attwood

In this article the lyrics are taken from those provided in the excellent “Expecting Rain” with a few very minor changes of my own.  

A new song by Dylan – or better said, the release of a song that most of us have heard before – is a big moment, and I suspect this must be one of the absolute highlights of the forthcoming boxed set of Dylan’s religious songs.  If you’ve not heard it yet, it is currently linked to Rolling Stone and many other on line magazines.

As lots of us said upon first hearing it is very similar to Where are you tonight?  written at the end of 1977.  Others have noted the similarity to “You Can’t Always Get what you want” by the Rolling Stones, or Dylan’s “Angelina”.

As for the context, of course I am not quite sure of the exact order these songs were written in, but here is my best guess for 1980.

Now if you look at that list you’ll see this was a rich vein of form that Bob was in at that time: you’ve got Every Grain of Sand, Caribbean Wind, Groom’s still waiting, Yonder Comes Sin, and I’d also put “Let’s keep it between us” right up there.   So if you were going to find a missing masterpiece then this is most certainly a good place to look.  And if you are looking for something more “religious” than some of those songs, Bob ended the year with “City of Gold” – so he was still religiously inclined, even though he’d moved away from making every song a religious song.  Indeed there are actually elements of “Making a liar” in “City of Gold”, although I’d like to listen to both a dozen more times before taking that idea further.

But I have to say, if I were working for the record company, I’d made a CD available just of these 12 songs from this year, because this is one hell of a collection.  For any other song writer this would be the ultimate highlight of a career to have written this collection.  For Bob it was just another year.

So with this song in mind, the question is, who is Bob addressing his words to?

As we’ve seen so often on this site, trying to analyse a Dylan song line by line is a mug’s game because much of the time the overall vision encapsulated within the words is far more insightful than individual lines.

Therefore if we want to go beyond the individual lines (which with Dylan can so often be misleading) we do have to get some sort of context.  However to do this is so hard because so many of the lines are so good – and it is always possible that there is not meant to be any connection between the lines – maybe they are just each individual impressions.

However if this song was written to one person, that is one hell of a person Bob was addressing.  A young, struggling man or woman, who has learned so much, and who knows so much, and who has so much within him/herself to admire.  The mother of his children?  Or maybe to his young self?  Although other times he is seeming to write about someone no longer with us.  Or is it just no longer with him?

All options are possible, but I also keep coming back to the notion that Bob is addressing his own heritage – all the songs he has written and all the songs he will write.  I know I can’t prove it but I just love the notion that he is doing this.  He is in fact writing to himself about himself, and criticising himself.

Now that would be a huge challenge, but Bob is up to that, not least because this song has some wonderful lines in it, including this one utterly amazing stand out line

The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented

And that adds to the notion that he is talking to himself, for isn’t that what Bob carried from the days of second album onwards?

So there are the possibilities: he’s talking about himself, he’s talking about the mother of his children…   But I want to try a different route, because this notion really does hit me very strongly, after hearing the song for a couple of days…

Bob is talking to his audience.

In this view Bob starts by telling his audience that they are all educated people who know what’s what.  And in loving his music and putting deep meanings into his lyrics they do have the best of intentions, and he can’t fault them for that, but that is not what really what he has been writing about.   They might not be able to effect change personally, but they really are trying to understand and trying to do the right thing…

I tell people, you just going through changes
And that you’re acquainted both with night and day
That your money’s good and you’re just being courageous
On them burning bridges knowing your feet are made of clay
Well I say you won’t be destroyed by your inventions
That you brought it all under captivity
And that you really do have all the best intentions
But you’re making a liar out of me

Bob was around 39 years old when he wrote this song, and most of his fans would probably at that time have been a bit younger than him.  Here he has the greatest respect for his fans and their desire to make a better life and a better world, but making him into a superstar who can actually tell them what to do and what to believe, well that is not right.  That is not what he is doing at all.  Just remember, “Don’t follow leaders.”

Well I say that you’re just young and self-tormented
But that deep down you understand
The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented
That threaten now to overtake your promised land
Well I say you’d not sow discord among brothers
Nor drain a man of his integrity
That you remember the cries of orphans and their mothers
But you’re making a liar out of me
But you’re making a liar out of me

This then follows on my earlier commentary that maybe Bob’s message across many of his songs, (if there is an overarching message at all) is that it is all a mess, and that if anyone can sort out the future it is the young, the idealists – we have the third verse in which he changes tack, and seems to turn his ire on religion and religious leaders – the flesh and blood of the Communion (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

The relgious leaders can be trusted, but if they are seeking to use Dylan as a symbol of the Christian church (which still goes on, as I have commented elsewhere) then they are indeed making a liar out of Bob, because that is not what he is about at all.

Well I say that, that ain’t flesh and blood you’re drinking
In the wounded empire of your fool’s paradise
With a light above your head forever blinking
Turning virgins into merchandise
That you must have been beautiful when you were living
You remind me of some old-time used-to-be
I say you can be trusted with the power you been given
But you’re making a liar out of me

All in all he is full of praise for those who fight for a better world, but just doesn’t want them to do it by quoting Dylan.  To say of someone “That you stand up unafraid to believe in justice” is surely among the highest praise that can be given to a person, but as always Bob asks for the person striving to make this world a better place, that he or she does not quote Dylan along the way.

So many things so hard to say as you stumble
To take refuge in your offices of shame
As the earth beneath my feet begins to rumble
And your young men die for nothin’, not even fame
I say that someday you’ll begin to trust us
And that your conscience has not been slain by conformity
That you stand up unafraid to believe in justice
But you’re making a liar out of me
You’re making a liar out of me

The final verse has the suggestion that Bob was talking to an individual all the way through, and not all his fans as I have been suggesting, and of course that is possible, as indeed it is possible that he is speaking to different people in different places in the song – to his lover, his fans, the media, the mother of his children.

And he is careful to ensure that his criticism in the repeated lines at the end of each verse are not in any way the same as when he expressed disdain in some songs ten or more years before.  He’s saying, you are not misrepresenting all my words, but by taking my writings in a particular way, you are getting me wrong.

Well I can hear the sound of distant thunder
From an open window at the end of every hall
Now that you’re gone I got to wonder
If you ever were here at all
I say you never sacrificed my children
To some false god of infidelity
And that it’s not the Tower of Babel that you’re building
But you’re making a liar out of me
You’re making a liar out of me
Well you’re making a liar out of me

As I say, in the end it comes across to me as another way of saying “Don’t follow leaders,” especially in this case the leader is him.  And he doesn’t want that.  And the world doesn’t need that.  Because there are good people out there who can take things forward.

What else 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.

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

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

 

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2 Responses to Making a liar out of me: Bob Dylan talks directly to his fans

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Tony:

    The song reeks of irony….there is no praise for anyone here.
    Every excuse or benefit of the doubt given by the singer to those he addresses is crushed as each and everyone of them make a liar out of him, ie they all conform and are afraid to stand up to authority that is in place to uphold inequity.

    You know he has no intentions
    Of looking your way, unless it’s to say
    That he needs you to test his inventions
    (Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

    People accept being pawns in the game of power.

    Dylan has been quite consistent throughout his work with this message except that he appears to get more cynical as
    the metaphorical ‘Promised Land’ not ony fails to to get any closer to reality, but gets farther out of reach.

    Even Jesus and God Himself have let the singer or his persona down, at least it would seem so according to the lyrics of ‘Making A Liar Out Of Me.

  2. Bob Brown says:

    The best retort to all of this was John Lennon who recorded but never released ‘Serve Yourself’
    You say you found Jesus Christ;
    He’s the only one.
    You say you’ve found Buddha,
    Sittin’ in the sun.
    You say you found Mohammed,
    Facin’ to the East.
    You say you found Krishna,
    Dancin’ in the streets.
    Well there’s somethin’ missing in this God Almighty stew,
    And it’s your mother, (your mother, don’t forget your mother, lad.)
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.
    Well you may believe in devils, and you may believe in lords,
    But if you don’t go out and serve yourself, lad, ain’t no room service here.
    It’s still the same old story,
    A bloody Holy War,
    A fight for love and glory.
    Ain’t gonna study war no more.
    A fight for God and country.
    We’re gonna set you free,
    We’ll put you back in the Stone Age,
    If you won’t be like me, get it?
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do for you.
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do for you.
    Well you may believe in devils, and you may believe in lords,
    But Christ, you’re gonna have to serve yourself, and that’s all there is to it.
    So get right back here; it’s in the bloody fridge. God, when I was a kid,
    Didn’t have stuff like this; TV-fuckin’ dinners and all that crap.
    You fuckin’ kids are all the fuckin’ same! Want a fuckin’ car now
    Lucky to have a pair of shoes!
    You tell me you found Jesus Christ,
    Well that’s great, and he’s the only one.
    You say you just found Buddha,
    Sittin’ on his ass, in the sun.
    You say you found Mohammed,
    Kneeling on a bloody carpet, facin’ the East.
    You say you found Krishna,
    With a bald head, dancin’ in the street.
    (Well, Christ, now you’re being heard.)
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do for you.
    You got to serve yourself,
    Ain’t nobody gonna do for you.
    (That’s right, lad, you better get that straight into your fuckin’ head.)
    You got to serve yourself. (You know that; who else is gonna do it for you?
    It ain’t me I tell you that.)
    Well, you may believe in Jesus, and you may believe in Marx,
    And you may believe in Marks and Spencer’s, and you may believe in bloody
    Woolworths,
    But there’s something missing in this whole bloody stew.
    And it’s your mother; your poor, bloody, mother. (She worked for you in the
    Back bedroom, full of piss, and shit, and fuckin’ midwives. God, you can’t
    Forget that awful moment, you know. You should have been in the bloody
    War, lad, and you would know all about it. Well, I’ll tell you something…)
    It’s still the same old story.
    A Holy, bloody, War, you know, with the Pope and all that stuff.
    A fight for love and glory.
    Ain’t gonna study no more war.
    A fight for God and country, and the Queen, and all that.
    We’re gonna set you free;
    Bomb you back into the fuckin’ Stone Age
    If you won’t be like me, you know, get down on your knees and pray.
    Well there’s somethin’ missing in this God Almighty stew,
    And it’s your goddamn mother you dirty little git, now.
    Get in there and wash yer ears!
    Songwriters: John Lennon
    Serve Yourself lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing
    Artist: John Lennon
    Album: The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volumes 13
    Genre: Classic rock
    More about Serve Yourself
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    John Lennon: Serve Yourself | The Beatles Bible
    https://www.beatlesbible.com › Beatle people › John Lennon › John Lennon songs
    A parody of Bob Dylan’s 1979 song Gotta Serve Somebody, Serve Yourself was released on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology. … Bob Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity in 1979 with the album Slow Train Coming. … In his diary tape dated 5 September 1979 he was recorded as …
    John Lennon – Serve Yourself Lyrics | MetroLyrics
    http://www.metrolyrics.com/serve-yourself-lyrics-john-lennon.html
    Lyrics to ‘Serve Yourself’ by John Lennon. Intro: / You say you found Jesus Christ / He’s the only one / You say you’ve found Buddha / Sittin’ in the sun / You.
    John Lennon – Serve Yourself – YouTube
    Video for serve yourself john lennon
    ▶ 5:27
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPJ3JGABak0
    Jan 13, 2009 – Uploaded by Lennon PianoTapes
    Piano demo with clean lyrics. at end John says, “Too loud”.
    Amazon.com: Serve Yourself (Home Recording): John Lennon: MP3 …
    https://www.amazon.com/Serve-Yourself-Home-Recording/dp/B0042UC098
    Buy Serve Yourself (Home Recording): Read Digital Music Reviews – Amazon.com.
    Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Gotta Serve Somebody vs. Serve Yourself
    http://www.williesimpson.com/bob-dylan-john-lennon-gotta-serve-somebody-vs-serve-you...
    Aug 4, 2011 – John Lennon was really offended by Bob Dylan’s latest single, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Dylan recorded the song for his 1979 album Slow …
    John Lennon:Serve Yourself Lyrics | LyricWikia | FANDOM powered …
    lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/John_Lennon:Serve_Yourself
    This song is performed by John Lennon and appears on the album Wonsaponatime (1998).
    John Lennon – Serve Yourself (Vinyl) at Discogs
    https://www.discogs.com/John-Lennon-Serve-Yourself/release/4321538
    Find a John Lennon – Serve Yourself first pressing or reissue. Complete your John Lennon collection. Shop Vinyl and CDs.
    John Lennon – Serve Yourself at Discogs
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    Rating: 4 – ‎1 vote – ‎$10.00 – ‎In stock
    Find a John Lennon – Serve Yourself first pressing or reissue. Complete your John Lennon collection. Shop Vinyl and CDs.
    What Bob Dylan Got Right | Desiring God
    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-bob-dylan-got-right

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