Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread: Dylan tries abstract weird but it doesn’t really work

By Tony Attwood

Once again we have two versions recorded, but we seem to have got the same recording on both the original Basement Tapes double LP and the Volume 11 CD where the song is “restored” which apparently means without additional reverb and twiddles that were put into the LP version by an enthusiastic record company engineer upon its release.

The song is presumably making fun of the psychedelic mode of writing that was dominating the era when the song was written, and yes it does that.  But the trouble with nonsense words is that ultimately they remain nonsense unless they have a little something behind them.

Sometimes they can work, but generally only when there is some hint of some reality underneath, as with the classic English medieval folk song “Nottamun Town”.  If you consider that for a moment you’ll perhaps see what I mean…

Met the King and the Queen, and a company more
Come a-walking behind and a-riding before
Come a stark naked drummer a-beating the drum
With his hands on his bosom, come marching along.Sat down on a hard, hot cold frozen stone,
Ten thousand stood ’round me, yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hands for to keep my head warm,
Ten thousand got drowned that never was born.

(There are many versions of this song – this is just one selected at random).

There is no sense here, but there is a feeling of some sort of contrary reality lurking just out of reach.

Dylan however gives us two alternating chords, a lovely syncopated piano background rhythm and lyrics that start…

 

Well, the comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus
The poor little chauffeur, though, she was back in bed
On the very next day, with a nose full of pus
Yea! Heavy and a bottle of bread

There simply isn’t anything to latch on to here in these lyrics – it is all just abstractly weird.  And that’s the problem; the totally abstract is very hard to take to one’s heart, what we need is some semblance of reality or obvious contradiction to hang on to when listening to a song.

A visual artist can of course do total abstract because one can look at the painting for as long as one likes, but with the song, it has its own time scale and progression, and it is that which seems to demand something that makes some sort of sense or absolute contradiction somewhere for us to hold on to.

Dylan however won’t give us any of that. He gave us plenty to try to hold on to in (for example) Subterranean Homesick Blues, but here, no, there’s nothing.

It’s a one-track town, just brown, and a breeze, too
Pack up the meat, sweet, we’re headin’ out
For Wichita in a pile of fruit
Get the loot, don’t be slow, we’re gonna catch a trout

and then

Now, pull that drummer out from behind that bottle
Bring me my pipe, we’re gonna shake it
Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
Take me down to California, baby

After that, with no variation at all we get the first verse again, for no reason that can be discerned, and there we are.

Interesting music that perhaps with different words it could have taken us on a different journey, but here there seems to be no journey at all.

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 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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3 Responses to Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread: Dylan tries abstract weird but it doesn’t really work

  1. Babette says:

    I remember when I was a teen-ager I was very tired of every thing. One sunny day I packed my school bag with a transitor radio , a novel, coffee and my lunch. As usual I took my Puch Maxi and drove in the direction of the schoolbus, but in stead of taking the bus I drove into the forrest to a lake , where I found a nice place to rest. I enjoyed reading and listening to music. I came home to usual time. What a freedom from everything.

    The song reminds me of that day.

  2. hans altena says:

    Abstract compositions refer to nothing but feelings that cannot be directly put down in words or pictures and therefor are only somehow reached by random associations that together, in their rhythmic and resounding quality, touch that inner nerve of the ‘public’, but not everyone, so it seems if I read your review, but that’s okay. For me most of the Basement Tapes are the conclusion of Dylan’s voyage into abstract territory, only to be picked up again differently, first in Blood on the Tracks, with its play with time and personalities, later with the cut up poetry of Love and Theft and later albums. Still, the Basement Tapes for me are togeher with Highway 61 the summit of his abstract poetry, worthy of the Nobel.

  3. stephen goldsmith says:

    The Basement songs are amongst my favourite Bob recordings. You can like them or mot, but concentrating on the lyric part in isolation is to miss the totality of the performances and diminishes Bobs power as a performer. I like Million Dollar Bash, and Tiny Montgomery and Yea Heavy, in fact, all of them. They are funny songs. They are funny because of the arch sly way Bob sings them, The accompaniment sounds like a tequila fuelled Mexican Band playing in a cantina and the recordings sound like they were recorded sometime between 1917-2017. The lyrics make instinctive sense when heard as recordings.

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