Bob Dylan’s Ol’ Time Incongruous Log Cabin

Bob Dylan’s Ol’ Time Incongruous Log Cabin

By Larry Fyffe

The 1964 CBC-TV performance by Bob Dylan in a ‘log cabin’ is described by Clinton Heylin as “the most incòngruous of settings, a log cabin filled with working men pretending to pay attention” (Bob Dylan: Stolen Moments).

Dylanologist Heylin appears to be unaware that the singer/songwriter spent much of his youth near the northern United States border with Canada.

The State of Minnesota is known as ‘the land of a thousand lakes’ and has lots of fishing lodges and a long history of logging white pine, as does my own home province of New Brunswick, Canada:

By the old wooden some where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs was sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and we’re satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside
(Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan’s Dream)

Dylan draws on the history of logging in a number of songs – one based on a true story from New Brunswick – back in the days of axes, oxen, crosscut saws, log drives, and lumber camps:

I landed in New Brunswick, that lumbering country
I hired to work in the lumber woods
On the Sou’-West Miramichi ….
Now there’s danger on the ocean
Where the waves roll mountain high
There’s danger on the battlefield
Where angry bullets fly
There’s danger in the lumber woods
For death lurks sullen there
(Calhoun: Peter Emberley)

Dylan broadens the the song into a sociological theme:

And there’s danger on the ocean
Where the salt waves split high
And there’s danger on the battlefield
Where the shells of bullets fly
And there’s danger in this open world
Where men strive to be free
And for me the greatest danger was in society ….
Farewell unto the old north woods
Of which I use to roam
(Bob Dylan: Ballad Of Donald White)

Here’s a more recent example that references the New Brunswick folksong
and, somewhat humourously, Dylan’s CBC ‘log cabin’ experience:

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the axe just fell
(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

Heylin apparently misses the Dylanesque theme of the lost opportunity of founding a frontier of freedom in the New World – whether up North or down South.

In the following song lyrics, the call of spacious land is mentioned yet again:

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I’ll plant and I’ll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer’s on the table, the pitchfork’s on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

The myth of the United States as the biblical Promised Land lingers on in the American consciousness:

If you’re travelling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the border line
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

However, the ditches of the American Dream fill up with images of gun smoke, diamond jims and outlaws in songs by Bob Dylan:

Campin’ out all night on the berenda
Dealin’ cards ’til dawn in the hacienda
Up to Boot Hill, they’d like to send ya
Billy, don’t you turn your back on me
(Bob Dylan: Billy I)

The utopian dreams of Paradise Regained turn into monstrous nightmares – slavery, the deadliest of the nation’s sins:

I cross the green mountain, I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head, I dreamt a monstrous dream
Something came up out of the sea
Swept through the land of the rich and the free
(Bob Dylan: ‘Cross The Green Mountain)

A reference to symbolism found within the Holy Bible, and to the poetic imagery of William Yeats:

And I stood upon the sand of the sea
And saw a beast rise up out of the sea
Having seven heads and ten horns
And upon his horns ten crowns
And upon his heads the name of blasphemy
(Revelations 13: 1)

‘Heaven blazing in my head’ is not the only allusion made to Yeats:

But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the one I love
(Bob Dylan: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome)

More thoughts about Beauty lost:

Through hollow lands, and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
(William Yeats: Song Of The Wandering Aengus)

What else is on the site

1: Over 470 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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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4 Responses to Bob Dylan’s Ol’ Time Incongruous Log Cabin

  1. Tom says:

    Minnesota is known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” not a thousand

  2. Daniel Phillips says:

    The video is on Youtube! Great early-Dylan performance!
    BUT.. you CRINGE watching these poor men try to act normal
    is this EXTREMELY awkward, contrived situation. A HOOT!

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Looking back in time at TV is interesting ….. nowadays on TV having normal human beings jump over buildings looks ‘real’; the original StarTrek set appeared a lot more realistic back then than it does on re-runs. Silent movies had no movies with sound to compare with; nor colour for that matter.

    You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    10,000 lakes….thanks for the correction….a slip that I cannot blame on the autocorrecting thingy!

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