La Mancha Is Blowing in The Wind:
Bob Dylan And Don Quixote (Part II)
By Larry Fyffe
There are those analysts of Bob Dylan’s songs lyrics who want to strap him into a straight jacket, stuff him in a box marked ‘Serious Hebrew’ or ‘Serious Christian’ or ‘Serious Hebrew-Christian’, and then nail the lid down tight and dump it down a hole in the ground.
Having had lots of funny things happen to him on the way to feed the lions at the Roman Coliseum, the master escapist isn’t that easy to pin down:
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape by society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole he’s in …..
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false goals, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?
(Bob Dylan: It’s alright ma (I’m Only Bleeding))
Then Bob jumps on a bicycle and rides it across a tight-rope while juggling Egyptian Mythology (it carries Sky Mother and Earth Father on its back) with Christian Theology that has its Commander-in-Chief standing on its shoulders (God the Father stretches all the way up to the cloud-strewn canopy of the circus tent).
Dressed as a clown, Dylan looks down and there’s Eve chained to the straw-covered floor by her angry Father. She’s caused Adam to fall off the wire with her when she fell while trying to balance an apple on her nose. It’s a dark and dreary place down there.
In the meantime, Dylan sprinkles Seth, the hyena-headed devil of Egyptian mythology, with star dust and the hairy hyena turns into the goodly father figure of Christian theology. Still on the tight-rope, our singer/songwriter, now attired in the long black cloak and a top hat, pulls back a curtain, taps a silver cane three times, and reveals Satan, surrounded by smoke and mirrors, as the new sparkling symbol of evil .
In short, using the Bible as a template, Bob Dylan, the imaginative artist, creates his own mini-mythologies like that of ‘John Wesley Harding‘, an outlaw of the Old West, who is changed into a saint right in front of our eyes.
The singing alchemist of whom we speak can certainly be described as a Gnostic seeking to perfect body and soul through the medium of a ‘magnum opus’. A strict Gnostic he’s not because Dylan mixes much of the ingrediants for his medicine show down in the burlesque basement with the help of someone called Johnny.
They label the medicine with instructions that say when followed carefully one can not help but smile when it’s consumed; a baloon over a picture of the face of Dale Carnegie is inscribed – ‘slowly pour this stuff into your ear’. And before you know it, visions and versions of Don Quixote and Sanzo Panza will suddenly appear dancing and swirling in your head – like the one below:
Well, John the Baptist, after torturing a thief
Looks at his hero, the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, ‘Tell me, great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?’
(Bob Dylan: Tombstone Blues)
Miguel de Cervantes might himself appear holding a stolen image of Satan surrounded by flags a-flying:
The banners of Hell’s monarch come towards us
‘Look to discern him’, spake my guide
As when breathes a cloud, heavy and dense
Or when the shades of night fall on our hemisphere
Viewed from afar seems like a windmill
Which the blast stirs briskly around
(Dante: The Divine Comedy -Canto 34)
Perhaps he’ll be accompanied by the Knight of La Mancha who’s saddled up and gargling in a rat-infested washroom of Babylon where he’s tilting at a windmill that looks a lot like an electric razor’:
This is hard country to stay alive in
Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin
I’m armed to the hilt and I’m struggling hard
You won’t get out of here unscarred
It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely
Have to work down to me some day
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)
He’s talking to Saint Paul.
What else is on the site
1: Almost 500 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.
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