Bob Dylan Diagnosed With Dylaxia

by Larry Fyffe


Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan’s highly original artistic style springs in part from his having a peculiar physical affliction – a unique form of reading disability known as ‘Dylaxia’ that causes mixed-up visualizations of proper nouns in particular.

Symptons also include difficulty in discerning words that rhyme with one another – together with being unable to recognize letters and their order. Dylaxia-affected people confuse some letters for others, and imagine letters that are not even there. Aware of his condition, Dylan simplifies things for himself – he names himself ‘Bob’ – not wanting to see himself as a ‘boR’.

Below is an example of a dubious rhyme by Bob Dylan in a song that involves an affair that he claims to have had with a cow-headed Egyptian Goddess:

I was thinkin’ about turquoise, I was thinkin’
about gold
I was thinkin’ about diamonds, and the world’s 
biggest necklace
As we rode through the canyons, through the
devilish cold
I was thinkin’ about Isis, how she thought I
was so reckless

(Bob Dylan: Isis)

What follows is an example of Dylaxian backward-thinking regarding letter arrangement in  proper nouns. Bob Dylan messes up a song he initially intends to be about ‘God’ returning, and awkwardly turns it into a song about the mistreatment of a ‘doG’ – named ‘Jesus’ of all things:

What will you do when Jesus comes
Will you kick Him out of the street
Will you drive Him into the heat

(Bob Dylan: What Will You Do When Jesus Comes)

Not to dwell on the odd rhyme in the following lyrics, the song’s intended at first to be about Bob Dylan’s wife Sara Lownds (sure he is that Sara is fooling around with a bunch of lusty Kings from Tyre). Due to the effects of Dylaxia, the song gets transformed – the songwriter screws up the spelling of his wife’s last name by the insertion of a couple of letters that aren’t really there (‘Lowlands’ for ‘Lownds’).

In the ensuing confusion, Sara ends up not being herself, but a symbol of Hebrews awaiting the Messiah that the sad-eyed Ezekiel says is not coming to save them any time soon because of their wicked ways:

The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss 
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this
But who among them really wants just to kiss you? ……
Sad-eyed lady of the Lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes

(Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Jokneam is a city, with a view of the sea in (North) Israel, below Carmel – the mountain where prophet Elijah wins a ‘roast-off’ with the priests of Baal. King Ahab, prompted by Queen Jezebel (from Tyre), becomes angry at Elijah and chases him out of town in the driving rain. Taking Dylaxia into account (‘Jokneam’ seen by Dylan as ‘Jokeman’), the song, intended to be about a Joker, turns into a biblical story about a prophet.

Not unlike allegorical storylines in a number of other songs that do not involve the unintentional misreadings of proper nouns.

In ‘Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts’, Rosemary, featured in the story line, is easily recognized by listeners familiar with the Bible, as symbolizing North Israel, the land of the Rose of Sharon, while the Jack of Hearts represents the prophet Ezekiel.

Take what you gather from coincidence – in ‘Narrow Way’ Dylan mentions the War of 1812 in which Mohawks play a big part in driving the Americans out of the North Country, ie., Canada. The Mohawk mother of The Band’s Robbie Robertson is named ‘Rose Marie’. It’s little wonder things get mixed together by Dylan – without Dylaxia having anything to do with it!

In the following lyrics, Dylan imagines a time-warped eternally-recurring Universe with a faraway God. Styled in a Post Modernist fragmented format, prophet Elijah is presented by Dylan as a representative of a Messiah

yet-to-come, while Baal-worshipping Ahab, ruler over the city of Jokneam, is depicted as an early rendition of Satan himself, Mick Jagger. There’s no Jokeman, or Jokerman; only Jokneam:

Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist
You were born with a snake in both of your fists
While a hurricane was blowing
Freedom was just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?

(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

A biblical allusion to spinning God’s somewhat-slow roulette wheel and taking your chances:

Cast thy bread upon the waters
For thou shalt find it after many days

(Ecclesiastes 11:1)

And an allusion to a rebel against the establishment:

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain
But it’s all right now; in fact, it’s a gas
(The Rolling Stones: Jumping Jack Flash)

In ‘John Wesley Harding’  (note the Dylaxian ‘g’ added to the name), the letters that are used by those of the Jewish faith to signify the Lord God – YHWH -, Dylan sees as only JWH. He gets things a bit mixed up, and writes a song about a Jesus-like outlaw from the Old West:

John Wesley Harding was a friend to the poor
He travelled with a gun in every hand
All across this countryside, he opened many a door
But he was never known to hurt an honest man

(Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)

Other than the occasional problem caused by the physical condition known as Dylaxia, the singer/songwriter says that he’s just fine

In fact it’s a gas. The unintended consequences of suffering from Dylaxia is great art.


What else is on the site

1: 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.

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 Diagnosed With Dylaxia

  1. Morten Jonsson says:

    Funny stuff. But “necklace” and “reckless” is an exact rhyme. It’s as forced as “help” and “kelp,” but sonically it’s impeccable.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    I was talking about ‘gold’and ‘cold’ ….just kidding!

    I agree with you though I have heard emphasis put on the ‘lace’ (not ‘less’) sound.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    More to the point there’s ‘Isis’ and ‘reckless’ in the last line.

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    Also rendered as ‘JHWH’

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