Bob Dylan: Truth, Beauty, And Goodness

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By Larry Fyffe

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan has consistently grappled with the issue of social injustice and how to deal with it – there must be someway out of here. For the means he chooses, some social critics stick the scarlet label of ‘Uncle Tom” to his chest. But Dylan is someone who can answer them back. He observes that there is no simple answer blowing in the wind that will wreck the woes of the world:

The music starts and the people sway
Everybody says, ‘Are you going my way?’
Uncle Tom still working for Uncle Bill
Scarlet Town is under the hill
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

In his song lyrics, Dylan paints himself as a song-and-dance man staring down the the throat of a two-headed dragon, Frederich Nietzsche’s Frankenstein monster that has both the morality of a noble master and that of a utilitarian slave.

In the song lyrics above, Bob Dylan lets Nietzsche take the stage, and Frederich sings of religion that puts off the end of human suffering until after death – no, it won’t happen here, but on top of the hill where bluebirds fly:

This road leads to rainbowville
Going my way
Up ahead is bluebird hill
(Bing Crosby: Going My Way – by Hessen and Burke)

At the bottom of the hill where the Uncle Toms dwell, they go their way; they serve their ‘sweet’ master – the American Dollar Bill.

In ‘The Scarlet Letter’, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne takes strict Puritanism to task for it’s maltreatment of women; in the story, it is the scarlet woman who shows individualistic strength of character and compassion.

Helen Jackson depicts native Americans as ‘noble savages’, with a sharing utilitarian ethos (Nietzsche’s slave morality) in a time-bound attempt to gain sympathy for their plight. The romantic heroine Ramona observes that the native ‘Indians’ are better than the whites who claim they belong to the master race.

Harriet Stowe exposes the cruelty sufferd by by black slaves in America. She presents Uncle Tom as a noble and caring human being who does not run away, but sacrifices himself in order to defend his fellow slaves while others escape to Canada. He now sleeps with Jesus of the thorny crown and the scarlet lady Mary Magdalene lying by his side.

For radical activists living at a later time, “Uncle Tom” becomes a derogatory term for anyone over-subservient to a master – Are you going my way or your way; which side are you on?

Dylan’s answer ìs that he is on the side of art. He has compassion for those oppressed – some of the time, but not all of the time. He has to serve somebody and that someone is the God of Art who demands that Dylan search for new Beauty in the present to balance the Truth of the past, some of which can be ugly – two things he must do in order to discern what is Good for the future.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus is a musician and a singer who rivals the gods in
that regard. So much so that the god of the Underworld allows him to retrieve his beautiful girlfriend on condition that he does not glance back at her on the way out. He does so a second too soon and she’s gone forever. A harsh truth Orpheus learns – look back for Truth; not for Beauty:

She’s got everything she needs
She’s an artist, she don’t look back
She’s got everything she needs
She’s an artist, she don’t look back
She’s can take the dark out of the night-time
And paint the day time black
(Bob Dyan: She Belongs To Me)

She’s not a complete artist though – she belongs to Bob Dylan; not to the God of Art. She’s unaware of the truth.

Emily Dickinson dies for Beauty and her male friend for Truth (Emily Dickinson:
I Died For Beauty). Bob Dylan strives to live metaphorically forever by determining what is Good.

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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