Bob Dylan: Cliff Richard, Black Sabbath and Henry Rollins. A twist of fate

By Larry Fyffe 

PreRomantic, ‘inward transcendentalist’ poet William Blake, diverges from Emanual Swedenborg’s rational-cum-mystical neoPlatonic religious outlook, and contends that within each and every human mind  lies the Imagination (it creates dreams, art, mythologies, and visions); the poet takes the New Testament Lamb of God as a symbol for the the Imagination – in contrast to the fearful, and materialistc Tiger God of the Old Testament.

Blake addresses a rather Gnostic-like question to the ‘demiurgic’ Tiger about  the Absolute One, the supreme Creator of the Universe:

Did he smile his work to see 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night

(William Blake: The Tyger)

And again in:

And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen? ....
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold 
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!

(William Blake: Jerusalem)

Influenced by the poetry of Blake, the heavy metal band ‘Black Sabbath’ pictures modern man’s Imagination being held down by established social and economic institutions, personified as Satan who rebels against the anti-materialistic teachings of light-inspired Jesus, and sets up dark mills for labourers to work in:

Big black shape with eyes of fire 
Telling people their desire
Satan sitting there, he's smiling
Watch those flames get higher and higher
No, no, no, please God help me!...
Is this the end, my friend
Satan's coming 'round the bend
People running 'cause they're scared

(Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan envisions the black shape of a figurative train comin’ slowly around the bend. Dylan does not provide the reader or listener with a clear vision. Like Blake, he fogs things up – seems like the engineer is Christ, but could it be Satan?:

Man's ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don't apply no more
You can't rely no more to be standin' around waitin'
In the home of the brave, Jefferson turnin' over in his grave
Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan
And there's a slow train comin' up around the bend

(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

Dylan brings it all back home to old time rocknroll:

I don't care about economy, I don't care about astronomy
But it sure do bother me to see my loved ones turned into puppets

(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

Alluding to the following song lyrics:

You get 'A' in Biology
You get 'A' in Psychology ....
But when you go out with me
Baby, you get 'D', D' in Love

(Cliff Richard: D in Love)

Bob Dylan also pays tribute to Henry Rollins whose punk band ‘Black Flag’ is heavily influenced by the words and music of ‘Black Sabbath’. As pointed out by others, Rollins’ novels are referenced by Dylan in the following song lyrics:

I see people in the park, forgettin' their troubles and woes
They're drinkin' and dancin', wearin' bright coloured clothes
All the young men with the young women lookin' so good
Well, I'd trade places with'em in a minute, if I could
I'm crossin' the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talkin' to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length leather coat
Someone just asked me if I'm registered to vote

(Bob Dylan: Highlands)

To wit: 

 I would have traded places with the guy in a second

(Henry Rollins: High Adventures In The Great Outdoors)


 He comes up to me and says, "Are you registered to vote?"
I say, "Hell, no"

(Henry Rollins: Art To Choke Hearts)

You see, Lucifer and the Tiger can be creatively turned around into a symbol of strength that stands up against established authorities and moralities:

 We walked along by the old canal
A little consfused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel
With a neon burning bright
He felt the heat of the night
Hit him like a freight train

(Bob Dylan: Simple Twist Of Fate)

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