Bob Dylan And The Ace Of Spades

by Larry Fyffe

Considering the point of view taken by modern Existentialist writers that, given the vastness of the universe, the path chosen by an earth-bound individual human being to travel on doesn’t even amount to a hill of beans:
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same ....
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in the woods,  and I
I took took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference

(Robert Frost:The Road Not Taken)

The message that he takes from the back of a box of Frosted Flakes, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan repeats to ol’ Bill loud and clear; and note the Dylanesque ‘rhyme twist’ ~ “I”/”by”/”sigh”; ~ “try”/”die”/”defy”/”sigh”:
The evenin' sun is sinkin' low
The woods are dark, the town is too ....
Tell ol' Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
Tell him that I'm not alone
That the time has come to do or die  
All the world I would defy
Let me make it plain as day
I look at you now, and I sigh
How could it be any other way?

(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

According to both Bob Frost and Robert Dylan, the path chosen indeed matters a great deal to the individual taking it:
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake

(Robert Frost: Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening)

Should you listen to zinger Dylan expecting tips on what life’s all about, and why you ought to have a sense of pride living it, you are not going to find much help here.
Note the ‘rhyme twist’~ “stake”/”take”/”lake”;~”shake”/”flake”/”mistake”/”lake”:
So many roads, so much at stake
Too many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take
To find dignity

(Bob Dylan: Dignity)

Things are bad out there:

Next to come in was a big black snake
Next  to come in was a big black snake
Next to came in was a big black snake
Ate up all of the wedding cake

(Bob Dylan: Froggie Went A-Courtin’~Dylan/traditional)

But hold on to them thar reins, partner. According to a number of religions, there be Angels, Egyptians, and Cowboys who live forever and ever in a Heaven or in a Hell.
Not everyone agrees with that particular dogma:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

(Percy Shelley: Ozymandias)

Bob Dylan’s gospel songs contian Christian hope of a hereafter, but in other song lyrics there be Shelley’s message of a cold, dead-end for the individual.   In the lyrics of regret below, note the ‘rhyme twist’ from the poem above
 ~ “decay”/”away”:
There's a wall of pride, high and wide
Can't see over to the other side
It's such a sad thing to see beauty decay
And sadder still to see your heart torn away

(Bob Dylan: Cold Irons Bound)

The Existentialist point of view fails to consider that man is a social animal who depends on others, especially on one’s mother, because, at least in the beginning, individual humans cannot survive on their own:

Each man's death diminishes me
For I am involved with mankind
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee

(John Donne: For Whom The Bell Tolls)

The Ace of Spades is a hard card to play:
I can hear the church bells ringin' in the yard
I wonder who they are ringin' for?
I know I can't win
But my heart just won't give in

(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

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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.



One comment

  1. *”The Ace Of Spades is a hard card to play:”

    is not part of the song lyrics ‘Standing In The Doorway”, but a sentence of introduction thereto written by me.

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