Bob Dylan And Frankenstein

By Larry Fyffe

As previously noted by me, the influence of the writings of Percy and Mary Shelley be detected in Bob Dylan’s song lyrics. It has even been suggested  that ‘All Along The Watchtower’ has a Shellyan shade to it, but, as so often is the case, no convincing evidence from the lyrics for such an interpretation is presented – seems that the interpreter’s whimsy is all that’s required.

Mary Shelley’s assembled monster sets the place on fire after a family who rejects him departs a cottage. A reader or listener might assert that the song verse below refers to that event:

Well, I'm leaving in the morning as soon as the dark clouds lift
Yes, I'm leaving in the morning just as soon as the dark clouds
Gonna break in the roof, set fire to the place as a parting gift

(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Implying fiendish motives to the songwriter by venturing down the autobiographical route is more dubious. The burning of the Waco Davidians’ abode seems to be a better guess since the ‘Love And Theft’ album as a whole focuses on the southern United States. In any event, Dylan lovingly steals from “Confessions Of A Yakuza” by Janichi Saga: ” ‘Break the roof in!’ … splashed kerosene over the floor …”

Direct or near quotes from the Shelleys within the lyrics of a song be evidence that Shelleyan themes might  lie therein. For example, ‘I’m looking into sapphire-tinted skies’ from “Things Have Changed”; or “All my doubts and fears are gone at last” from “Tell Ol’ Bill”.

Below, allusions to the famous novel by Percy’s wife:

You trampled on me as you passed
Left the coldest kiss upon my brow ....
The words are ringin' off my tongue

(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

Says Mary Shelley’s hideous-looking creature:

I, the miserable, and the abandoned, .... kicked and
trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection
of this injustice. Evil thenceforth became my good

(Mary Shelley: Frankenstein)

Mary alludes to poet John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Playing the Devil’s Advocate, Milton points his finger at God, and accuses Him of first abandoning the rebellious angel Satan, and then Adam and Eve. Are not both the Devil and  Frankenstein’s monster deserving of some sympathy for being treated so by their creator?

Declares the fallen Satan:

So farewell hope, and, with hope, farewell fear
Farewell all remorse! All good to me is lost
Evil be thou my good

(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV)

Sings Dylan’s persona:

Now everything's a little upside down ...
What's good is bad, what's bad is good
You'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom

(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

The singer/songwriter refers to Milton also:

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose

(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

Finding him lurking in Eden, archangel Gabriel asks Satan:

But wherefore thou alone? Wherefore with thee
Come not all Hell broke loose?

(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV)

According to the Bible, rebellious Satan gets revenge by causing humans to become mortal as well as getting them kicked out of Eden. He’s a trickster, and not about to give up:

Somebody seen him hanging around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town
He looked into her eyes when she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance, he had a face like a mask
Somebody said from the Bible he'd quote
There was dust on the man in the long black coat

(Bob Dylan: Man In The Long Black Coat)

All Frankenstein’s monster wanted is to be loved, but he’s abhorred by his  creator who dies, and the creature has no hope of ever having a female companion, or anyody for that matter, to dance with.

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.

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  1. Also:

    Who would not, finding way, break loose from Hell?
    (Paradise Lost, Book IV)

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