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 lift 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.
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