Bob Dylan Crosses The Mississippi

Bob Dylan Crosses The Mississippi

by Larry Fyffe

Let’s look at the following song lyrics as an allegory – characters and events represent qualities or ideas that relate to morals, religion, and politics:

Every step of the way we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is pilin' up, we struggle and we scrape
We're all boxed in, no where to escape
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

A Gnostic-like theme is presented in which most humans are disgruntled because they are exploited in a society controlled by rulers who are bent on material gain even as the black card of death gets dealt to everyone.

A tribute is paid to another singer/songwriter who’s consoled by loving companionship:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the end out for the ties that bind
Because you're mine, I walk the line
(Johnny Cash: I Walk The Line)

Below, the Blakean theme  of the rural life of childhood put asunder by the alienation of city life:

City's just a jungle, more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin' in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Tribute paid to a traditional song with a similar theme:

I am a man of constant sorrow
I've seen trouble all my day
I bid farewell to old Kentucky
The place I was born and raised
(Man Of Constant Sorrow~traditional)

It’s come to this – a materialistic society, the main product of which is alienation from the natural world; nihilism, it’s gift, and to escape therefrom is most people’s wish:

Got nothing for you, I had nothing before
Don't even have anything for myself anymore
Sky full of fire, pain pourin' down
Nothing you can sell me, I'll see you around
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

The fire-breathing ruler of the Old Testament’s back; that of the New, ignored:

Wilt Thou that we command fire
To come down from heaven
And consume them, even as Elias did?
(Luke 9:54)

It’s dark out there – pornographic magazines, books, and movies sold as a means of escape:

Well the Devil's in the alley, mule's in the stall
Say anything you want to, I have heard it all
I was thinkin' about the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie's bed
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Deviant sexual dreams, if not action, the result – Valadimir Nabokov’s novel ‘Lolita’ comes to mind:

The only lover I'm ever gonna need's your soft, sweet, little girl's tongue
And Rosie, you're the one
(Bruce Springsteen: Rosalita)

The narrator imagines himself as Joshua, crosses the Jordon (in this case the Mississippi) River to the Promised Land – however, he becomes corrupted:

Well I got here following the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
Only thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Tributes made to:

I been in town just one night to long
(Bruce Springsteen: Last Night In Tulsa)

As well as:

I've stayed in Sheridan too long already
(Robert Mitchum: Man With The Gun)

Making fun of himself for having to come up with an ending for the Ulysses-like journey, the author continues on with the story:

My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waitin' to be kind
So give me your hand, and say you will be mine
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

A way out is not to portray himself as the rebel against the establisment that he did in his youth:

I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains
I offered her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm
(Bob Dylan: As I Went Our One Morning)

The spectre of the Ace of Spades just won’t go away; the lyrics of the song ‘Mississippi” reference the story of Moses:

Well the emptiness is endless, as cold as the clay
You can always come back
But you can't come back all the way
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

As told in the Holy Bible, Moses makes it not all the way back to the Promised Land:

Because ye trespassed against me
Among the children of Israel .....
Because ye sanctified me not
In the midst of the children of Israel ....
Yet thou shalt see the land before thee
But thou shalt not go thither unto the land
Which I give the children of Israel
(Deuteronomy 32:51,52)

Tribute  is also paid to the song below:

As I walked out in the streets of Laredo
As I walked out in Laredo one day
I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay
(Marty Robbins: Streets of Laredo ~ Maynard)

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.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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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