The Bob of Irony Part II


By Larry Fyffe

There are some songs by Bob Dylan that can be construed as ‘confessional’, as expressing the singer/songwriter’s strong personal feelings in the manner of poets like Allen Ginsberg.

‘The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar’ presents an allegory. In orthodox Christian terms, Jesus is depicted as a groom who’s waiting to be married to his bride, His church followers, once they’re found worthy.

With the benefit of hindsight, Dylan’s lyrics below can be interpreted as a peace-seeking Jewish groom who finds union with his Christian bride, Claudette, so far to be unworkable:

Don't know what I can say about Claudette
That wouldn't come back to haunt me
Finally had to give her up
'Bout the time she began to want me
But I know God has mercy
On them who are slandered and humiliated
I'd a-done anything for that woman
If she didn't make me feel so obligated
(Bob Dylan: The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar)

The singer/songwriter, or his persona anyway, throws back, with Juvenalian glee, any humiliation he’s suffered at Claudette’s hands:

What can I say about Claudette?
Ain't seen her since January
She could be respectively married
Or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires
(Bob Dylan: The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar)

It’s later revealed that Nazi escapees to Argentina, including the ‘architect of the holocaust’, were likely assisted by the Vatican.

The lyrics of ‘Dead Man, Dead Man’ could be said to depict a cob-webbed, tuxedo-clad Christian bride waiting around while she unrealistically expects her dead groom to return sooner or later; in the meantime, she colaborates with the gun-happy American rulers of modern Babylon:

What are you trying to overpower me with,
the doctrine of the gun?
My back is already to the wall, where can I run?
The tuxedo that you're wearing, the flower in your lapel
Ooh, I can't stand it, I can't stand it
You wanna take me down to Hell
Dead man, dead man
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your eyes
Dust upon your eyes
(Bob Dyan: Dead man, Dead man)

Nevertheless, agreeing with a Christian poet, Dylan considers his experience  not be a waste of time:

Since then 'tis centuries,  and yet
Feels shorter than a day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity
(Emily Dickinson: Because I Could Not Stop For Death)

He has nothing but affection for the empathic Christians who sailed with him – he just stayed a day too long:

Strangers they meddled in our affairs
Poverty and shame were theirs
But all that suffering was not to be compared
With the glory that is to be
And I'm still carrying the gift you gave
It's part of me now, it's been cherished and saved
It'll be with me unto the grave
And then unto eternity
(Bob Dylan: In The Sumertime)

One comment

  1. Another version of ‘Waiting At The Altar” gives “If she only made me feel obligated”.

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