Songs about Dylan part 4: The songs that criticise

By Aaron Galbraith

I thought that after the funny’s from part 3 of this series, and given that the final song in that article was critical of Dylan’s styule, we could look at some that are more critical of Dylan. Both of these are pretty obscure and we’re pretty certain no one will have heard of them, so we (well, Aaron) will try to give all the details we have.   

First, Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt with “If I had an Axe”


If I had an axe to me is a beautifully realized piece, they are a cello-guitar duo, And it really seems to work well for this song. The song appears on their Crooked Fiddle album.

Nathan’s explains the origins of this song in this rather annoying clip (for some reason they cut the story and song into and across each other!!)


He was working as a journalist backstage at the Kennedy Center Honors when Pete Seeger was being so honored. He interviewed him and ask if he thought Dylan would ever receive the same honor. He could tell Seeger was upset by the question and later looked into why this might be and then read about his previous problems with Dylan.

Then when Seeger died he waited to see if Dylan would issue a condolence message and then when nothing came he was upset on Pete’s behalf and so wrote this song.

Whilst I’m not sure I agree with writing a song criticizing the way someone else grieves I do think it’s a good song, and “if I had an axe” is a very powerful image, when I first heard the song I took a mental step back when he gets to the chorus as if I wasn’t quite ready for that.

Maybe Dylan should have put something out but really who are we or anyone else to say. As I’ve been listening to the song whilst composing this email I just realized that it’s written from Pete Seeger’s point of view! Weird how I just realized that!

Oh and the album it comes from also includes a cover of All Along The Watchtower!


I couldn’t find the lyrics on line so I thought I’d take a go at them!

We come here every summer
To rise in song as one
To play the songs of freedom
As we sit out in the sun
To push the movement forward
Passed down from me to you
And through those big old speakers
I’ll hear you speak your truth
I am listening

If I had an axe I’d cut that cord
What is that awful sound
Everyone who cheered you
Is gonna run you out of town
It seems that you’re determined
To push everyone away
Now all I can do
Is letyou go your own way

You sang of Medgar Evers
In the Mississippi sun
A field of black kids gathered
And a few white men with guns
In the pictureI’m behind you
Leaning in my eyes are closed
And I could swear I saw the future
Behind that microphone
I am listening

If I had an axe I’d cut that cord
Like you cut me away
One moment I’m your father
The next I’m your mistake
It seems that you’re determined
To leave wreckage in your wake
Now all I can do
Is let you go your own way

Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton
You cut them off like your home state
You even cut off JoaneyBaez
Like you cut off your old name
I’m out among the people
I see they’ve set your stage
At an old minor league ballpark
I doff my cap and wave
But for you the crowd is screaming

I can’t make out what you say
Yeah I had to buy a ticket
It’s good to see your face
And hear your music

If I had an axe I’d cut this silence
Help you find some joy
They put you on a pedestal
But I know you’re still that scared little boy
Hoping somebody would listen
To what you have to say
It’s because I love you
That I let you go your way


Next – Peter Cooper & Todd Snider with “Thin Wild Mercury”

Both songwriters have their own very different takes on this song

Peter Cooper is here…

And Todd Snider

The song appears on Peter Cooper’s Mission Door album and Todd Snider’s The Devil You Know.

Peter said, “Todd and I wrote this after having numerous discussions about the night Bob Dylan called his folk-singing contemporary Phil Ochs “a journalist” and then threw Phil out of his car. That’s the sort of thing we have numerous discussions about over on my side of town. The story is in the song.

To our way of thinking, Dylan and Ochs probably both wished everything had played out differently. “If he ever thought better, he thought too late,” is the way we wrote it. We never said who “he” was, because we didn’t have to. My heart goes out to Dylan, wherever he is tonight. And to Phil Ochs, lying in that cold, cold ground”

Poor Phil Ochs
Sad and low
Hands in his pockets
Wonderin’ where to go
Thrown from the limo
For speaking his mind
Like a red-eyed photo
Into a garbage can
At the corner of Hero and Also-Ran
A fragile heart skipped a fragile beat
It’s warm in the limousine
Cold on the streets of

Thin, wild mercury
And gold lame
Where things will go your way
Or they won’t
Thin wild mercury
And gold lame
You know what they say
Or you don’t

It was all over some new Dylan song
That Phil had the nerve to say sounded wrong
Dylan stopped the car
Words shook like a fist
Phil you’re not a writer, you’re a journalist
Phil you’re not a writer, you’re a journalist
Death of a rebel in a twist of fate
If he ever thought better, he thought too late
Poor Phil Ochs, he slipped through the cracks
Judas went electric and he never looked back on

Thin wild mercury
Or gold lame
Where things will go your way
Or they won’t
Thin wild mercury
And gold lame
You know what they say
Or you don’t
No, you don’t
No, you don’t



  1. Hi Aaron N, it’s a really good song, I like it a lot.

    Glad you found my article!

    Lovely cover of Watchtower too!

    I wonder what you think of the Pete Cooper/Todd Snider track?

    All the best
    Aaron G

  2. Lyrics to a public domain folk song about the commodification of folk music, selling out and the celebrity star system in the corporate music industry world that was written in the 21st century after watching a PBS documentary (which some music fans might interpret as being critical of Dylan) that readers might be interested in also checking out:
    “His manager’s got some footage for a commercial promo film
    To justify him selling out and his silence while his government killed
    So they hired a director and controlled how he did the edits
    And the Corporate Rock house artist is now `The Poet of PBS.’
    “`The Poet of PBS’
    Was just in it for himself
    He took tunes from the Folk
    Made money and then sold out.
    “He moved to his cousin’s frat house near a campus in the Midwest
    Then impersonated Woody Guthrie and added hip black lyrics
    He hung out in the Village and Broadside taught him to write protest
    And the Times man composed the album notes for `The Poet of PBS.’ (chorus)
    “With his corporate media backing and his crafty manager
    He turned his back on the Folk community to become a millionaire
    Then he hid in his country mansion, while Vietnam was wrecked
    And cash or drugs destroyed the soul of `The Poet of PBS.’ (chorus)
    “Forty years of artistic failure followed his creative moral youth
    Forty years of defensiveness, forty years of obscuring truth
    And when his tour has ended and they write his epitaph
    They’ll say: `The rebel poet became The Poet of PBS.'” (chorus).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *