Bob Dylan and punk. Give the anarchist a cigarette.

by Aaron Galbraith

Bob Dylan and punk might not seem like the most natural of bedfellows but it would seem that there is a lot of mutual respect between Dylan and many punk musicians and bands.

The band on Down In The Groove’s “Sally Sue Brown” includes both the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones on guitar and The Clash’s Paul Simonson on bass. The one song Dylan said he wished he written was Johnny Thunders “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”.

 

Punk acts a-plenty have covered Dylan tracks over the years including Richard Hell with “Going Going Gone”, The Clash “The Man In Me”, Johnny Thunder “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, “Joey” & “Like A Rolling Stone” and The Ramones with “My Back Pages”, to name just a few.

All of this leads us nicely to The Minutemen and “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs”.

I’m waitin’, in third person, I’m collecting
Dispersing, information, labeled rations
Bob Dylan wrote propaganda songs!
Bob Dylan wrote propaganda songs!

Manifestos, are my windows, and my proof
Locations, and more rations, outline my route!
Bob Dylan wrote propaganda songs!
Bob Dylan wrote propaganda songs!

At 1 minute 29 seconds, the track is actually on the longer side for the Minutemen. Their first album contained 18 tracks all ranging between 30 and 50 seconds long, so this one is something of an epic!

The song appears on the “What Makes a Man Start Fires? album. Songwriter Mike Watt stated “That song came out because I was starting to worry are my songs starting to sound too sloganeering? And then I thought, ‘Hey Bob Dylan, his stuff was almost as vital as propaganda.'”

If you have any previous experience of the Minutemen, it provides exactly what you would expect from the band: it’s short, experimental, unusual structure and not one second is wasted. I like it a lot!

Moving on to our second piece today, it’s Chumbawamba with “Give The Anarchist A Cigarette”.

Those of us who grew up in the 90s will remember their classic 1998 hit single “Tubthumping”. The track in question appears on their earlier 1994 album “Anarchy”

The title comes from a scene in the Dylan movie “Don’t Look Back” in which Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman tells him “They’re calling you an anarchist now”, to which Dylan replies “Give the anarchist a cigarette”.

 

Albert! Who?
Bobby! Who?
For god’s sake, burn it down

Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of…

Give the anarchist a cigarette
‘Cause that’s as close as he’s ever gonna get
Give the anarchist a cigarette
Bobby just hasn’t learned it yet
Give the anarchist a cigarette
The times are changing, but he just forgets
Give the anarchist a cigarette
He’s gonna to choke on his harmonica, Albert

Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of…

Give the anarchist a cigarette
A candy cig for the spoiled brat
Give the anarchist a cigarette
We’ll get Albert to write you a cheque
Give the anarchist a cigarette
He’ll be burning up the air in his personal jet
Give the anarchist a cigarette
You know I hate every Popstar that I ever met

Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of…

Give the anarchist a cigarette
Burn, baby, burn
Burn, baby, burn

 

Grunge magazine lists the track as one of the harshest lyrics in history. They write, that the track “outright calls Dylan old, pathetic, washed-up, and out-of-touch. They sing, “Give the anarchist a cigarette / ‘Cuz that’s as close as he’s ever gonna get / Give the anarchist a cigarette. Bobby just hasn’t earned it yet / Give the anarchist a cigarette. The times are changing but he just forgets.” You thought Don Henley had church bells down there? That’s nothing compared to accusing Bob Dylan of “not earning” something. But true to form, the band doubles down, calling Dylan a “spoiled brat” with his own private jet. But it’s not just you, Bob—Chumbawamba’s singer proudly admits, “I hate every popstar that I’ve ever met.” So at least you’ll have company in that private jet of yours”.

Just to prove that Bob could be as punk as any one of these bands, let’s remember that time he played Letterman backed by NYC punk band The Plugz. Now this is some punk rock!

The song was written by Sony Boy Williamson II.  Here are the lyrics

Well, I’m goin’ down to Rosie’s, stop at Fannie Mae’s
Gonna tell Fannie what I heard, her boyfriend say

Don’t start me to talkin’, I’ll tell her everything I know
I’m gonna break up this signifyin’, ’cause somebody’s got to go

Jack give his wife two dollars, go downtown and get some margarine
Gets out on the streets, ol’ George stopped her
He knocked her down, and blackened her eye
She gets back home, tell her husband a lie

Don’t start me to talkin, I’ll tell everything I know
I’m gonna break up this signifyin’, somebody’s got to go

She borrowed some money, go to the beauty shop
Jim honked his horn, she begin to stop
She said, “Take me, baby,” around the block
I’m goin to the beauty shop, where I can get my hair sock

Don’t start me to talkin’, I’ll tell everything I know
Well, to break up this signifyin’, somebody’s got to go

A Postscript from Tony

I am absolutely not an expert on punk – quite the reverse in fact – so I was not contemplating being part of this article, but I can’t let the Letterman show go by without referring back to one of my favourite obscure Dylan recordings made in the rehearsals for that show: “I once knew a man”

If you are interested in the lyrics or the origins of this song, please do visit the article on “I once knew a man”   There are a fair number of comments after my little piece on the recording, but please do note, several correspondents reported lyrics that relate to another song of the same title, not the one Dylan sings here.

If you scroll right down the comments to near the end you’ll find two versions of the lyrics, one from Larry and one from Mick Gold.

What else is here?

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.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  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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1 Response to Bob Dylan and punk. Give the anarchist a cigarette.

  1. J. O'Connell says:

    “Seems like only yesterday
    He done passed this way – Christ? – Dylan’s own lyrics?

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