Bob Dylan Dresses Up As Bette Davis

by Larry Fyffe

Art culture can be metaphorically depicted as one that spreads out its roots; roots that criss-cross one another in contrast to being envisioned as a tree that steadily sprouts upward:

Cinderella, she seems so easy
'It takes one to know one', she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style
( Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

In the movie “All About Eve”, Bette Davis plays an aging, leading female actor in a world where men are men, and women are women – she faces a challenge from an ambitious young understudy who calls herself Eve; she’s looking for fame, and the money that comes with it. Bette’s in love with Bill, the theatre director in the movie, and he with her. Eve tries but fails to seduce him.

About Eve, Witty Davis is not amused:

“There goes Eve. Eve evil, Little Miss Evil. ‘But the evil that men do ….’
How does it go, groom? Something about the good they leave behind”
(Bette Davis: All About Eve)

She is aware that the orator in Shakespeare’s play actually intends to speak highly of Caesar:

"I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him
The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones"
(William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Act III, sc.ii)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan refers to the Shakespeare quote in another song – he means just what it says, especially when it comes to self-serving critics:

This is how I spend my days
I come to bury, not to praise
I'll drink my fill, and sleep alone
I pay in blood, but not my own
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

The theatre critic in the movie is aware of Eve’s sordid background; career-wise, both know that he can make or break her:

"And you realize - you agree how completely  you
belong to me?"
(George Sanders: All About Eve)

It’s not a traditional love call between the sexes, that’s for sure:

Then I will know
Our love will become true
You'll belong to me
I'll belong to you
(Eddy and MacDonald: Indian Love Call ~ Hammerstein,  et al)

Bob Dylan, from the get-go, makes use of dark wit and irony, Bette Davis-style:

And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
'You belong to me, I believe'
And someone says, 'You're in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave'
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Not all that happy with the way things are going, Eve leaves the Promised Land of theatres on Broadway and heads off to movie-oriented Hollywood. She’s in search of greater fame and fortune there, accompanied by a fawning, youthful Cinderella of her own.

In ‘All About Eve’, the roots of the modern world of artistic expression (filled with the sap of cynicism) spread outward, not upward – so say the song lyrics below:

This place ain't doin' me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there, I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancin' lessons, do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think that he's got anything to prove
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

With sex roles a-changing, and Dylan’s age creeping on up, old romantic love themes don’t fit the agenda of the times that well anymore; however, wit never dies – cynical humour comes in handy:

Well I'm drivin' in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say, 'You're a worn out star'
My pockets are loaded, and I'm spendin' every dime
How can you say you love someone else when you know
it's me all the time
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

What else is here?

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