Bob Dylan And Showboat

by Larry Fyffe

As previously noted, Bob Dylan is familiar with the poetry of Hart Crane:

Oh, lean from the window, if the train slows down
As though you touched hands with some ancient clown
A little while gaze absently down
And hum 'Deep River' with them while they go
(Hart Crane: The River)

‘Deep River’ is a Negro spiritual of yore, a version thereof that’s sung in the musical play/movie ‘Showboat’:

Deep River my home is over Jordon
Deep River, Lord
I want to cross into the campground
Oh, don't you want to go
To that gospel feast?
That Promised Land
Where all is peace
(Marian Anderson: Deep River ~ Burleigh/ traditional)

The biblical reference:

And it came to pass, when the priests
That bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord
Were come up out of the midst of Jordan
And the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry land
That the waters of Jordan returned unto their place
And flowed over all his banks, as they did before
And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the month
And encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho
(Joshua 4: 18,19)

Never one to resist a burlesque, Bob Dylan depicts himself as Joshua, leader of the Jews:

I'm standin' by God's River, my soul is beginnin' to shake
I'm countin' on you love to give me a break
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

The singer/songwriter even claims to be a time traveller …. well, at least that he goes over roads travelled by creative artists (whether they be musicians, singers, play-writes, poets, novelists, or what have you) who have gone before him:

Over the road, I'm bound to go
Where I stop nobody knows
I am one of them rambling men
Travellin' since I don't know when
Here I come, and then gone again
(Bob Dylan: Over The Road)

He’s only a hobo who carries a bundle over his shoulder in which is stuffed a Nobel statue presented to him for his contributions to Literature.

‘Showboat’ is about the love between Magnolia Hawks, a daughter of a Mississippi riverboat captain, and Gaylord Ravenal, a gambling man – in the days of Jim Crow laws after the American Civil War.

Following is a rendition of a song performed in ‘Showboat’:

Look down, look down
That lonesome road
Before you travel on
Look up, look up
And seek your Maker
'Fore Gabriel blows his horn
(Paul Robeson: The Lonesome Road ~ Shilkret/Austin)

The lovers marry, move to Chicago, but eventually break up due to Gaylord’s gambling habit; Magnolia gets a job singing in a club, and becomes famous. In the end, she re-unites with her lover.

Bob Dylan alludes to 'Showboat', sex roles reversed, in the song below:

Your charms have broken many a heart
And mine is surely one
You got a way of tearin' a world apart
Lover, see what you've done
Just as sure as you're livin'
Just as sure as you're born
Look up, look up, seek your Maker
'Fore Gabriel blows his horn
(Bob Dylan: Sugar Baby)

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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 all the 590 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

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  1. “Lonesome Road” is not in “Showboat”. The score of “Showboat” was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. In that score “Old Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine” bear a resemblance stylistically to “Lonesome Road” but that’s as far as it goes.

  2. In a version of “Showboat”, ‘Lonesome Road’ is indeed performed, replacing “Old Man River”.

  3. Jules Bledsoe supplies the vocals for “Lonesome Road’ in an an early film version of “Showboat”.

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