False Prophet: the opening review; the meaning of life

By Tony Attwood

So here we are publishing a series of articles about the album Bob Dylan could have made, and having just published the latest episode, we find he actually is releasing a new album – just as has been rumoured.  Ah well – we’ll just have to work on both sets of reviews at once!  (The latest in our invented album series is Bob’s missing album: “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” Track 7.)

But now in the real world, after two songs which were actually recitations above an improvised musical background, Bob isn’t actually back to singing per se, but there is a much stronger sense of song as he goes back to the 12 bar blues as a basis for this third released track.

It’s not an exact 12 bar of course, but it’s got that feel.  And it is too early to start giving a meaning to the song or unravelling the references but there is one couplet I love already:

I sing songs of love
I sing songs of betrayal

which is pretty much what I’ve been writing in the long and meandering series about the subject matter of Bob’s songs.   For there is no doubt (as you will know if you have read the series) that the subject matter that dominates his writing through his life is “love” and “lost love”.  (If you are interested there is an overview of the series so far here).

Of course I am not suggesting that Bob has read my meanderings on what he writes about, (that would be ludicrous) but any little confirmation that one might be on the right track is worth grabbing!

Here are the lyrics…

Another day that don’t end
Another ship goin’ out
Another day of anger, bitterness, and doubt
I know how it happened
I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came inHello Mary Lou
Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet-footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do tooWell I’m the enemy of treason
Enemy of strife
Enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet
I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can goI’m first among equals
Second to none
Last of the best
You can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put them six feet under and pray for their souls

What are you lookin’ at
There’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze that’s encircling me
Let’s go for a walk in the garden
So far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain-side

I search the world over
For the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love
I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink
Don’t care what I eat
I climbed the mountains of swords on my bare feet

You don’t know me darlin’
You never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no false prophet
I just said what I said
I’m just here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head

Put out your hand
There’s nothing to hold
Open your mouth
I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor devil look up if you will
The city of God is there on the hill

Hello stranger
A long goodbye
You ruled the land
But so do I
You lost your mule
You got a poisoned brain
I’ll marry you to a ball and chain

You know darlin’
The kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile something’s got to give
I ain’t no false prophet
No, I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born
And I forgot when I died

Everything within the song in my first listenings and readings makes me think that this is a reflection upon himself and the life of touring, plus his constant denials (except during the religious period of 1979/1980) that his songs carry a deeper meaning beyond an observation of life as he sees it.

I am sure over time we’ll get further into it, but there really is nothing like listening to a Bob Dylan song for the first time.  It gives me goose bumps.

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.

We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics who teach English literature.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with approaching 5000 active members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.  Not every index is complete but I do my best.

But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page.  I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information.  Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.

And please do note our friends at  The Bob Dylan Project, which also lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).


  1. This is like an acid flash back to the 60s ,when in 1966 BOB and THE BAND would freak out the folk purists, who had projected there minds on Bob as their PROPHET. In 1966 at a concert when i was 14 ,he freaked them out in the second 1/2 with “Robbie Robertson and THE BAND, with Dylan on piano. Played “Balled of a thin man”. Hes still at it , this song sounds as fresh as pressed Vinyl. We all have to blow them old cobwebs away every now and then,with a Rock Band.

  2. To my soul’s eyes and ears, it’s very Dylan, those contradictions and all. But some parts sound to me as if he wanted to write something Cohen-esque. Perhaps it’s just the first impression (vat’s gud a firrst imprressiohn?)…

  3. Blowen away those “PROPHET GHOST BLUES”. Can almost hear THE BAND on this.

  4. It sounds like a ‘burlesque” -Dylan even making fun of himself.

    Tony needn’t be so modest … without doubt Dylan will offer to share royalties from the whole album with “Untold” for providing him with inspiration …
    it’s only fair.

  5. Its the delivery of the words, with a rock/blues feel, that uses the facial shape of expression,not unlike Blind Willie McTell on “Dyin Crap Shooters Blues”. Theres a lot going on. On live close ups you cannt help but notice Dylans facial shape to the words he is singing , just another MASTER CLASS from Bob.

  6. I’m not so sure that Dylan’s “religious period” is an ‘exception’ – the performances of the music and lyrics by the artist (and/or his persona) in that time period too leaves lots of room for doubt and skeptism as to what the true meaning of existence may be considered to be, if indeed there be any meaning to it at all.

    Who among us can really tell for sure what’s in someone else’s mind, let alone an artist’s, even when it’s claimed by him or her to be sincere.

    Guess we’ll just have to be patient, and wait for the Mighty Quinn to get here.

  7. “BALLED OF A THIN MAN” is a definitive companion piece to this new 2020 Rock/Blues Master Class from Bob and what sounds like THE BAND.

  8. Yes, Tony, this is a big song, and strikes me as one of his great songs – you know, to join the top ten. There’s an aspect of the persona that comes through that reminds me of “Pay in Blood’. False gods that would stuff our mouths with gold while our souls get lost with the city of god still far off. This goes deep with Dylan. Remember ‘Tears of Rage’?
    ‘It was all very, very painless
    When you ran out to receive
    All that false instruction
    Which we never could believe
    And now the heart is filled with gold
    As if it was a purse
    But oh, what kind of love is this
    Which goes from bad to worse?
    And that lovely hint, or sense that he is ghost or spirit, and by no means a quiet one.
    Note a couple of allusions in the style of ‘Murder Most Foul’ – ‘the long goodbye’ is novel by Raymond Chandler, ‘only the lonely’ is a song title. I suspect ‘hello stranger’ will turn out to be a film title or something…
    A late masterpiece indeed.

  9. Hello stranger
    It seems so good to see you again
    How long has it been?
    It seems like a mighty long time
    (Barbara Lewis: Hello Stranger)

  10. Once there was a man, a hateful man
    Had a wife, but didn’t see the danger
    ‘Til one day, one fateful day
    Along come a tall dark stranger
    (Robert Mitchum: Tall Dark Stranger ~ Webb/Salt)
    From the movie: “Rachel And The Stranger”

  11. Thank you guys, it was real fast (the lyrics)! With due respect, am I wrong or, does it also seem to you as if the overall atmosphere, the tone of his voice and other aspects were left-overs from the Love and Theft bin? I just love that record!!


  12. Hi Zdenek , people are always looking for pegs to hang Dylan’s songs on which is a shame. The songs and music are what they are to each of us and we all see and hear the world differently…each person throughout the world have their our own reality. So you are right to YOU this song sounds like a left over from an album recorded 20 years ago. I too love Love & Theft but other Dylan fans dislike it but that’s ok.

  13. had I known English was not your native language I would not have jived you as I did…..and for that I am sorry.

  14. Thank you. I have forgiven you, I am looking forward to read your interpretation of the new album. To disagree and to discuss is the best way to become wiser.

  15. This is not about Dylan himself, this is about persons he know that exist and they appear a lot in his songs. For instance in Changing of the Guards:

    ‘A messenger arrived with a black nightingale’
    ‘Renegade priests’
    ‘false idols’

    All in one song! Sometimes he speaks of a ‘wicked messenger’, sometimes of a ‘one eyed undertaker’ and so on.
    Obviously such a person of more of them, played a role in his life. See also the film Patt Garrett and Billy the Kid in which he played a role and he observes how a false prophet is killed. No coincidence.

  16. And how a coincidence it is that the song is exact like ‘ If lovin is believing’ from Billy “The Kid” Emerson. See my previous post about the film Patt Garrett and Billy the Kid.

  17. ‘Cause if loving is believing
    Tell me why don’t you believe in me
    I gave you everything that money could buy
    I haven’t been the best; Heaven knows, how hard I tried
    (Billy The Kid Emerson: If Loving Is Believing)

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