Series Of Dreams: blood on the ground

by Jochen Markhorst

He’s quite the dreamer, our hero. Browsing through the collected Lyrics, dreams and dream descriptions turn out to be among the constants in the catalogue.

After sad, happy and dark dreams like in “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, “Talkin’ World War III Blues” and “To Ramona” we are already at “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” on Bringing It All Back Home (1965). And it doesn’t stop there. Although the poet coquettishly sighs in the last groove, in It’s Alright, Ma: “And if my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine”, it doesn’t stop him, the fifty years hereafter.

Saint Augustine appears before the nocturnal mind’s eye, in “Time Passes Slowly” (1970) the narrator not only experiences time delayed “here in the mountains”, but also “when you’re lost in a dream”, Durango (1975) is a bloody nightmare, Jokerman is a dream twister, in “Born In Time” the love couple is not made of stardust, but of dreams and so on and so forth. Still on Tempest (2012) the watchman dreams the downfall of the Titanic and on the borrowed songs of Shadows In The Night (2015) it’s bingo again (in “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Full Moon And Empty Arms”, among others).

In the collected works of the master we find, in short, Series Of Dreams.

It is one of the more substantive links to the work of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), in whose rather surveyable oeuvre one rêverie follows another. Both poets even share their dreams, every now and then. Rimbaud dreams of war (in Illuminations XXXIX: Guerre – “C’est aussi simple qu’une phrase musicale – It’s as simple as a musical phrase”), as Dylan does in Talkin’ World War. And the Frenchman’s Tom Thumb is a dreamer too (in Ma Bohème – “Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course des rimes; as I walked, a dreamy Tom Thumb, I would count out lines of verse).

The director of the fascinating music video for “Series Of Dreams” feels the connection; in the final seconds of the clip, Meiert Avis edits the famous youth portrait of Rimbaud in front of a musing Dylan, fleetingly letters flash up and fade away: black a, white e, red i, green u and blue o; the Alchimie du verbe, the second délire from Un Saison En Enfer (1873). The only 19-year-old genius here defines poetry as if he were talking about Dylan’s best work:

J’inventai la couleur des voyelles ! – A noir, E blanc, I rouge, O bleu, U vert. – Je réglai la forme et le mouvement de chaque consonne, et, avec des rythmes instinctifs, je me flattai d’inventer un verbe poétique accessible, un jour ou l’autre, à tous les sens. Je réservais la traduction.
Ce fut d’abord une étude. J’écrivais des silences, des nuits, je notais l’inexprimable.
Je fixais des vertiges.

I invented the colour of vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. – I regulated the form and motion of every consonant, and, with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself I’d created a poetic language, accessible some day to all the senses. I reserved the translation rights.
It was academic at first. I wrote of silences, nights, I expressed the inexpressible.
I defined vertigos.

The soul kinship is recognised in the Dylan film I’m Not There (2007). One of Dylan’s incarnations from that intriguing cartoon is an 19-year-old “Arthur Rimbaud”, masterfully portrayed by Ben Whishaw, haughty and vulnerable in one. Admittedly, he does get the most rewarding texts, the most beautiful one-liners and aphorisms from the albums’ liner notes, interviews and press conferences. Among them is the Dylan quote from Shelton’s No Direction Home, which perfectly expresses the Rimbaud-Dylan connection:

Yet “Series Of Dreams” is an atypical lyric in the bard’s series of dream songs. No extravagancies like in the 60s, nor the mystical, tranquil dream references from the 70s and 80s – here the poet almost clinically administers the broad outlines of four dreams, some couleur is given by details like a folded umbrella and the directing instructions like the accelerated time (in another version, by the way, delayed time) and, moreover, as the narrator clinically declares: it’s not too special and not at all too scientific, any of it.

That remains to be seen. The founder of the scientific dream interpretation, Sigmund Freud, certainly would know what to do with it. Anyhow, every series of dreams is related, he teaches on page 171 of his Traumdeutung (The Interpretation Of Dreams, 1899), and despite the lack of details, it can be predicted in which direction Freud’s analysis would point. The umbrella, of course, symbolizes the manly pride (“des der Erektion vergleichbaren Aufspannens wegen – on account of the opening, which might be likened to an erection”), “climbing” indicates intercourse and “running” means fear – fear of dying, usually, but here Herr Doktor would probably rather steer towards fear of commitment. After all, the umbrella remains folded, the burning numbers symbolise the fleeting of the years, to witness indicates culpable passivity.

However, a coherent, specific interpretation cannot be constructed, Dylan is right about that. Which is a good thing; after all, the poet here does not describe one dream, nor a series of dreams, but, after all those bizarre, melancholic, visionary and romantic dreams in his oeuvre, now themes the dreaming itself.

The fate of the song is a bit tragic. Recorded during the Oh Mercy sessions, but to the dismay of those involved and despair of producer Lanois, Dylan refuses to put it on the record. His motives, as expressed in the autobiography Chronicles, are once again mysterious. After the recording Lanois suggests something like starting with the bridge and using the main part as the bridge. Dylan considers it, understands what his producer means, but rejects the idea: “I felt like it was fine the way it was.” And then suddenly the song is exit. Confusing.

His criticism of Lanois’ approach to that other rejected masterpiece, “Mississippi” from 1997, then seems to fit much better his expressed discomfort with “Series Of Dreams”:

Lanois didn’t see it. Thought it was pedestrian. Took it down the Afro-polyrhythm route — multirhythm drumming, that sort of thing. (…) he had his own way of looking at things, and in the end I had to reject this because I thought too highly of the expressive meaning behind the lyrics to bury them in some steamy cauldron of drum theory.

A “Mississippi” recording with “multirhythm drumming” is not known, but the official releases of “Series Of Dreams” (on The Bootleg Series 1-3 and on Tell-Tale Signs) do fit that description perfectly. And precisely that remarkable drumming is what makes the song so distinctive. The whole arrangement, but especially the percussion, gives the song the majestic grandeur which is denied by the sober, nuanced lyrics. Oh Mercy with “Series Of Dreams” would indeed have been an even more beautiful album, Lanois is right.

It’s an enchanting song. All the more remarkable is that it has relatively few covers. Hard to improve or match, that’s probably it. Most covers remain anxiously close to the source, especially regarding the rolling drum avalanche and the driving bass. The occasional follower who dares to deviate, the Antwerp collective Zita Swoon for instance (on Big City, 2007), is very attractive, granted, but the grandeur of the original is dearly missed.

No, then the faithful copy of the Italian grandmaster Francesco De Gregori wins. Although translations rarely work for Dylan songs, De Gregori’s version of “If You See Her, Say Hello” (“Non Dirle Che Non E’ Cosi”, on Masked And Anonymous, 2003) already demonstrated that the Italian translations of the Roman “Principe dei cantautori” are the exception.

Apart from the beauty of the Italian words, his “Una Serie Di Sogni” actually adds little, but it is enough to become fascinated again. From the magnificent tribute album De Gregori Canta Bob Dylan – Amore E Furto (2015), on which also rather faithful but excellent covers such as “Dignità”, “Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee” and “Via Della Povertà” shine. And, just like in his “Via Della Povertà”, in his “Desolation Row”, Francesco does not shy away from deepening the melancholy and romanising the poetry. He doesn’t like flying time and tempo, and would rather have at least one escape option: “Senza metrica, senza velocità, nella stanza c’è un’unica uscita; No metrics, no speed, in the room there is only one exit” is pretty much the opposite of what Dylan sings, and

In un sogno c’era sangue per terra,
In un altro nevicava in città.

In one dream there was blood on the ground,
In another it was snowing in the city.

… De Gregori is making up all by himself. And so what – he is the Prince of Songwriters. He is allowed to dream, too.

Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold.  His books are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

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  1. Quite often, the first time I have heard one of the covers that Jochen invariably ends his essays with, is when I prepare his article for publication. And invariably I find his choices enjoyable and educational.
    Goodness knows how many there have been by now, but I have to say, this is one of the most enjoyable. The song is still the song, and I don’t speak the language, but it is just somehow so enjoyable to hear the sounds of the vocal line rather than the meaning.

  2. Nevertheless, Dylan writes at least a few song in which the Enlgish words actually do have meaning, the meaning thereof sometimes Freudian, sometimes Jungian, somtimes Symbolic, whatever- meaning that the music intensifies.

    In short, the words are not placed in the vocal line merely because they sound good.

  3. And I hope that I’ve been able to assist Jochen in his attempt to have his translated words flow like music by his shifting away from the concern that the words he ‘chooses to uses’ have clear meaning.

    In fact, I enjoy reading his books that are written in Dutch more than I do those written in English because I don’t know what the hell any of the words mean…except for maybe “antfuker”.

  4. “Each morning when I awake, I simply experience again a supreme pleasure, that of being Salvatore Dali”. Bob Dylan must have misunderstood it. He thinks he must run faster and faster to reach the mountain top so HE himself can become the famous painter Salvatore Dali. Dali painted unfolded umbrellas and folded watches and scary scenes from the subconsciousness. I wont advice Bob Dylan to be a surrealistic painter.Those dreams were dry and grey and excuse me boring. Hope you will all have sweet dreams, where you have not been vampires surrounded by even more scary vampires. Then you will say: I am so happy to be little boring me.

  5. Good morning: Today I will show a YouTube about the psykopathologi of Salvador Dali. The movie tells he has a disturbed mind. In his youth he had hallucinations, and all his life he had obsessions and phobias. He was afraid of women and sperm. He was married but maybe he was gay or transsexual. Maybe he had had a mania when he was young. He isolated himself for long periods and did not like contact with other people. If he used alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs we don+t know for sure.
    His personality was not something he created as a result of logic thinking, but the way he was..

    He was a part of the surrealist art group: Surrealist Here you can learn about them.

    Back to Bob Dylan: I think he wants to tell that his poems are created in a total different way. He has the reality and then he tell stories about the people and the society around him. He uses symbols and characters from history, art , literature and mythology to describe the persons. Madonna, Mona Lisa, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Cinderella, Ophelia, Hamlet Robin Hood, etc. When you hear those persons name you have a picture how the persons personality might be, and you instantly love them. They are our great heroes and heroines. But in fact they are described by the way the mass media construct their personalities and enhances their personalities. Behind the facade is the story of the opposite. Madonna is not a virgin, she looks beautiful and innocent and absolutely everybody loves her, but in real life she has got pregnant, not with God but with a man of flesh and blood. Mona Lisa is admired for her beauty of the whole world and pictures of her are everywhere. She is our idol. She is even painted of the most famous painter and hangs on the walls of the museums. She is smiling, smiling smiling. But behind the facade she is very unhappy and has a severe heroin addiction. She lives in a hard fashion and art world, where she is utilized as a thing in a very ugly way. And so on. But why is it that even you can see he is painting a strong criticism of the art and music industry. Because you love all those characters from art and literature and you love to unfold all you know about exactly that period or that style or just reassure yourself that you are a person with knowledge. You cannot think out of the box. All the time you tell more about all you know about other artists and how Bob Dylan´s resemble them, but you can never explain, what he wants to tell you. It is NOT so simple you tell me. Yes it is. Sometimes it is so obvious, but you are blindfolded. Bob Dylan is not Blake, Salvador Dali or Rimbaud. He has not a disturbed mind, but he tell stories, where it is up to you how you want to understand it. But please don´t call it rubbish, hallucinations, dreams, distorted facts or mental disturbance or just to difficult to find out. It is exactly the opposite.
    Sorry I had to tell you. And now you can laugh or you can learn.

  6. Ok Tony I start with you. In fact you don´t write about Blake, Verlaine, Rimbaud in every second line. In fact you don´t write about them at all. When you write, you write about the actual Bob Dylan Song, how you understand the music and the poem. BUT her is a post from you.
    A classification of Dylan’s songs

    I don´t see the subject alcohol or drug abuse problems any where. Is it because it has no influence on the songs or his life? This week we have written about Blonde on Blonde songs and his new born Christ period. and songs from the album Highway 61 revisited songs. Nobody here dare to talk about his abuse and the very sad consequences for his career and his personal life, and the decisions he had to make. A lot of musicians, artists, actresses and models have had the same problem and died far too early. Many people ruined their career and family life. I see you have a classification of social criticism, but it is far too narrow. He has a social criticism in so many songs. How we follow the pack but don´t think for ourselves. How the money and our popularity rules our decisions. I don´t find that subject covered very well. I won´t say names, but a lot of you are in fascinated by the transcendentalists , but you never really discuss the personal problems those writers had, and why they had to drink and take drugs. and the lethal effect it had for them. You just enjoy their sentences and the images it gives you. You don´t come down to the bottom. You just skate upon the frozen see, where everything looks nice. It is not a criticism of one post, but of all the posts together and especially the lack of will to understand, what the texts are about.

  7. I heard a bob Dylan interview. He told that a lot of fan told him his poems were beautiful. Very sad he told the interviewer, that the poems were not beautiful but painful. .

  8. Babette I’ll just pick up two points:
    “I don´t see the subject alcohol or drug abuse problems any where. Is it because it has no influence on the songs or his life?”

    Not at all. It is because the blog is called Untold Dylan and I set it up to try and cover issues that are not covered at all or are rarely covered in commentaries about Dylan.

    Second you say, “Nobody here dare to talk about his abuse”

    You appear to have a much greater insight into people’s minds than I do. I don’t know what people dare or dare not to write about, but although it is true we don’t publish every comment I can tell you there is no wholesale restriction on people writing about drug abuse where it is relevant to the songs, and hasn’t been covered many times before in other publications.

    But then on the other hand, if you find the site fails so singularly to cover what you seem to think are the key issues, I wonder why you bother with Untold Dylan. It’s just a blog, and there are thousands of others out there and I am sure many of them do cover the topics you want to cover.

    Untold will however try and cover the topics other people don’t cover when writing about Dylan.

  9. Few of us are as blessed as , and able to see what is in the minds of everybody else ….perhaps Babette is on drugs, and only thinks he can see into another’s mind….if so, I hope he can tell me where I get some of whatever he is doing.

  10. Journalist: ” What’s the song about ?”
    Dylan: “Have you heard the song ?”
    Journalist: “Yes”
    Dylan:” That’s what the song’s about”.

  11. Ok I see you lack knowledge about the issue. Stay clean does not mean he uses a lot of soap. When he ask for his crutch, it is not because he has problems to walk. When he goes to the vineyard church, it is not to have a glass of wine or because he interested in the priest’s speech. When he talks about missionary time in relation to his wife, she has given him a lecture about his alcohol/drug habits and send him to rehab. When she leaves him it is because of his lifestyle. He is in denial and wot speak about it, but he does sing A Lot about. When he is on the run, he is often searching for something, he is craving something, . and it is not always sex, but promiscuity often follows. He loose normal inhibitions and get himself into trouble. “I have a fever in my pocket” is a lyrical way to talk about it. He is still alive, so he must have found a way to control it. And no I have never had a drug or alcohol addiction, but I learned about the danger in medical school and have treated many patients with the problems. In the early sixties the young hippies widely used it as mind expanding without knowing the danger. The craving can be there for years. Why do I stay here? I don’t. I still find great pleasure in the music, and Dylan’s stories, but it is not with you I can open and free minded discus the text.. He is the poet, who have most poetical written about OUR TIME and the issues and emotional problems we are all fighting with. How does it feel? How is it to be totally free? While the generations before us had two world wars to handle, our greatest problems in Europe and USA is ourselves, and to keep the free speech to prevent wars. The discussions must always be open for new ideas without punishment. Thank you.

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