My own version of you: Bob Dylan’s revenge; Bob’s desire

by Tony Attwood

You have made multiple versions of me, says Dylan.  Protest singer, folk singer, rock singer, born again Christian, supporter of Israel, voice of a generation, plagiarist, postmodernist, Kafkaesque, surrealist, blues man, celebrator of love, mourner of lost love…   So now it is time for a reply.

The first time I recall Dylan defining himself he called himself a “song and dance man”.  And now he revisits that definition with “My Own Version of You.”

And immediately the critics go awry in trying to understand the song without understanding that it is a commentary upon them.  “This phrase, particularly as the opening line as a verse, is from the blues song “Sitting On Top Of The World,” performed by The Mississippi Sheiks (1930), Howlin Wolf (1957), and others,” we are told, straight off.  But no, for that comment made within a few days of the album’s release is again a way we are misled.   Listen to the sheiks   and you will clearly hear

Was all the summer, and all the fall
Just trying to find my little all and all
But now she’s gone, I don’t worry
I’m sitting on top of the world

Bob says (with an occasional bit of singing)

All through the summers, into January
I’ve been visiting morgues and monasteries
Looking for the necessary body parts
Limbs and livers and brains and hearts
I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do
I wanna create my own version of you

Of course he might be misquoting, but no, not Bob.    Besides, what’s the point?  He is quite clear; he’s doing a Victor Frankenstein, but he’s also having fun, getting his own back at all those critics who have labelled him and dissected his songs – which of course includes me.  I hold my hands up.  I apologise.  But I can’t stop.

In short this is in fact the final resolution of that moment that started in December 1965 when Dylan gave the only only full length press conference televised in its entirety.

Here’s an extract from that press conference taken from near the start, courtesy of our good friends at Rolling Stone…

Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?
Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.

Oh, I don’t think we have enough time to really go into that.

But now Bob does have a chance to go back and reverse the moment from December 1965 when everyone wanted to know where he got his ideas from and how he saw himself.  And he has time to do it as his leisure, and at length.  It has, after all, been a long time since the last album.

The opening is fun, a slight misquote from Richard III but an exact quote of John Steinbeck’s last novel, the tale of fallen aristocracy.  And if we look at the lyrics from the point of view of the old man looking back, while the poet considers all those billions of words written about his works just wishing that the silly scribblers had actually LISTENED to what he was singing, and maybe understood a little more.

“I wish you’d’ve taken me with you wherever you went,” he says, and they then go on with their endless commentaries which he is fed up with.   And so I guess it is time for Untold Dylan, along with the rest, to apologise to Bob for all our interpretations.

Although of course we haven’t really hurt him, (“Not for a minute do I believe anything they say”) but even so he is going to bring someone to life.  And we wonder, for what?  A new Dylan?  A new critic?   Bob tells us we know what he means, but sorry Bob, I’m never really sure, because you keep changing tack.  Songs of love, lost love, moving on, that 18 months of Christian songs, that glorious Kafka period… Really Bob, have sympathy on us scribblers.  It’s hard  to keep up; it’s hard to keep track.

And where will these characters come from who are all finally mixed together into Bob’s own creation?  All those movies he has so loved to quote across the years.  Just to get to find “Someone who feels the way that I feel.”

And also it seems someone who isn’t interested in all the things Dylan was, for he is “I’m saying to hell to all things that I used to be.”  So that means he wants someone who feels how he feels NOW.  Hence the building of the new creature.

But I really do think he is also playing games with us, as he has so often done.  I know my oft-expressed thought that sometimes Dylan uses phrases just because they sound good, annoys or frustrates some of my friends on this site who have done so much to unravel the quotes that Dylan slips in, but (to give an example) was Dylan saying something of great significance when he says,  “And I ask myself, ‘What would Julius Caesar do?'”

OK let’s try it.  What would he do?  Julius Caesar claimed he was directly linked to the gods of Rome through descent from Aeneas and Venus as well as from the early (generally mythical) kings of Rome – which gave him a link to the god Mars.

So is Bob acting as a god when he says

"I will bring someone to life in more ways than one
Don't matter how long it takes, it'll be done when it's done"

Well, yes, that is possible.  The fans have made Bob a god.   But at the same time, he gives us a wink, just to remind us that (as so often in his songs, in my view) he is mixing reality and fantasy,

I'm gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell
Like Liberace, like St. John the Apostle

I must say I have never held Liberace in high regard, although he was a moderately decent pianist.  However St John the Apostle…no he lived before the piano (which was around 1700 in case you are interested).  So just how far are we going to take these connections?  Was he thinking of Blind Willie Johnson?

I'm gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell
Like Liberace, like St. John the Apostle
I'll play every number that I can play
I'll see you maybe on Judgement Day
After midnight, if you still wanna meet
I'll be at the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street
Two doors down, not that far a walk
I'll hear your footsteps, you won't have to knock
I'll bring someone to life, balance the scales
I'm not gonna get involved any insignificant details

And there is the line that I think gives us the clue – “don’t bother me with details” is the reply of the visionary whose vision has a few logical gaps around.  And really we do have to take this as fun, as Dylan’s revenge on all those people who forever want to get a meaning out of every word he has written.

You can bring it to St. Peter
You can bring it to Jerome
You can bring it all the way over
Bring it all the way home

So, Bob’s newly created creature asks, just where do you want to go with this?  St Jerome, if you are looking for a Christian interpretation of the whole song, still clinging to the view that 1980 never happened and Bob never wrote Making a liar out of me    Or maybe he’s thought of Bo Diddley and his maracas player Jerome Green; and “Bring it to Jerome” – apparently the only song Jerome Green he ever wrote.


And even if normally you can’t be bothered with these odd song links that I slip into my commentaries, I would urge you to listen to this track simply because it is such great fun, and a perfect example of 1950s rhythm and blues which Bob (and I) so love.   And then consider

Bring it to the corner where the children play
You can bring it to me on a silver tray
I'll bring someone to life, spare no expense
Do it with decency and common sense

Now you decide.  Did Bob just make a reference to John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter, and in the desire to recreate life in Jurassic Park or is he carrying on his own theme here opened in the first lines of collecting body parts to create his new creature.

I guess in the end I am still influenced by the science I studied at university where we were taught, if there are several explanations available, always go for the simplest.  And the simplest is that the character in this song is symbolically wanting to create an improbable life form that represents his critics and all those people who keeps wanting to tell you what each line means.

Bob’s creature, in fact, is not like the monster created by Frankenstein but rather a creature made out of the lines of songs, and in this way Bob hopes to understand better both himself, and what is going on around him.

And in doing this Bob is seemingly preparing to use his creation to put the world to rights – he is returning to Bob the protest singer.  For in the final extended section he does mention some of the issues that have bedevilled mankind.   The sacking of Troy by the Achaeans, and the subsequent selling the women into slavery, Freud’s vision without any proof at all, that people can be understood through their dreams, the enslavement of the working classes through agriculture and industry, the landowners who grabbed the American west and enslaved once again, and the justification of all this because of the race and society one was born into.

Yes, it is as Bob once said about the young, “They’ll believe anything,” and as a result  Dylan is creating his creature to show us all that we have forgotten.  To tell us not to worry about what he means, but simply to look around us, and be aware of what is out there.

The creature Bob creates has one purpose: to save himself from all of those who wish to interpret him, and to save us from those leaders he still wishes we would not follow.

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

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  1. In other words, this creature, created by the devil of Frankenstein, seems to be a gentleman, ‘but he’s not a gentleman at all—he’s rotten to the core He’s a coward and he steals‘ – Lonesome Day Blues.
    Not revenge on a journalist – which he does in the film Masked and Anonymous – but rather revenge on an ex-lover of his girlfriend if we see all his songs.

  2. Addition: Also the main character in Room at the top, John Braine’s book, seems to be a gentleman. The image on the cover is from that book.

  3. Hello Tony I really like your review. But I have different thoughts concerning this song. In my opinion the mad scientist is trying to make a new human being before it’s too late. Armageddon is near and the Last Judgment. We as humans have to rebuild ourselves from within. We are on the verge of crossing the Rubicon. This is the point of no return. Julius Ceasar crossed the red river and the era of democracy was finished. This is what is happening right now. There were many theories how to improve society and the human condition but in the end it just doesn’t work. People always will find a way to abuse and bend any ideology to fit their particular point of view. The only way to save ourselves is to love. To rebuild the society on this one principle. It has to start in the family. Parents who love each other and love their children are teaching them the most important skill in life. Because life is only about love. Hence the next song. The songs are connected, like chapters in the book. So let it be Love and Peace instead War and Peace

  4. Has anyone else noticed the first time Dylan sings the words ‘I wanna create my own version of you’ (around 22 seconds in) he stumbles slightly and seems to start saying ‘me’ before deciding on ‘you’. As Dylan doesn’t make mistakes this tiny hesitation seems to say it all. My friends can hear it too – anyone agree?

  5. I think Bob is saying he is going to create his own version of himself instead of the Bob Dylan that others have created for the world; he wants to repossess “Bob Dylan”. It’s like a reincarnation in the sense that he is old now, near death and is fantasizing, perhaps, about the self he’s recreate if he could. But self creation is what we all do, take what attracts us, what we want to emulate, and make a unique hybrid of all these things.

    He visits the monasteries, perhaps not just for the spiritual instruction but it was the monks of the monasteries who revived the lost Classical culture (the classics, Virgil and Ovid, et al, which run through this album more than any other). In that sense, we are all Greeks (our culture is immensely influenced by Greeks of antiquity).

    As for playing the piano like St Paul, yes, it is probably an “insignificant detail” that St Paul didn’t play the piano, so I read the line as Dylan wanting to play the piano LIKE St Paul would have played if he had played the piano.

    I think this album is completely introspective (except for Goodbye Jimmy Reed) and seems to be an “I and I” conversation (where one “I” is the god or some spiritual counterpart of the self, such as a muse or a guide).

  6. this is my favorite song on this record. A great record. im surprised how mellow it is considering how very rocking his 2019 shows were. not saying thats bad. its rather a testament to his genius that he can do things so differently live while working on a new album that has such a different vibe.

  7. Alan Jules – the problem with that comment is that thee is no reasoning given to justify it, for example in terms that Dylan did actually help to get Trump elected, and how one might know that the song actually refers to that. I could equally say it is about Bob’s attempt to build a replica of the man in the moon in his back garden. Or it is about origami. Without both evidence and explanation of the logic used, the statement sort of doesn’t work.

  8. After I’ve listened to this song a couple of times I grew attached to the idea that it’s about the creative process that goes into making art, in Bob’s case songs.

    After an artist creates their work it no longer belongs to them, it becomes property of everyone who also gets to experience it, it becomes “alive,” so to speak. So when Bob is writing a song, he is creating another living being. When he talks about limbs, I think it might mean the research that goes to creating such a thing, quotations, experiences, etc. I also think that every artist has their own idols, the people whom they try to imitate. I don’t necessarily think that Julius Ceasar is Dylan’s hero, but there is no denying that he was a great man.

    I think Dylan realizes that he achieved an iconic status in culture, just like Shakespeare and he talks about that when he mentions immortal spirit. He knows he’ll still be around after his death. And I don’t think he’s criticizing Marx or Freud, but instead puts himself and every artist, maybe even every great person in history in the same group. You can’t possibly predict how your work will influence humanity, you can involuntarily become its enemy or savior.

    When he talks about Troy, I think he is putting himself in this long tradition of creating art, that was here way back before England or America. People were creating art even in the hunter-gatherers’ era, so the assessment is justified.

    I don’t think my theory can explain every lyric in the song, but I also think that sometimes Dylan throws words into his songs just because they sound good together. And I also like the idea that the whole creative process happens in our brains, where the neurons are stimulated by electricity. which nicely agrees with the allusions to “Frankenstein.”

    I think you are doing a great job on this website and I hope it will continue on. Thank you for all your work and stay safe.

  9. Agree that this song is about Dylan’s creative wring process. Dylan has said, as noted in this song, that sometimes writing songs sometimes come very quick and easy, other times it is a process that takes years, or he continually varies lyrics and how he plays songs in performances.

    “ I can see the history of the whole human race” is telling us the breadth of his vision, and “Gonna jump-start my creation to life” are examples of his creative insight and process.

  10. Frankenstein: chapter 6

    The Persian, the Arabic, and Sanskrit language engaged his attention, and I was easily induced to enter on the same studies

  11. A variation on the old joke ‘Why did God create Eve …,because he screwed up the first time

    Bob’s gonna create a better version of humankind ’cause God messed up
    when He tried

  12. ‘I’m longing for that sweet fat that sticks to your ribs’ – Cry A While

    Here: ‘Show me your ribs, I’ll stick in a knife’
    The difference between true and false love.

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