Bob Dylan: The  False Prophet with Frederick Nietzsche’s arm


By Larry Fyffe

In his song ‘False Prophet’, Bob Dylan grabs hold of Frederick Nietzsche’s arm, and searches for meaning in life:

Well, I'm an enemy of treason
An enemy of  strife
I'm the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain't no false prophet
I know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

Pays tribute to a melancholy singer:

Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely know this feeling ain't right
There goes my baby, there goes my my heart
They're gone forever, so far apart
(Roy Orbison: Only The Lonely ~ Melson/Orbinson)

The song pays tribute to those happier, to rocknroller Ricky Nelson who sings about Mary Lou; the blues singer Pearl Bailey stars in the Broadway musical ‘Hello Dolly’:

Hello, 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 too
(Bob Dylan:False Prophet)

Hermes and Persephone are the guides to Hades, the mythodical underworld:

Hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou, I'm so in love with you
I knew Mary Lou, we'd never part
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
(Ricky Nelson: Hello Mary Lou ~ Pitney/Mangiaracina)

To the movie anti-hero Robert Mitchum attention is paid; ie, “Rachel And The Stranger”:

Hello stranger
A long goodbye
You ruled the land
But so do I
You lusty mule
You got a poison brain
l'll marry you to a ball and chain
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

The movie features the following song about a lusty mule who’s after a Mary Lou: the womanizing stranger leaves after the husband starts to appreciate wife Rachel:

Once there was a man, a hateful man
Had a wife, but didn't see the danger
'Till one day, one fateful day
Along long came a tall dark stranger
(Robert Mitchum: Tall Dark Stranger ~ (Webb/Salt)

“The Long Goodbye” is a pastiche on the ‘noir’ detective movies starring Humphrey Bogart; features the following song:

There's a long goodbye
And it happens every day
When some passer-by
Invites your eye
To come his way
Even as you smile a quick 'hello'
(Clydie King: Long Goodbye ~ Williams/Mercer)

In the Humprey Bogart movie “The Treasure Of Sierra Madre”, greed takes its toll; the bandits kill Bogart at the water hole; thinking that the gold dust is sand they throw it away:

Put out your hand
There's nothing to hold
Open your mouth
I'll stuff it with gold
Ah, you poor devil, look up if you will
The City Of God is there on the hill
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

The song  pays tribute to adventure stories of hardship and romance; ie, Jack Livings’ “Mountain Of Swords Seas Of Fire”:

I search the world the 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 mountain of swords on my bare feet
(BP Bob Dylan: False Prophet)


I'll eat when I'm hungry
I'll drink when I'm dry
If hard times don't get me
I' ll lay down and die
(Tex Ritter: Rye Whiskey ~ traditional)

Lines also in:

I eat when when I'm hungry
I drink when I'm dry
And Iive my life on the square
Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

As Dylan so often does, the singer/songwriter from the North Country has a little fun at the expense of interpreters of his lyrics – Freudians, for example:

What are you looking 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

Or is it that King Solomon actually likes his country pie:

A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters
And  streams from Lebanon
Awake, O north wind, and come thou south
Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out
Let my beloved come into his garden
And eat his pleasant fruits
(Song Of Solomon 4: 15,16)

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  1. Since Dylan has recently recorded three (or five!) albums of songs associated with Sinatra, I’m sure Frank was also on his mind when he wrote about ‘only the lonely’.

  2. Yes indeed:

    “Each place I go only the lonely go” by Heusen/Cahn

    sung by Sinatra closely matches

    “I go where only the lonely can go”

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