Bob Dylan: The Titanic Tombstone Blues (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

This article follows on from Stuck inside of Halifax with the Tombstone Blues Again

In an exclusive interview at the Untold Offices atop the St. James Hotel in New York City, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan talks about another one of his time-travelling experiences – this time back to the sinking of the steamship ‘Titanic’ in the Atlantic after it struck an iceberg – that he recalls in the song ‘Tempest’.

{The Interview}

Untold –

To whom are you referring in the lines quoted below?:

"Wellington was sleeping
His bed begins to slide"

Dylan –

Not sure. When I first came on board the sinking ship, I thought I heard someone yell, ‘Wellington, never mind the bra. No time. Grab a life jacket.” But it might have been “Willingham” instead, or something like that.

Untold –

Everyone wants to know whom you are talking about in the lines given below?:

"Calvin, Blake, and Wilson
Gambled in the dark
Not one of them would ever live to
Tell the tale of the disembark"

Dylan –

A little poetic licence here and there. Like Davey the Pimp, and Jim the Dandy. And ‘Cal’ refers to the bad guy in the movie “Titanic” – the name’s short for Caledon there, not Calvin. However,  Blake and Wilson are the names of actual people I met on board the Titanic when I dropped in for the visit. There was Bert Wilson, second engineer, who did not survive; said for me to call him ‘Bertie’. There was Helen Wilson,1st class, she survived….I lied about her. She managed to make it back alive after having travelled to Egypt.There was crew member Percival Blake, worked with the coal, who also survived. Known as ‘Nunk’ he was. There was Stanley Blake, son of a William Blake, a short fellow with brown hair, a mess steward; he did not survive. And Thomas Blake, another coal worker, who did not make it either.

Untold –

What about this line: “Leo said to Cleo ‘I think I’m going mad’ “?

Dylan –

Lots of people think I’m referring to the movie actor Leonardo DiCaprio who starred in the movie ‘Titanic” as J. Dawson. No, I ran into my namesake on my time-travel trip; had a little chat with him. Leo Zimmerman, in 3rd Class, headed for Saskatoon. I found out later that he did not survive. A German farmer on his way to visit his brother. I just threw in Queen Cleopatra because it rhymed, and Egypt was a popular place for the wealthy to visit at the time.

Untold –

You spoke with John Astor, the wealthy businessman on board?:

"The rich man, Mister Astor
Kissed his darling wife
He had no way of knowing
Be the last trip of his life"

Dylan –

Yes, in 1st class. He and his wife were headed back to New York after visiting Egypt. He told me to call him ‘John’; sadly, he did not survive though he helped his wife escape into a lifeboat.

Untold –

And the following lines?:
"The captain, barely breathing
Kneeling at the wheel ....
Needle pointing downward
He knew he lost the race"

Dylan –

Here, I’m talking to Captain Edward Smith, and the ship starts really sinking. The captain in the tower didn’t survive, as you know. He told me that he blames himself for the disaster, for steaming too fast through Iceberg Alley –  told me so just before I opened up my communicator, and said, “This is ‘Cupid’ – Scotty, beam me up!”

{End of Interview}

Conducted by myself in secret …

I swear all this is true…

Cross my heart.

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  1. Dylan corrected me and said “He told me to call him “Jack” in reference to Astor… error.

  2. How can you compare lyrics to a song that never ever grows old to a song so filled with doggerel it was barely listenable one time?

  3. Pardon, TT….the Dylan song goes way back to a dirge written by Mize, sung by the Carter Family among others

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