Bob Dylan And The Tombstone Blues (Part VI)

The series so far…

By Larry Fyffe

In his song lyrics, generally speaking, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan avoids making direct comments about specific politicians – most of the time.

Concerning a Jewish American senator who’d run for US president (and lose) against Lyndon Johnson, Bob Dylan writes the  humorous lines quoted below:

Now I'm liberal, but to a degree
I want everybody to be free
But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door, and marry my daughter
You must think I'm crazy
(Bob Dylan: I Shall Be Free No. 10)

Nixon is not mentioned by name in any of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics, but it’s not much of a stretch to consider that he’s the President who stands naked.

President Bill Clinton is not directly mentioned either in any of his song lyrics, but Dylan performs “Chimes Of Freedom” at Clinton’s inauguration concert so it’s reasonable to assume that the  newly-elected President’s political position is not anathema to the singer/songwriter:

Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned, and forsaked
Tolling for outcast, burning constantly at stake
And we gazed upon the the chimes of freedom flashing
(Bob Dylan: Chimes Of Freedom)

A song that pays tribute to hymn below:

Tolling for the outcast, tolling for the gay
Tolling for the millionaire, and friends long passed away
But my heart is light and gay as I stroll down old Broadway
And listen to the chimes of Trinity
(Peerless Quartet: Chimes Of Trinity ~ MJ Fitzpatrick)

Keeping with the political agenda, First Lady Hillary Clinton gives an address at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland; at the time my first cousin Trevor Smith (son of my mother’s brother), is Vice-Chancellor there; he makes the introductory remarks (see:11/O2/97 video at C~Span, ‘Northern Ireland Peace Process’). The Clinton sex scandal is yet to break; Dylan’s constant concert touring stopped because of a medical problem.

In the lyrics below, it might be suggested the ‘Uncle Bill’ refers to Clinton, and  that ‘Uncle Tom’ is Obama in the White House who slavishly carries on a Clinton’s political agenda beneath Capitol Hill in Washington:

Uncle Tom still working for Uncle Bill
Scarlet Town is under the hill
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

Seems a nasty stretch, however, in that Dylan and Obama have a personal connection – Dylan performs “The Times They Are A-Changing” at Obama’s celebration of the civil rights movement in the White House (later receives the Medal of Freedom there from the same President):

Come senators, congressman
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
(Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changing)

In his so-called “Christian phase”, Dylan writes some lyrics that can certainly be construed as ‘right wing’, but he returns to the idealism engendered by the presidency of John Kennedy – a mythical paradise that is lost with his assassination:

Your brothers are coming, there'll be hell to pay
Brothers? What brothers? What's this about hell?
Tell them, "We're waiting, keep coming"
We'll get them as well
(Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)

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  1. Dylan directs his humour at presidents of all stripes but in later times it’s taken by many listeners as symbolic in the particular and unique case of Nixon’s political behaviour regarding the Watergate exposure in spite of the time when it was written …so I agree it’s not originally a poke specifically at Nixon.

    That’s why I said ‘It’s not much of a stretch’ though a stretch it be.

  2. Nevertheless less I agree that I should have said that it’s LBJ who stands naked because of his actions in Vietnam

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