Bob Dylan And Harold Pinter part 1

By Larry Fyffe

In the empty lot where the ladies play 
       blindman's bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they speak of escapades out on the 'D' train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it's him or them that's insane
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Though not by any means as angry as “the angry young men” writers, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is aware of their semi-realistic, lower-class imagery. Akin to the already mentioned ‘Victory, An Island Tale’ by Joseph Conrad there is the dark-humoured and symbolic play ‘The Birthday Party’ by Harold Pinter.

Seemingly a fragmented dream by the householder’s lonely wife, the play focuses on a birthday party for the child-like adult boarder Stanley Webber to which two gangster-like strangers come. MacCann and Goldberg turn the should-be happy occasion into a Halloween nightmare; Stanley,  once a piano player, receives a toy drum from a vulgar young gal, and is subjected to taunting and exhausting questions like, “Why do you pick your nose?” In the mixed-up whiskey confusion, a game of ‘blindman’s bluff’ is played. The lights go out. Eyeglasses broken, Stanley turns violent, and sexually attacks the girl; the two strangers restrain him. Unknown to the householder’s motherly wife, Stanley is taken away in a black limousine.

‘The Birthday Party’ is rather Deconstructionist and Nietzschean in character in that it can be interpreted that the hypocritical master class and their priests keep a strong hold on the social order. Shouts the householder as the boarder is led away, “Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do”.

Another song lyric that shows a symbolic kinship to those found in Pinter’s play:

Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween, buy her a trumpet
And for Christmas, give her a drum
(Bob Dylan: She belongs To Me)

There’s the ominous black limousine in the following lyrics:

Tommy, can you hear me
I'm the Acid Queen
I'm riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
Riding in the backseat next to my wife
Heading straight on in to the afterlife
(Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)

In Pinter’s play, sex becomes a sign that one is on their way down the road to death; so Stanley tries to avoid it; Nietzsche considers sex a means whereby women exercise their ‘will to power’ in a society that is dominated by men:

Well your railroad gate, you know I just can't jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard you see
I'm just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
But where are you tonight sweet Marie
(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

Male sexual frustration again expressed in the following song:

Sad-eyed lady of the Lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I put them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

The male in turn attempts to exercise his will to power through economic control:

Well, you better fix it ma
You gotta fix it ma
You better fix it for me real quick
Because I'm outside your gate
If you wanna get along with me
(Bob Dylan: Fix It Ma)

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