by Larry Fyffe
Bob Dylan becomes aware of English playwright Harold Pinter’s motifs concerning lower and middle class families even before he performs on TV in the “log cabin” for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Philip Saville, a director for BBC-TV, and a great admirer of Pinter’s plays, hires the young singer/songwriter to take part in Evan Jones’ television play “The Madhouse On Castle Street”; it’s about a young boarder who who shuts himself off in his room from the world outside where he considers there be no love, justice , or dignity.
The following song is performed in the Pinter-like play, the dark-humoured lyrics of which contain the alchemic symbol of the White Swan, a bird that stays in contact with the surface of the physical water more than it flies off upward into the spiritual sky:
Tenderly William kissed his wife Then he opened her head with a butcher's knife And the swan on the river went gliding by The swan on the river went gliding by (Bob Dylan: The Ballad Of The Gliding Swan ~ Dylan/et al)
Akin thereto is Pinter’s play “The Birthday Party” wherein Stanley inhabits a Nietzschean world underscored by the supposed basic human urge to find a way to achieve one’s ‘will to power’.
In vain, Stanley attempts to separate himself from that world in a boarding house..
Frederick Nietzsche critiques the Judaeo-Christian religion because it categorizes that basic human instinct as ‘evil’ which Frederick says is simply a ‘resentment’ expressed against those who are achievers by those who possess a ‘slave morality’. Printer declines to take such a detached view of the human condition – deplores the prevailing lack of human dignity in modern times. Indeed, the Nazis latch on to Nietzsche’s views, and completely corrupt them to justify Hitler’s establishment of an unspeakable reign of horror in Germany (There is after all some romantic idealism remaining beneath Nietzsche’s so-called ‘nihilism’).
Dylan often puts on a Pinteresque mask, and conceals his own idealistic “Walden Pond” hope for a better world. Some of the time, but not all that time – as in the song lyrics below:
So many roads, so much at stake Too many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake Sometimes I wonder what's it gonna take To find dignity (Bob Dylan: Dignity)
Alone at the edge of a lake there be no human language spouted by others to contend with; no presence of “The Word” – as noted in another Pinter play:
One way to look at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness (Harold Pinter: Silence)
Even before the above-mentioned play is penned by Pinter, the singer/songwriter, and musician, creates the less explicit-in-meaning lyrics quoted below:
My love she speaks like silence With no ideals or violence She doesn't have to say she's faithful Yet she's true, like ice, like fire (Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero/No Limit)
And these ones, likely in reference to the war-mongering President L.B. Johnson:
Goodness waits behind its gates But even the president of the United States Must sometimes have to stand naked (Bob Dylan: It's Alright Ma)
Dylan’s kindred spirit states that one can find relief in mantra concentrated near silence if one leans how to meditate properly – expressed in the humorous song lyrics below:
Do the meditation, do the meditation, do the meditation, do the meditation Learn a little patience With generosity, generosity, generosity, and generosity (Allen Ginsberg: Do The Meditation Rock - Ginsberg/et al)
If all else fails, one is sure to find dignity at last in the silence of dusty death:
Every nerve in my body is naked and numb I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer It's not dark yet, but it's getting there (Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)
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