‘Why does he keep saying everything twice to me?’

By Orlando Pascal

'You know he keeps on saying everything twice to me.'
Doubling, doubles and the mirror in Rough and Rowdy Ways.

In Pickpocket (1959) by Robert Bresson, the director likes to fill the screen with doubles.  If he has a circle on the left side of the screen, he will place a circle, or two, on the right side. A woman’s hat from behind is circular, balanced by a man looking through binoculars.  He ends scenes with an open doorway and begins the next scene with a different open doorway.  This doubling or mirroring is a technique also used in literature and music, such as the phrase and response in Schubert or Mozart, or in the writings of Dostoyevsky, who is particularly fond of inserting doubles.

The Grandaddy of doubling however must be Shakespeare and the work in which mirror images figures most is Hamlet, a play  which not only supplies the name for ‘Murder Most Foul’ but also for part  of the weft and woof of the fabric of ‘Rough & Rowdy Ways’ which Our Bard weaves into  a unified whole. In Hamlet there are doubles everywhere:  two fathers are killed ;  two sons must  revenge a killing; two kingdoms, Denmark and England (the latter where mad men  who lost their mind would not be noticed as they are so plentiful there); Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two different people yet they seem to be interchangeable.  Arguably the most quoted line, from this play and Shakespeare’s  total oeuvre, is a six word question, five of the words containing two letters and the sixth containing three letters; and two of these words are used twice. The list could go on.

Our Bard too also shows a great liking for doubling and repeating words  especially in the long song Murder Most Foul  and from the first two lines:

'Twas a dark day in Dallas, November ’63
A day that will live on in infamy
President Kennedy was a-ridin’ high
Good day to be livin’ and a good day to die'

'Was a matter of timing and the timing was right'

'We’ve already got someone here to take your place'

'Shoot him while he runs, boy
Shoot him while you can
See if you can shoot the invisible man'

' Business is business, and it's a murder most foul'

'I'm riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
Riding in the backseat next to my wife'

'Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give'

'Freedom, oh freedom
Freedom above me'

'I'm just a patsy like Patsy Cline'

'They killed him once and they killed him twice;'

'Play St. James Infirmary in the court of King James'

'Play another one and Another One Bites the Dust'

'Play "Mystery Train" for Mr. Mystery'

'Charlie Parker and all that junk
All that junk and All That Jazz'

'Play It Happened One Night and One Night of Sin'

'Your brothers are coming, there'll be hell to pay
Brothers? What brothers? What's this about hell?'

'Play Lonely At the Top and Lonely Are the Brave'

These are all doublings contained in just the one song, Murder Most Foul. However there  are also doubles reverberating  within and between the songs, such as these lines from  ‘I Contain Multitudes’:

'Pink pedal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives'

and   ‘Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road’     from Murder Most Foul.

‘Play Down in the Boondocks for Terry Malloy’  is reflected in Key West :

‘Heard it on the wireless radio
From down in the boondocks - way down in Key West’

As well as these literal doublings in one song and also between the songs there are what I will refer to as ‘ghost doubles’.  There are two Hamlets in Shakespeare’s play, a father and a son, and one of them is a ghost. There are hints that the son resembles the father, in character and bearing, and so in the songs there are resemblances and twinnings .  For example, there are two references to Heraclitus  ( who believed in a unity of opposites)  and who is referred to obliquely twice in the songs on this album.  In I Contain Multitudes the line ‘Everything’s flowin’ all at the same time’ echoes the famous panta rhei, which means ‘everything flows’. All is flux.

Heraclitus is also popularly connected to the phrase   ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice’  This is mirrored in Black Rider:

‘The road that you’re on, same road that you know
Just not the same as it was a minute ago’.

‘ Follow me close - I’m going to Bally-Na-Lee
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me’

Bally-Na-Lee refers to the town associated with  the Irish poet Antoine Ó Raifteirí,( who wrote  the lines: ‘My mind is now well satisfied, So walk with me  To Bally-na-Lee.’)

It stands as a kind of Tir Na Nog, a celtic magic land, half in and half out of this world. Thus the very beginning of the album is balanced near the end by another magic isle, that of Key West:

‘Key West is fine and fair
If you lost your mind, you’ll find it there
Key West is on the horizon line ‘

‘I search the world over For the Holy Grail’   must link to Indiana Jones.

The ‘Enemy of the unlived meaningless life’  must admire the examined life.

‘Play number nine, play number six’  Notice, if you flip one of these numbers, it mirrors the other ( a plot detail often used in films).

A particular succinct density of these ‘ghost doubles’  comes in My Own Version of You:

‘Can you tell me what it means to be or not to be
You won’t get away with fooling me ‘

In this couplet is twinned the two opposite Shakespearean characters of Hamlet and King Lear.  The young man, who pinpoints what Albert Camus called the only true philosophic question, and the old  once regal octogenarian, adrift in a world of nothing and nought , abandoned by his fool and reduced to a foolish old man. The once Rimbaud-like  outlaw prince of the sixties is the respected elder King of Literature and contemplates his life his kingdom and the valley below.

A third kind of doubling exist in the songs, where lines or expressions from  his earlier songs throughout the oeuvre are quoted or referred. An example here is ‘The man who fell down dead, like a rootless tree’.  This man obviously should have heeded advice and strapped himself to a tree with roots.

‘I’ll pick a number between a-one and two
And I ask myself, “What would Julius Caesar do?”

He is not here choosing 1.25 or perhaps 1.7. he is choosing either one OR two. That is, do you lead your life selfishly, looking out for number one, or do you connect with another and share life in a meaningful loving  way? Without dialogue there is no community. Caesar looks out for number one.  Walter Benjamin once conceived of writing a book composed entirely of quotations, where the juxtapositions of two or more  seeming unrelated quotes would create a third meaningful and  magical connection. Everything is connected and the whole universe has already been created,  come together; what is the connection between creation and invention?  Does a painter create new colours?  Our Bard is very well read it’s well known, and who’s to say if Benjamin was not one of the stitches used in creating this, his very own version.

What  in the devil can it all possibly mean, all this doubling?  For Bresson perhaps it showed the divide in the main  character of the film, who hovered between being a thief and a saint, finally redeemed by Love.  For Dostoyevsky, who underwent a fake execution and was traumatised for the rest of his life, wondering if he was simply a ghost, it was a way of understanding or at least depicting his separation from life. For Shakespeare, who’s son Hamnet died aged eleven, but left behind his twin sister , in whose face her father could  daily see the eyes or glimpses of his dead son, it nurtured an obsession with twinning, which he turned to superb artistic effect.

Shakespeare sometimes played small parts in his plays and one part we know he played was the ghost of king Hamlet.   When the poet drifts into reverie he is not himself, he is not there, he is not one but two or more. Shakespeare constructed his Wooden O and portrayed the world in all its warlike, treacherous , deceitful , loving mysterious ways.

In Rough and Rowdy ways the poet, flinching at no part of the world he has seen, sees his country divided against itself, one side is red one is blue, one is white  (or pink) one is black, a country built on slavery and genocide which will not acknowledge the fact, a civil war not yet concluded,, a world in violent turmoil devouring its own tail , where relationships have all been bad, but still he’s searchin for love like he did as a boy huddled under the bed blankets  in the wintry north searching the dial for the signals from the warm south. In tales peppered with references to ancient Greece and Rome, world wars, generals and slaves and whippings, like Odysseus he has been blown off course on his journey to Ithaca and lies washed by waves gazing at the horizon line wondering what dreams may come. He  has directed his journey from Bally na lee to Key West not as a straight line, but as a circle in song, a big nought, a big O.

You don’t know me darlin’ - you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
What are you lookin’ at - there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me

Man I could listen to these tales all day.


Untold Dylan

You can find indexes to series linked under the image of Dylan at the top of the page and some relating to recent series on the home page.

Although no one gets paid for writing, publishing or editing Untold Dylan, it does cost us money to keep the site afloat, safe from hackers, n’er-do-wells etc.  We never ask for donations, and we try to survive on the income from our advertisers, so if you enjoy Untold Dylan, and you’ve got an ad blocker, could I beg you to turn it off while here. I’m not asking you to click on ads for the sake of it, but at least allow us to add one more to the number of people who see the full page including the adverts.   Thanks.

As for the writing, Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Although no one gets paid, if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with around 8500 active members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down


  1. Double, double, toil and trouble
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble

    Bobby’s in the basement mixing up the medicine

  2. Dylan may have experimented with the “cup-up” technique, and even claims the rhyme and rhythm is what’s all important, but he is the commander-in-chief of the “doubling-up” technique, and those who claim that many of his songs are just nonsense are, for the most part, unaware of what the singer/ songwriter is doing.

  3. You say, ‘I search the world over For the Holy Grail’ must link to Indiana Jones.

    I tend to disagree. If Dylan is a serious poet, his source could be the legend of Parsifal, who did just that. It is also the subject of Richar Wagner’s opera by that name…

  4. Grail – metonymy for an object of a quest- applicable to all of the names mentioned above

  5. The article writer above apparently cross references ‘False Prophet’ and ‘I Contain Multitudes.’

  6. Turning good guys into their opposite bad guys and vice versa (Levy/Dylan) relates to ideas put forward by the so-called ‘deconstructionists” – however that term is defined or not defined beyond that the meaning of the word ‘evil’ depends upon on what the meaning of ‘good’ is.

  7. Yes Larry, I see what you mean:
    “I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail” – False prophet
    “I’m just like Anne Frank – like Indiana Jones” – I contain multitudes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *