Bob Dylan And The Three Cranes (Part ll): Washington Irving

Bob Dylan And The Three Cranes Part 1

By Larry Fyffe

Seriously though, the influence of stories by Washington Irving pops  up in a number of song lyrics by Bob Dylan:

While riding on a train going west
I fell to sleep to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself, and the first few friends I had
(Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Dream)

In ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, New Englander Ichabod Crane runs afoul of the traditional Dutch settlers in America who’d rather the Revolutionary War with England would just go away, and leave them in peace.

In “Rip Van Winkle”, an unambitious Dutchman runs off to the mountains to get away from his nagging wife, and ends up falling asleep for twenty years; he completely misses the War of Independence, and the onset of democracy in the Thirteen Colonies.

Akin to the song lyrics below, the Dutchman in Irving’s story wakes up, finds that his dog “Wolf” has disappeared, and returns to his hometown where things have really changed; many of his friends are now dead:

Now the chimney is rotten
And the wallpaper's torn
The garden in the back
Won't grow no more corn
The windows are boarded with paper mache
And even the dog just ran away
(Was Brothers: Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here ~ Dylan/Was Brothers)

The following song directly refers to Irving’s tale:

Where are the men that I used to sport with
What has become of my beautiful town
Wolf, my old friend, even you don't know me
This must be the end, my house is tumbled down ....
And you know that stolen liquor, it was sweeter than whiskey
Many times quicker, just to put me to sleep
That drinking with strangers can be very risky
My sleep it was long, it was twenty years deep

(Bob Dylan: Kaatskill Serenade ~ Bromberg)

The narrator in the song beneath cloaks himself in the persona of Rip Van Winkle:

I ain't seen my family in twenty years
That ain't easy to understand, they may be dead by now
I lost track of them after they lost their land
(Bob Dylan: Long And Wasted Years)

In Irving’s story, the now-awake Van Winkle is asked how he voted, and he declares that he’s a loyal subject of George lll – which does not go over that well.

A persona taken on again in the following song lyrics:

I'm crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length leather coat
Somebody just asked me if I'm registered to vote
(Bob Dylan: Highland)

Beware ‘Dylanologists’ who say that many of Bob Dylan’s songs are written for the sound, not sense – I’ll be a-coming to wake you up.

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 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

Leave a Reply

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