Bob Dylan And The Murder Ballad

by  Larry Fyffe

Characteristic of the Post-Modern literary style, here’s Bob Dylan, singer / songwriter / musician, in the basement, mixing up the modern musical medicine show with the traditional murder ballad.

Below a murder ballad of yore:

She took him by his long yellow hair
And also by his feet
She plunged him into well water where
It runs both cold and deep
(Bob Dylan: Love Henry ~ traditional)

Rendered from a different perspective in the following lyrics:

She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He's pulling her down, and she's clutching on to his long golden locks
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

The lines beneath from a murder ballad:

Well, Brady, Brady, Brady, well you know you done wrong
Breaking in here while my game's going on
Breaking down the window, busting down the door
Now you're lying dead on the barroom floor
Well, you been on the job too long
(Bob Dylan: Duncan And Brady ~ traditional)

Given a different slant in the following lyrics:

I'll suffer in silence, I'll not make a sound
Maybe I'll take the high moral ground
Some enchanted evening, I'll sing you a song
Black rider, black rider, you've been on the job too long
(Bob Dylan: Black Rider)

Perhaps, the low moral ground be taken in the lyrics beneath:

She screamed 'til her face got so red
Then she fell on the floor
And I covered her up, and then
Thought I'd go look through her drawer
(Bob Dylan: Fourth Time Around)

Another murder ballad (‘penknife’ being short for ‘penny knife’):

This Brown girl had a little penknife
Which was both keen and sharp
And betwixt the short ribs and long
She pricked fair Eleanor to the heart
(Bob Copper: Lord Thomas And Fair Eleanor ~ traditional)

The murder motif in the song above reflected in the one below:

Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn't even blink
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

In the following lyrics, the deadly theme rendered more in traditional style:

Then she raised her robe, and drew out her knife ...
Then she pierced him to the heart, and his blood did flow
(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

You can read details of some of recent series on the home page of this site and on the indexes at the top of the page by the picture of Bob Dylan.

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