Bob Dylan: They Killed Him

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan: They Killed Him Part I

They shot him in the back, and down he went
Shine your light
Moving on
You burned so bright 
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

The song lyrics above lament the passing of John Lennon, alluding back to events, such as being trapped in a cave with a man-eating giant – from Homer’s “Odyssey”.

Anti-Establishment John appears at the The Cavern Club in Liverpool with The Quarry Men:

Sailing through the trade winds, bound for the south
Rags on your back just like any other slave
They tied your hands, and they clamped your mouth
Wasn't no way out of that deep dark cave
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

Unlike Odysseus, Lennon roams the streets of New York City undisguised and is gunned down by a Christian fanatic because the Beatle joked that the British band be more popular than Jesus.

Throwing filthy rags on his back like any other slave
He slipped into the enemy's city, roamed the streets
All disguised as a totally different man, a begger
(Homer: Odyssey,  Book IV ~ translated)

To add insult to the death, there are some Dylanologists who claim the elegy to John Lennon refers instead to John the Apostle who supposedly pens a biblical Gospel as well as the Revelation.

The Book of John (5:35) says of John the Baptist: “He was a burning and shining light”, but the last book of the Bible is based on the Book of Ezekiel – both books filled with buckets of flaming coals that are poured down upon the heads of all those condemned as “nonbelievers”.

Blasted in the Old Testament is Aholibah, defiled she is by big-cocked Egyptians and depicted as the whore to Babylonians in southern Israel:

For she has doted upon their paramours

Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses
And whose issue is like the issue of horses
(Ezekiel  23: 20)

So too the New Testament great whore of Babylon now drunken “with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus”:

For all nations have drunk of the wine 
   of the wrath of her fornication 
And the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her
And the merchants of the earth have are waxed rich
Through the abundance of her delicacies

Blasted too a neoBabylon of today – femaleless (no one to blame), under no God’s command, a neighbourhood bully:

Every empire that's enslaved him is gone
Egypt, and Rome, even the great Babylon
He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with no one, under no one's command
(Bob Dylan: Neighbourhood Bully)

The song “Roll On John”, on the other hand, expresses compassion for musician and singer John Lennon who stands for peace, not war.

Influenced by preRomantic poetry, a sorrowful song it is indeed:

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the the night
(William Blake: The Tyger)

Bob Dylan:  They Killed Him (Part II)

‘Tex’ Lennon romanticizes life in the hustle and bustle of New York City; for him, it has the appeal of frontier freedom as depicted in movies about the Old West.

But it’s also New Babylon; the buffalo are killed off:

Rumbling over the tumbleweed
Do we do the battering and tattering of the buffalo
Thundering in wild stampede
Where the buffalo roam
I'll build you a home
A home on the range for you
(Tex Ritter: Home on the Range ~ Hartford/Sanucci/Ritter)

The Britisher ought to have known better; for one thing he should have taken steps to avoid the Sirens.

In the Underworld of the Ancients, John , like the wandering Trojan Aeneas, gets one last chance  – across the river to the right lies Heaven; to the left Hell:

Roll on John, through the wind and snow
Take the right-hand road, and go where the buffalo roam
They'll trap in an ambush before you know
Too late now to sail back home
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

In the movie “Where The Buffalo Roam”, about the failure of idealistic activists in the 6O’s and 7O’s, “Highway 61” by Bob Dylan, is heard, along with the music of Neil Young.

Irony abounds in the following song lyrics; Lennon gets shot down by a Christian:

Slow down you're moving too fast
Come together right now over me
Your bones are weary, you're about to breathe your last
Lord, you know how hard it can be
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

In contrast, Odysseus on his return home to Greece from Troy is given the assistance of the goddess of Wisdom and War; after escaping from an island, he is able to fight off the anger of the sea-god (for blinding his son, the Cyclops), as well as confront any ambushes set by the suitors of his wife Penelope.

The goddess enables the Greek hero to sleep and recover after his ship is wrecked by Neptune:

Odysseus covers himself with leaves
And Athena sheds sleep upon his eyes
So that the night enfolds his lids
And speedily frees his  bones from weariness
(Homer: Book V~ translated)

How dare anyone claim that the Dylan song is not about John Lennon – compared with Odysseus:

How dare they:

In the forests of the night
Cover him over, and let him sleep
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

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  1. *and go where the buffalo go

    ** They’ll trap you in an ambush ‘fore you know

  2. *** in the forest of the night

    */ **/ ***as sung by Dylan (of course, the ‘you’ in the printed version in article
    above omitted due to my mistake)

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