By Larry Fyffe
The ‘dissectors’ are invaluable in these times of Post Modernist literary endeavours where the artist deliberately leaves his or her ambiguous lyrics open to plausible interpretations by listeners and/or readers thereof. Employing both ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, Dylan goes beyond Art for Art’s Sake to popular art ~ for the artist’s own sake, and for the sake of his audiences as well.
Dylan said it best himself: “take what you have gathered from coincidence”. The singer/songwriter/musician makes many allusions, directly or indirectly, to other artists whether poet, painter, actor, novelist, playwright, short story writer, songwriter, or singer. That Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature says it all; surrounded he is by the great Jungian Sea.
So it goes ~ this wave, that wave, every way:
Take the high road, take the low road Take any one you're on (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)
O ye'll take the high road And I'll take the low road And I'll be in Scotland afore ye (Robert Burns: The Bonnie Banks Of Lock Lomond)
Well, the Rubicon is a red river Going gently as she flows (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)
Flow gently sweet Afton Among the green braes (Robert Burns: Sweet Afton)
How does it feel, how does it feel To be without a home Like a complete unknown Like a rolling stone (Bob Dylan: Like A Rolling Stone)
I'm a rolling stone All alone and lost For a life of sin I have paid the cost (Hank Williams: Lost Highway ~ Leon Payne)
He was never meant to win He's a rolling stone And it's bred in the bone He's a man who won't fit in (Robert Service: The Men That Don't Fit In)
Others can be good I'll cut you up with a crooked knife (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)
And you can see the corner of her eye Twists like a crooked pin .... Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life The last twist of the knife (TS Eliot: Rhapsody On A Windy Night)
Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life So thou preventest his scythe and crooked knife (Wiliam Shakespeare: Sonnet One Hundred)
And the dying sun was going down And the night was coming along (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon ~ variant)
Oh, I hate see that evening sun go down For I know I'm on my last go round (Harper/Shirkey: Steamboat Man)
The evening sun is sinking low The woods are dark, the town is too (Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)
Like the sexton ringing the village bell When the evening sun is low (Henry Longfellow: The Village Blackmith)
Tell him that I'm not alone That the hour has come to do or die (Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)
Theirs not to reason why Theirs but to do and die (Alfred Tennyson: The Charge Of The Light Brigade)
The autumn leaves are gone I lit the torch, looked to the East (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)
The falling leaves Drift past my window The autumn leaves Of red and gold (Nat King Cole: Autumn Leaves ~ Prevert/Kosma)
And wander to and fro on the avenues Restlessly, while the wild leaves are drifting (Rainier Rilke: Autumn Day ~ translated)
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being Thou, from whose unseen presence the dead leaves Are driven, like ghosts from some enchanted fleeing (Percy Shelley: Ode To The West Wind)
Couldn't be anybody else but you Who's come with me this far The killing frost is on the ground (Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)
Dangerous woman, demoralizing days Will I adore your killing frost as much (Charles Baudelaire: Overcast ~ translated)
Part II: Here There And Everywhere
The members of the so-called Dissector School of Dylanology (interpreters of Bob Dylan’s deliberately ambiguous song lyrics) are subjected to criticism even by Dylan himself, and members thereof often criticize one another.
The following song lyrics are rather well known:
A smile from your lips brings summer sunshine Tears from your eyes bring the rain I feel your touch, your warm embrace And I'm in Heaven again (Bobby Helms: My Special Angel ~ Jimmy Duncan.
A comparison made to the song lyrics below (very like a ‘murder ballad’, according to Herren Graley):
When the evening shadows and stars appear And there is no one to dry your tears I could hold you for a million years To make you feel my love (Bob Dylan: Make You Feel My Love)
The criticism: “I am not aware of any reference from Dylan to Bobby Helms or My Special Angel”.
But surely Dylan is aware of the song whether he mentions it or not.
The following poem’s well known with lines like:
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly (Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven)
A comparison made to the song lyrics below:
The night blows cold and rainy My love she's like some raven At my window with a broken wing (Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)
The criticism: “The symbolism of the raven in Dylan’s song is completely unclear”.
That is unlike in the poem by Poe where the raven is clearly a metaphor for the narrator’s dead lover; it’s a haunting hell-bird.
But the lover in Dylan’s song is very much alive ~ she’s “like” a wounded bird; expressed through simile; it is she who is suffering; it is she who is haunted … possibly about a pregnancy she ends ~ “The bridge at midnight trembles/The country doctor rambles”.
Poe poetry here … there … but not everywhere.
Dylan Thomas words echo, too:
“The goat and daisy dingles” (Milkwood) with “The cloak and dagger dangles”.
The Dissectors who over-exercise the “Christ” angle in many of Dylan’s song lyrics receive no pity from me.
According to them, unnamed Jesus is represented a lot of times by someone else in Dylan’s song lyrics – sometimes even by a female figure – that’s fine, but, alas, they apply the template too often.
Dylan has a Jewish background.
In any event, the analogy of the Christian Savior gets ploughed into the ground to such an extent that it is no longer makes an impact:
ie, My Own Version of You: “… the narrator seems to take on the identities of both
God and Jesus, as well as that of the creature he’s creating. Ultimately, such changes in his identity are required if he is to be saved.”
“I’ll be saved by the creature that I create” from the song lyrics sounds more like Dylan is determined to resurrect himself as an aging artist by re-creating himself, given that he recognizes that he is no longer the young man that he used to be.