by Jochen Markhorst
- Country Pie (1969) part 1: People try and read so much into songs
- Country Pie (1969) part 2: Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
- Country Pie (1969) part 3: I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie
- Country Pie (1969) part 4: Sugar and spice and all things nice
V It’s weird, man
Saddle me up my big white goose Tie me on ’er and turn her loose Oh me, oh my Love that country pie
The second most famous goose rider of all time is probably Nils Holgersson, the hero of Selma Lagerlöf’s irresistible 1906 children’s book. But then again, he does not ride a “big white goose”. First, Nils himself is magically reduced to the size of Tom Thumb by an angry gnome, and the goose he subsequently mounts, Mårten, is anything but “big”; he is the smallest and youngest gander on the farm. No, for that “big white goose” we will have to go to the most famous goose rider of all, to the other side of the world.
The Hindu gods all have their own vahana, an animal of their own that is their companion and means of transport, usually blessed with supernatural qualities. Vishnu has his eagle, Bhairava a dog, and Lakshmi travels on her own owl. And the God-Creator himself, the Supreme Being who created all these animals, fish and birds, Brahma, chooses for himself a big white goose – because geese can separate water from milk. Brahma sees this as a metaphor for being able to distinguish fact from fiction, lie from truth – which makes the goose good company.
We could even, with some creative wishful thinking, find a source, or rather: an inspiration for this, for the identification of Dylan’s protagonist with Brahma. Hermann Hesse’s Siddharta is obvious, and confidant Allen Ginsberg, too, is quite fascinated by Eastern wisdom and Hindu philosophy in these years, larding his poetry with Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, Vedic mysticism and Sanskrit;
Parallels: in Montmartre Rousseau daubing or Rimbaud arriving, the raw Aether shines with Brahmanic cool moonshine aftertaste, midnight Nostalgia
… he writes, for instance (“Pertussin”, June 1968) – Brahma and his colleagues are regulars anyway in Ginsberg’s oeuvre between, say, 1960 and 1970. But a third possible source of inspiration, though anecdotal, is even more likely.
Assuming that “Country Pie” is indeed a forgotten relic from the Basement, we could then date the lyrics around the Bauls Of Bengal’s visit to Woodstock and to Big Pink, to Dylan, manager Grossman and the boys from The Band in the autumn of 1967. Dylan is said to be quite enamoured with the Bengali musicians, whom we also see standing next to him on the cover of John Wesley Harding. And that those itinerant storytellers have told Dylan why Sarasvatī is sitting on a swan, and that Suka, the parrot of the green god of lust and love Kamaveda, sometimes turns into four women – quite imaginable.
Images and stories to which Dylan is all too receptive; “Traditional music is based on hexagrams,” an impassioned Dylan argues to Nat Hentoff for a Playboy interview in autumn 1965. “It comes about from legends, bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels – they’re not going to die.” He seems to mean it. Shortly before this outpouring, he is equally inspired in another interview, the interview with Nora Ephron and Susan Edmiston for the New York Post (September ’65), stating in much the same words:
BD: Folk music is the only music where it isn’t simple. It’s weird, man, full of legend, myth, bible and ghosts. I’ve never written anything hard to understand, not in my head, anyway, and nothing as far out as some of the old songs. They were out of sight.
E/E: Like what songs?
BD: Little Brown Dog, “I bought a little brown dog, its face is all gray. Now I’m going to Turkey flying on my bottle.” And Nottamun Town, that’s like a herd of ghosts passing through on the way to Tangiers. Lord Edward, Barbara Allen, they’re full of myth.
Dylan improvises on the spot a lyric variation on the ancient, frenzied “Little Brown Dog”, which he probably learned about through Judy Collins (on Golden Apples Of The Sun, 1962):
I buyed me a little dog its color it was brown Taught him to whistle to sing and dance and run His legs they were fourteen yards long his ears they were broad Round the world in half a day on him I could ride Sing terry’o day
… which Dylan himself will record as “Tattle O’Day” in March 1970, a year after “Country Pie”, again with producer Bob Johnston. In which, by the way, he sticks to Judy Collins’ version of the lyrics – frenzied enough by itself, so no Turkey bound flying bottles.
At the Basement, we have already been able to hear how much those “far out, out of sight” songs then feed his creativity. “Don’t Ya Tell Henry”, “The Mighty Quinn”, “Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread”… songs with simple, catchy melodies, with word games and rhyme fun and above all: with exuberant tattle. Exactly, in short, what we hear here in “Country Pie”, and very much so in this particular verse, in which the protagonist admittedly does not ride around the world on a little brown dog in half a day, in which no dove-luring Eskimos loiter by, no forty-nine bats linger under an apple suckling tree, and in which no herd of moose flies to Tennessee (“Lo And Behold”) – but in which, at least as frenziedly, a protagonist does have his big white goose saddled, is tied on it rodeo-style, and will try to stay on when this big white goose is let loose.
A single tenacious Freudian might still manage to see veiled allusions to sexual intercourse even here, but then risks making himself a little ridiculous. After all, a scabrous interpretation implies comparing our poultry rider’s female counterpart to a “big white goose”. Any erotic expressiveness is thus definitely evaporated, unfortunately.
No, after Saxophone Joe and the toe-crushing hogshead, the nocturnal fiddler, the nine kinds of pie, and now this goose rider, we may finally say goodbye to both the – increasingly hard to follow – “domestic country song” proponents and the “bawdy pub ditty” subscribers. We truly are in the Basement. It’s weird, man, full of legend, myth, bible and ghosts.
To be continued. Next up Country Pie part 6: “A clear statement of Dylan’s present credo”
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic