Tarantula Files: Zevon and Rip Van Winkle


by Larry Fyffe

Warren Zevon, a singer/singwriter greatly influenced by Bob Dylan.

William Blakes’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” can be taken as a parody of Emanuel Swedenborg’s “Heaven And Hell”; in Blakean poetry, few are capable of escaping from their dark worldly beginnings into the pure light of spiritual heaven.

Bob Dylan’s “Tarantula” can be be taken as a parody of Existentialist writers ~ such as William Burroughs who authors ‘Naked Lunch”;  books wherein humankind’s stuck, like a buzzing fly, on the clueless pages of life and death ~ from which there is no escape.

Existence is depicted as a philosophical spider web –  a snare in which singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan refuses to get caught:

My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now
(Bob Dylan: My Back Pages)

That is, life’s more than mere existence upon a meaningless brink which all mortals sooner or later are doomed to flow over; down into a deep and dark abyss.

Though it might be construed as presented so in the lyrics beneath, life is not designed for those who are zealous hedonists:

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum
Hoist the mainsail here I come
Ain't no room on board for the insincere
You're my witness, I'm your mutineer
(Warren Zevon: Mutineer ~ Zevon/Aldrich)

Nor is life a comical absurdity, albeit it can be imagined filled with Gothic black humour, often involving horrible creatures such as headless ghosts:

And he would have passed a pleasant life of it ...
if his path had not been crossed by ... a woman

(Washington Irving: The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow)

The gothic story above akin to the one featured in following song lyrics.

About a paid-for “freedom fighter”:

They can still see his headless body
Stalking through the night
In the muzzle flash of
Roland's Thompson gun
(Warren Zevon: Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner ~ Zevon/Lindell)

Humorous irony abounds in such Postmodern laments ~ below, both George Orwell and the Committee of Un-American Activities chase after the Little Tramp who’s come down off the silent movie screen:

& you say "no i am a mute"
& he says "no no i've told the others 
you were Charlie Chaplin
& now you must live up to it 
- you must!"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Mysterious for sure the figurative winds of existence be, but, mamita mia, rather dangerous they are for those unwary of the driving force Friedrich Nietzsche calls “the will to power”.

That is, the iron wheels of freedom can just as easily spin in cycles rather than move progressively upward:

And them Caribbean winds still blow 
from Nassau to Mexico
Fanning the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty
On them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that's near to me 
Nearer to the fire
(Bob Dylan: Caribbean Wind)


Rip Van Winkle

Now the chimney is rotten
And the wallpaper is torn
The garden in back
Won't grow no more corn
The windows are boarded
With paper mache
And even the dog just ran away
(Was Brothers: Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore ~ 
     Bob Dylan, et. al.)

Gloomy Washington Irving joins the parade of pilgrims marching to New York City:

(I)t couldnt've been more'n a few hours later
when I happened  to be passing by again
- in the spot where the tree was, a lightbulb factory now stood
- "did there used to be a guy up in the tree?"
I yelled up to one of the windows
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Below, Irving’s sorrowful sentiment expressed headlong in the dust:

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
(Bob Dylan: Kaatskill Serenade ~ Bromberg)

Below be mentioned West Coast Hollywood; and the founder of the Beach Boys:

Play it for Carl Wilson, too
Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue
(Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)

The above quote alludes to the following –  lyrics darkly concerned with the passage of time:

Don't the sun look angry through the trees
Don't the trees look like crucified thieves ....
Look away
Look away down Gower Avenue
Look away
(Warren Zevon: Desperados Under The Eaves)

Which in turn draw upon the somewhat more uplifting lyrics beneath:

Don't the moon look good, mama
Shining through the trees ...
Don't the sun look good
Going down over the sea
(Bob Dylan: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry)

Nevertheless, a horrible ghost, a symbol of death, haunts the land:

Roland aimed his Thompson gun
He didn't say a word
But he blew Van Owen's body
From here to Johannesburg
(Warren Zevon: Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner - Zevon/Lindell)

The ghost oft headless:

Just then he saw the goblin hurling his head at him ...
It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash
- he was tumbled headlong into the dust ...
(Washington Irving: The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow)

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