By Tony Attwood
In our list of Dylan’s favourite songs we come to the second John Prine song. The first was Sam Stone – and as I quoted Dylan saying in that article, “Nobody but Prine could write like that.” “That” in fact was “Donald and Lydia”, another song of desperate, sad, lonely people and all that surrounds them.
I think the key issue with such songs is whether one wants to hear about the lonely and their failures to break out of their lonliness. Which perhaps is determined by whether one is afraid of being alone, whether one is fascinated by why some people are alone, or whether one actually craves being alone for a while.
The point of course is that the lonely have no choice – they would love not to be lonely but somehow don’t seem to be able to break out of it although they just desperately wish they could.
John Prine is able to write about such people in a way that brings home their desperation and in a way that, for example, “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison does not. That is not to say that “Only the Lonely” is not a wonderful song – it most certainly is – but although the lyrics proclaim the singer is singing about himself, (“Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight”), there is nothing within that song that makes the listener share the desperation and total pain and often fear within loneliness.
Dylan’s choice is completely different – this is taking the experience of loneliness directly into the heart, mind and soul of the listener. It is presumably something that Bob Dylan has never and could never feel. If he feels any emotions in this area, it must be the desire to get away from all the people that surround him.
Choosing this song, Bob is, I think, providing us with a vision of a song that he could never write, and perhaps giving us a thought that he would like to experience being totally lonely, just to see.
Small town, bright lights, Saturday night Pinballs and pool halls flashing their lights Making change behind the counter in a penny arcade Sat the fat girl daughter of Virginia and Ray Lydia Lydia hid her thoughts like a cat Behind her small eyes sunk deep in her fat She read romance magazines up in her room And felt just like Sunday on Saturday afternoon But dreaming just comes natural Like the first breath from a baby Like sunshine feeding daisies Like the love hidden deep in your heart Bunk beds, shaved heads, Saturday night A warehouse of strangers with sixty watt lights Staring through the ceiling, just wanting to be Lay one of too many, a young PFC Donald There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said Strangers had forced him to live in his head He envisioned the details of romantic scenes After midnight in the stillness of the barracks latrine But dreaming just comes natural Like the first breath from a baby Like sunshine feeding daisies Like the love hidden deep in your heart Hot love, cold love, no love at all A portrait of guilt is hung on the wall Nothing is wrong, nothing is right Donald and Lydia made love that night Love They made love in the mountains, they made love in the streams They made love in the valleys, they made love in their dreams But when they was finished, there was nothing to say 'Cause mostly they made love from ten miles away
- Bob Dylan’s favourite songs: Death of an Unpopular Poet
- Bob Dylan’s favourite songs 2: Shadows
- Dylan’s favourite songs 3: ‘Desperado Under the Eaves’
- Dylan’s favourite songs 4: Randy Newman: Sail Away
- Dylan’s favourite songs 5: Sam Stone
- Dylan’s favourite songs 6: He Went to Paris’
- Bob Dylan’s favourite songs 7: Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
- Bob Dylan’s favourite songs 8: “Burn down the cornfield”