Bob Dylan’s favourite songs 9: Donald and Lydia

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 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

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

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


  1. Groucho Marx catches the deep sadness of lonliness in the same manner:

    Oh Lydia, oh Lydia
    That encyclopydia

    As in:

    Sat the fat girl daughter
    Of Virginia and Ray –

    There’s humor in them thare lyrics.

  2. Isn’t there a lot of loneliness on “Highway 61 Revisited”?
    “But the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff/I’m going back to New York city/I do believe I’ve had enough”?
    “They’re selling postcards of the hanging” is also a very lonely line. Not to mention, “Time Out of Mind”.
    The loneliness in “Donald and Lydia” is, perhaps, the loneliness of feeling unable to connect to another.

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