The Juke Box

By Larry Fyffe

Reverend Dylan simply would not be an ordained vicar were most of his music unaccompanied by words.

He wouldn’t have been able to marry literature and popular music.

There are still a number of analysts who promote the very dubious claim that singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan constructs lyrics to reinforce the feeling that accompanies the ‘meaning’ of a song that’s already been encoded therein by his choice of music.

When, of course, word-sounds are written down as to what their literal and figurative meaning(s) are –  defined in dictionaries; musical notes not so encumbered.

Lyrics and then the music may be created, or vice versa, maybe both together,  but the end product, how the lyrics and music mesh together, is what counts.

Words and sentences can be chosen by an author because of their bare sound, but they are still clothed in meaning ~ meaning that can even be turned upside down when spoken or sung in an ironic tone of voice.

Pre-surrealist poet Rimbaud, for instance, can play with sounds and tropes including assonance, and consonance all he wants while insisting on creating without emotional attachment “art for art’s sake”.

But to some degree or another, the inherent structure of a language, and the meaning(s) attached to its words, demand attention be paid.

Likewise, the innovative Baroque musician Jean-Phillippe Rameau had to contend with the accepted structure of classical instrumental music at that particular time in history ~ though it be not possible to deal with the music in the same manner as with a broadly spoken and/or written language.

For sure, Bob Dylan demonstrates more than once that he is aware of poets like Edgar Poe, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud; symbolist writers who are not musicians, but who focus nevertheless on the pleasing and unpleasant effects of sounds that can be produced through the uttering of words and phrases:

Relationships have all been bad
Mine's been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud
(Bob Dylan: You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go)

Novelists too:

There was music from my neighbour's house
through the summer nights
(F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby, chap.3)

Echoed, albeit more specifically, beneath:

I'm walking through that summer night
The juke box playing low
(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

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