by Jochen Markhorst
- I contain multitudes 1: Two Irish countries at odds
- I contain multitudes 2: To the buried that repose around us
- I contain multitudes part 3: The thrill of rhyming something that’s never been rhymed before
- I Contain Multitudes (2020) part 4: Boogaloo dudes carry the news
V All the people on earth… all you
I’m just like Anne Frank - like Indiana Jones And them British bad boys the Rolling Stones I go right to the edge - I go right to the end I go right where all things lost - are made good again
Understandably, most of the attention for this first bridge goes out to that remarkable combination Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and the Rolling Stones. The Uncut reviewer categorises the triplet as “a truly bizarre set of juxtapositions”. Simon Vozick-Levinson picks out this fragment of text to illustrate that “some of his bons mots are absurd verging on insane,” as he writes in his declaration of love for the song in Rolling Stone, December 2020. The Guardian devotes the first half plus the title of the review to it (“I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones”: Bob Dylan continues return to new songs, 17 April 2020), and on the same day, New Musical Express classifies the unlikely pairing as “another flurry of pan-cultural references”.
And by the way, the Nobel laureate himself likes to throw the spotlight on it too, judging by the hashtag bombardment accompanying the tweet announcing the song: “#today and #tomorrow, #skeletons and #nudes, #sparkle and #flash, #AnneFrank and #IndianaJones, #fastcars and #fastfood, #bluejeans and #queens, #Beethoven and #Chopin, #life and #death.” Well, the PR coolies surrounding the then 78-year-old grandmaster do, anyway – we can assume Dylan is not tweeting himself.
When Douglas Brinkley asks about it, in the New York Times interview of 12 June 2020, Dylan serves him, and the reader, with a disappointingly insipid answer;
“You’re taking Anne’s name out of context, she’s part of a trilogy. You could just as well ask, “What made you decide to include Indiana Jones or the Rolling Stones?” The names themselves are not solitary. It’s the combination of them that adds up to something more than their singular parts. To go too much into detail is irrelevant. The song is like a painting, you can’t see it all at once if you’re standing too close. The individual pieces are just part of a whole.”
Disappointing because, like a politician, Dylan first incorrectly paraphrases Brinkley’s question; Brinkley did not take Anne’s name out of context at all, but literally asked What made you decide to mention Anne Frank next to Indiana Jones? – properly in context, in other words. Furthermore, he does not, as Dylan half and half seems to hold against him, go “too much into detail”. Equally tendentious like a slippery politician is the continuation of Dylan’s “answer”, in which, pedantic almost, he turns Brinkley’s question into the “answer”: It’s the combination of them that adds up to something more than their singular parts. Which is true, of course, but most of all it is:
- a) rather meaningless (what then, pray tell, is this “something more”), and it is
- b) quite an open door (any combination is more than the singular parts – which is usually why we combine singular parts in the first place).
Besides, annoyingly, it is almost literally precisely what Brinkley was asking about; why did you combine those names? The interviewer does drill just a little bit further, fruitlessly, and then lets it go. And right he is: there is, after all, no deeper meaning behind the combination of these particular names – it could also have been any three other incompatible names. And this we know again thanks to this same interview, which apart from this excerpt is of course a brilliant, telling account – the elder Dylan is open, articulate, vulnerable, sharp and, well, wise is the word. The honest part, or rather: the sensible part of Dylan’s thoughts on the merger of Anne Frank with Indy and the Stones is that the creation of that merger occurs in a “trance state”;
“Somewhere in the universe those three names must have paid a price for what they represent and they’re locked together. And I can hardly explain that. Why or where or how, but those are the facts.”
So, I don’t know either. Still not enlightening, but at least relatable. Although it does seem explainable, incidentally. “I contain multitudes,” after all. Illustrating that wondrous identity definition becomes all the more clear by uniting completely incompatible characters. More clearly at least than by, say, I’m just like Goofy – like Fozzie Bear and them Home Alone idiots Harry and Marv, by uniting completely similar characters. It’s the same narrative trick as science fiction author Andy Weir uses in that crushing short story The Egg, the story in which the quasi-godly entity sends the “you” after his death back to a next life, and the you understands that he is multitudes, that he has been and will be every life in all time on earth;
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
… among who was Anne Frank. The image is, in short, simply more penetrating when uniting opposites.
All in all, Andy Weir’s first-person from The Egg can very well explain to Dylan and Douglas Brinkley why or where or how those names are locked together; “All the people on earth… all you. Different incarnations of you.”
To be continued. Next up I Contain Multitudes part 6: All things lost on earth are treasured there
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
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music
- Nick Drake’s River Man: A very British Masterpiece