The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour part 3: I contain multitudes

On this recording from the 2021 tour, the song starts at 9 minutes 20 seconds and ends at 14 minutes 34 seconds.  If I have got the technology right it might actually open automatically at that point, but if not, you can skim along to find the start at that time.

The title of the song is taken from Section 51 of the poem that eventually became known as  “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, although the line has been used by Bob Dylan himself (he quoted it in 2019).  And indeed others have used it about him quite often over the years to reflect the multiple versions of himself that Dylan has presented in his recordings and performances.

So the phrase is well known, and of course is used by many others as well.  Ed Young published the book “I contain multitudes” in 2016, for example, but it is nothing to do with Whitman or Dylan – that one is about microbes.

To me this performance, slowing the concert down so close to the start, is as much a strong statement by Dylan about himself and the never ending tour (the name he so fervently denies) as anything else, and its position here does suggest Bob wants to offer us a clear link between his vision of life and that of Walt Whitman.

Of course the approach to the lyrics is not that of Whitman, but we might pause for a second to remember the opening of “Leaves of Grass”, perhaps the most well-known Whitman work…

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I know from conversations that I’ve had that of course not everyone sees the link between those lines and the opening of “Multitudes” nor the link with the Whitman lines…

The smoke of my own breath,
Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers
as being something Dylan could have been influenced by but it feels that way to me when I hear
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feudsI contain multitudes.
Plus of course I am not the first person to suggest there is a mix of playfulness and bitterness here.  Just remember the ending…
I'll keep the path open, the path in my mindI'll see to it that there's no love left behindI'll play Beethoven's sonatas, and Chopin's preludesI contain multitudes

If you have ever devoted a bit of your life to mastering just one of the 32 classic piano sonatas, or the 24 preludes I think maybe you’ll get this.  Unless you are an ultimate genius performer on the piano, working to perfect a performance of a single one of those pieces takes one into a new world.   On the other hand having achieved it one might also say, “It’s life and life only”.

One comment

  1. My wife uses the piano and I use the record player, but we both play Beethoven’s sonatas. Chopin’s preludes too.

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