By Tony Attwood
Why does Bob have this thing against the space exploration programme? Why does he believe that we are all doomed?
While such a belief comes, I guess, out of both the Old and New Testament, when those are removed from the equation, I find it hard to grasp what can lead him to this conclusion.
Like all living creatures we have evolved (unless of course you are a creationist in which case we were created as we are and the work of Darwin and the whole notion of the endlessly modified DNA is a fairy story), and we evolve by exploring, experimenting, challenging, trying, doing. If we stop that a large part of our humanity goes.
Now of course that sort of experimentation could well become our downfall as we bring back to earth an alien virus that does us all in, but even so, does that risk mean we should not experiment?
It is the fundamental difference between the era before the 16th century when all knowledge was that which was in the Bible, and thereafter when men like Copernicus and Galileo observed and theorised, without being restricted by the Christians, except when forced to recant as for example was Galileo.
Turning back the clock and stopping scientific exploration seems impossible – and to me unreasonable. I want modern medicine to be available to myself and my family. And actually I am interested in what it is that holds galaxies together and what forces the universe to expand ever faster. Oh and I quite like the fact that my house stays warm in winter, and I can play my Bob Dylan CDs while typing this on my PC.
So in this song I am not with Bob at all.
Man thinks ’cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please
And if things don’t change soon, he will
Oh, man has invented his doom
First step was touching the moon
OK, it’s Bob’s point of view, and I just don’t get it at all. And why should I? He’s not writing for me after all. He’s got this woman who pops up in the chorus, and … well, I don’t know.
It is of course possible that mankind is
hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies
but actually that’s not right, because the scientist (if we are still speaking about the scientist) is the last person who just believes his eyes. If I look across a football pitch and see a man at the other end of the pitch looking 2 inches tall, I don’t think he has shrunk – I don’t believe my eyes only, because I accept the scientific explanation that there is a thing called perspective. And I know we have perspective because it gives an evolutionary advantage. We can take in and understand the distance, and see events far away as one unit, and we can deal with the person or animal right up close to us.
So by the time we get to
Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way
I’ve lost it.
I have read the interpretation that says this is what you get with a Godless world. Man just does his own thing and in the end blows it all up. Maybe, and certainly looking at climate change (in that I do not follow the official line of President Trump that it is all an invention of the wind farm industry and natural causes) it could be true. Yes, some days I fear for the future my grandchildren will have.
But I also know Bob has talked about his disapproval of the space exploration programme.
I do appreciate that
Now he worships at an altar
Of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
is a reflection of man’s ability to destroy himself, but it is not all a matter of philosophy and prayer. At least not in my book.
Anyway, if you are interested, there is a studio version on line
http://www.veoh.com/watch/v96835863AcNpWqAJ – which looks to me like it is mimed.
The Letterman TV show version is more fun. Here are three songs including Licence
Or if you prefer just Licence on its own.
As for the music, yes it is a very effective and clever use of primarily just three chords (C, Am, G, and later F) with a D minor thrown in, in the middle 8. But somehow the music doesn’t redeem the lyrics, and the lyrics don’t uplift the music.
And what Dylan said, at a concert in January 1986 in Sydney, really didn’t do anything to make me fell better about the piece:
“These people had no business going up there. Like, there’s no enough problem on Earth to solve. So I want to dedicate this song to all those poor people, who were fooled into going up there.”
Fooled Bob? No, they were scientists. And without the scientists you wouldn’t have a microphone. Or a pain killer for a headache. Or a recording studio to work in.
The Discussion Group
We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/
The Chronology Files
There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.
- Dylan songs of the 1960s
- Dylan songs of the 1970s
- Dylan songs of the 1980s
- Dylan songs of the 1990s
- Dylan songs of the 21st century
All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there