by Larry Fyffe
Clowns get away with criticizing the harmful effects of accepted social norms by using exaggerated humour, i.e., Charlie Chaplin’s movie, ‘Modern Times.’
Bob Dylan is more serious in his condemnation of ‘society’s pliars’, but likewise offers little except a vicarious venting off of steam to his listeners: little is revealed concerning what to do about the existing problematic social, political, and economic conditions.
“They’re selling post cards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports
The beauty parlour is filled with sailors,
the circus is in town”
The military with its special passports, dressed-up sailors, and public executions are just part of one big circus.
Dylan sees himself as being part, albeit woefully, of the circus parade.
“Ah, you never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you”
(Like A Rolling Stone)
The songwriter pities the plight of both the poor poet, and the clown.
“Heard the song of the poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of the clown who died in the alley”
But Dylan takes a rather Existentialist perspective of the situation. There’s really no running away from this circus, and so best to escape by finding what
comfort it has to offer.
“Now when all clowns that you have commissioned
Have died in battle or in vain
And you’re sick of all this repetition
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane”
(Queen Jane Approximately)
Come see the ‘song and dance’ man.
One can’t be too careful these days:
a feeling of resignation might overtake you.
“And if you feel vague traces of skipping
reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind
It’s just a shadow you’re seeing that he’s chasing”
(Mr. Tambourine Man)
Perhaps religion is a way out, but no, to Dylan, it’s organisational structure is but a dark shadow of that same circus.
All dressed like men
Tell your mama not to worry
They’re just my friends”
(Obviously Five Believers)
The Discussion Group
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The Chronology Files
These files put Dylan’s work in the order written. You can link to the files here