Bob Dylan: Threepenny Shelley Continues (Part II)

Bob Dylan: Threepenny Shelley Continues (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

Said it has been that the wealthy create poverty, but can not stand looking at it:

We should be high, instead of low
But let’s be practical, it isn’t so ….
I’m glad we all see eye to eye
That life’s a bitch, and then you die
(Tenpenny Opera: Life’s A Bitch)

Bob Dylan lets no one completely off the hook of individual responsibility for the plight they find themselves in:

The next six seconds could be like an eternity
Gonna get low down, gonna fly high
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

His lyrics more often than not carry a double-edged message; the individual and the social structure both faulted:

If I had some education
To give me a decent start
I might have been a doctor or
A master of the arts
But I used my hands for stealing
When I was very young
And they locked me down in jailhouse cells
That’s how my life begun
(Dylan: The Ballad Of Donald White)

Even with the waves of the Universe uncaring, the human individual of either sex still has decision-making power (water being power’s Blakean symbol). The NeoRomantic poet Percy Shelley addresses the likes of shifty Miss Lucy Brown, who just wants to be on the side she thinks is winning:

When the dreamer seems to be
Weltering through eternity
And the dim low line before
Of a dark and distant shore
Still recedes….
He’s ever drifted on
O’er the unreposing wave
To the haven of the grave
(Percy Shelley: Euganean Hills)

Sings the songwriter Bob Dylan to Mr. Jinx of the cartoon cells:

I ain’t gonna get lost in the current
I don’t like playing cat and mouse games ….
I always thought you were straight, baby
But you’re drifting too far from shore
(Dylan: Driftin’ Too Far From Shore)

Fortunately, a little help and love from kindly, kindred spirits goes a long way:

Every time I think about him now
Lord, I just can’t keep from cryin’
‘Cause he was a friend of mine….
He never done no wrong
A thousand miles from home
And he never harmed no one
And he was a friend of mine
(Dylan: A Friend Of Mine)

The uncaring sand brings down the foot of pride:

And on the pedestal these words appear
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! ‘
Nothing beside remains. Round the dacay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
(Shelley: Ozymandias)

An updated version addresses the likes of Threepenny’s Knife who has teeth pearly white:

All the early Roman kings
In their shark-skin suits
Bow ties and buttons
High top boots
Drivin’ the spikes in
Blazin’ the rails
Nailed in their coffins
In top hats and tails
(Dylan: Early Roman Kings)

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

I would especially like to thank Pat Sludden for his tireless support and enthusiasm in keeping this project going, plus Larry Fyffe for the articles which take the whole site in new directions.

I am always happy to receive new material for the site and receive requests to look at specific songs from any era of Dylan’s writing – including looking again at songs already reviewed.   I love the challenge.   Email:

Tony Attwood

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