Bob Dylan’s Got A Lot Of Gall
BY Larry Fyffe
Embedded in the language of poetry are metaphors that have roots going back to the days of William Shakespeare, and beyond.
A naturalistc explanation for human behaviour arises to compete with the religious concepts of good (God) and evil (Devil).
Based on the fundamental elements of air, fire, water, and earth, the physical and psychological characteristics of mankind are presented as interactions among four fluid ‘humours’ (sanguine, choleric, phelgmatic, and melancholic) within the body, the ideal balance thereof affected by factors, internal – such as gender and age -,and external- such as a change in season and social circumstance.
Under ordinary conditions, children are considered aery; men, fiery; women, watery; and elders, down-to-earth; these ‘humours’ respectively connect with Spring, Summer, Fall (Autumn), and Winter.
In the song of Bob Dylan, these stereotypical characterizations, listeners find still:
Spirit on the water
Darkness on the face of the deep
I keep thinking about you baby
I can’t hardly sleep …
I could live forever
With you perfectly
You don’t ever
Have to make a fuss over me
On the psychological level, the song’s about the ‘choleric’ nature of the male compromising with the ‘phlegmatic’ nature of the female; in this particular case, he feels the effects of melancholia wrought by ageing, a loss of virility, having become sensitive to the feelings of others:
I want to be with you in paradise
And it seems so unfair
I can’t go to paradise no more
I killed a man back there
The male ego insists, however, that the cold-water of the female is at fault for drowning the fires of summer:
You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time
(Bob Dylan: Spirit On The Water)
Above is Dylan’s variation on the Elizabethan ‘humour theory’ – related poem by Edmund Spenser: ‘My Love Is Like To Ice, And I To Fire.’
A theme Dylan presents more than once:
You don’t want a love that’s pure
You want to drown love
You want a watered-down love
(Bob Dylan: Watered Down Love
The aery, sanguine ‘humour’ flows throughout the body in the bloodstream; it’s youthful masculine enthusiasm associated with care-free summer days. This Elizabethan proto-psychological theory remains in the metaphoric diction of modern poetry and song lyrics to this very day:
Well, I don’t need no money
I just need a day that’s sunny
My days are gonna come ….
Well, I tell you little lover
That you better run for cover
‘Cause babe, I’ll do it all over you
(Bob Dylan: All Over You)
Again, in the following lyrics, the self-centred urge for immediate, selfish gratification:
Saddle me up on my big white goose
Tie me on’er, turn her loose
Oh me, oh my
Love that country pie
(Bob Dylan: Country Pie)
The aery ‘humour’ circulating in the female body carries with it love and compassion:
Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
And how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
(Bob Dylan: Blowin’ In The Wind)
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. Also a list of the most read articles on this site.
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.
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.