F. Scott Fitzgerald And Bob Dylan, The Great Gatsby and Summer Days

F. Scott Fitzgerald And Bob Dylan, The Great Gatsby

by Larry Fyffe

Often thought by music critics to be the disconnected ramblings of a Post Modern madman, Dylan’s song lyrics, as in those presented below, take listeners on a magical history tour, interspersed with with bits of the writer’s personal experiences.

Working as a kind of introduction to another song, the lyrics of following song express Bob Dylan’s appreciation for the emotional and spiritual support he gets from an evangelist religious group when he needs it. He pictures himself back in biblical Eden, Paradise Regained, where his artistic impulse is revitalized by the Christian demi-god Jesus down from heaven and a love goddess from out of the sea:

I was in your presence for an hour or so
Or was it a day?
I truly don’t know
Where the sun never set
Where the trees hung low
By the soft and shiny sea
(Bob Dylan: In The Summer Time)

That Eden doesn’t last long, and in another song, Dylan writes and sings of Paradise Lost. Gone is an empire on which the sun never sets, gone is America the Beautiful, shining from sea to shining sea – that land of the American Dream with its morality-guided ethos of hard work:

Summer days, summer nights are gone
Summer days and summer nights are gone
I know a place where there’s still somethin’ going on
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Dylan first makes historical reference to the arrival of adventurous, hard-working settlers, not afraid of getting their hands dirty – live pigs are included in the cargo – at Jamestown, Virginia where Pocahontas converts to the Christian faith and marries one of the settlers. That brings peace to the colony -she’s a daughter of an Indian chief. All this happens in the days of Queen Elizabeth I when shipwrecks off the American coast inspire Shakespeare to pen ‘The Tempest’:

I got a house on a hill, I got hogs all out in the mud
I got a house on a hill, I got hogs out lying in the mud
Got a long-haired woman, she got royal Indian blood
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Before you know it … time wrap … and Elvis Presley, ‘the King’, and his hounddog ‘Bob’ are living it up, high on-the-hog:

Everybody get ready – lift your glasses and sing
Everybody get ready to lift your glasses and sing
Well, I’m standin’ on the table, I’m proposing a toast
to ‘The King’
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

It’s not hard to see that the American Dream has been corrupted. Outright greed – con games, criminal organizations, and street violence – becomes a big part of modern reality.The singer/songwriter, too, wears hypocrisy on his sleeve; he’s in a ‘summer daze’. He’s drives Elvis’ favourite make of automobile, a conspicous consumption gas-guzzling status symbol of the reformulated American Dream:

Well, I drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls say ‘You’re a worn-out out star’
My pockets are loaded and I’m spending
every dime
How can you say you love someone else
when you know that it’s me all the time
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

It’s the ‘Roaring Twenties’ all over again. Dylan, with black humour, depicts himself rather like the hopeless romantic Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, who endeavours to buy his way into a society that’s structured along class lines. Only Dylan’s character is striving to get his youth back with wealth; blissfully unaware of whether he’s moving forward or backward in time – like a boat in a fog:

Well, the fog’s so thick you can’t spy the land
The fog’s so thick that you can’t even spy the land
What good are you anyway, if you can’t stand up to some
old businessman?
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

It’s a story of sunshine-in-the-sky hopes, and love lost. The flames of Gatsby’s and Dylan’s desire are more secure with their peers; the romantic dream shatters like a wine glass broken:

Wedding bells ringing, the choir is beginning to sing
Yes, wedding bells are ringing and the choir is beginning to sing
What looks good in the day at night is another thing
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Dylan quotes directly from Fitzgerald’s novel:

She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holds my hand
She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holds my hand
She say, ‘You can’t repeat the past’, I say, ‘You can’t?’
‘What do you mean, You can’t, of course, you can”
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

It all seems so rather lightheartedly depressing:

Where do you come from? Where do you go?
Sorry, that’s nothin’ you would need to know
Well my back has been to the wall so long it seems
like it’s stuck
Why don’t you break my heart one more time just
for good luck?
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Even the Christian evangelists let him down:

Politician got on his jogging shoes
He must be running for office, got no time to lose
He’s been suckin’ the blood out of ‘the genius of generosity’
You been rolling your eyes, you been teasing me
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

The doctrine of The Genius Of Generosity is associated with the evangelist church Dylan joins -Time being short, best to invest your resources in the Kingdom of Jesus and prepare for eternity. Frederich Nietzsche calls it ‘the morality of slaves’:

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure pressed
down, and shaken together, and running together, and running
over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same
measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again
(Luke 6:38)

In the above biblical verse, Jesus speaks an earthly parable that conceals a spiritual message. Evangelist leaders know that most of their followers won’t realize what Christ or they are talking about.

But not all. There must be some way out of here, says the Joker to the Thief:

Standing by God’s River, my soul is beginnin’ to shake
Standing by God’s River, my soul is beginnin’ to shake
I’m countin’ on you love, to give me a break
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Dylan has a vision of himself as Joshua, leader of the Jews, standing on the bank of the River Jordon, waiting for God to break the river’s flow so he can cross into the Promised Land of Canaan:

And it came to past, when the priests….we’re come up
out of the midst of Jordon, and the soles of the priests’ feet
were lifted unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordon
returned unto their place, and flowed over all of his
banks as they did before
(Joshua 4:18)

The magical history tour ends in a fiery vision of Waco, Texas, and the
machine gun-carrying false messiah, David Koresh who, not that unlike Dylan’s one-time evangelist leaders, advocates the giving away of worldly goods by his followers. As far as Dylan is concerned, any semblance of human decency vanishes up in smoke there at Waco. That includes the extreme actions undertaken by police:

Well, I’m leaving in the morning as soon as the dark clouds lift
Yes, I’m leaving in the morning just as soon as the dark clouds l
Gonna break the roof in, set fire to the place as a parting gift
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Peering into the Heart of Darkness, Dylan finds everything is broken.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home 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.



  1. A case could also be made that God’s River in the song is the MississippI referred to in another song:

    I crossed the river just to be where you are
    Only thing I did wrong
    Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

    The general theme suggested above still works under that interpretation.

  2. It’s kinda like, you take Dylan songs and then twist them around to make far-fetched connections with either other writers, or as often to fit in with your own very limited and prejudicial view of Christianity.

    It’s actually quite impressive to read, if I was easily impressed…

  3. Kieran – That’s because you make no distinction between the teachings of Christ, and the hypocritical things some ‘Christians’ do while proclaiming they are following his teachings, especially the likes of Koresh and the Davidians.

  4. Larry, you don’t know anything about me, and very little about Christianity that isn’t prejudicial. Why you feel the need to bring this silliness into discussions of songs like Summer Days is beyond me, but you do feel that need…

  5. Dylan’s lyrics have from the get-go been about the consistency or inconsistency between what an individual or organization proclaims to do and what actually happens.
    I appreciate your responses, but Dylan often presents this theme through his songs, and no evidence, supported by the lyrics, do you give to establish an alternative interpretation of this particular song ….it seems to me rather clear that Dylan focuses on historical events in the Southern US in the song and that the reference to the fiery police raid on the Davidian’s Waco compound be one of them.

    I have never attacked the teachings of Jesus but refer to critics who have critiqued Christianity, a religion that later developed and dogmaticized Christ’s parables.

    Dylan writes parable-like too and the best one can hope to do is come up with a cohesive interpretation, realizing that perhaps someone else might come up with a better one

    As I’ve noted, Dylan usually leaves enough room for other interpretations, but mere unsupported opinion will not be convincing, at least to me,

  6. No Larry, the burden isn’t on me to “establish an alternative interpretation of this particular song”, nor is it on you to bring your own prejudices to bear on an analysis of the song.

    You’re fully entitled to do this, but it’s to the detriment of peoples understanding of the song, and to the general tone of this websites articles, which is focussed mainly on Dylan and his songs, and not on any reviewers sophomoric views of Christianity…

  7. Yes, Kieran, if you are going to critize my interpretation as prejudice, it then becomes a burden on you to show that it actually is; your comments indicate to me that you are assuming far too much based on your own religious biases.

    Of course you need not produce any evidence – this forum is not a court of law – but then it appears you are just blowing smoke.

  8. It took on ‘Summer Days’ to counter Attwood’s suggestion it
    referred to Northern Canada, and the clever lyrics to me point in the opposite direction – that the singer/songwriter was actually referring to the Southern States. Nothing you say counters that analysis.

    Why Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize In Literature is what all my articles are about.

  9. PS – Never mind me, you can watch those ‘Genius of Generosity’ talks by money-seeking evangelist leaders for yourself and make up your own mind.

  10. Don’t be too touchy Larry. I enjoy this website for its Dylan-based analysis, but you have an agenda, which is obvious. Where it come to Christianity, your own views are irrelevant, yet they pop up in your writing all the time. You should try analyse the songs from a neutral corner, and not shoehorn in your own obvious prejudice.

    It sometimes feel like you just interpret songs that way, in order to have a poke, which creates bum notes on your part, when it comes to understanding the song…

  11. Kiernan you are projecting your touchingness onto to me; your all-too-obvious orthodox Christian beliefs demand that anyone or anything not toeing exactly your line of Christianity has to have a non-Christian agenda.

    Dylan lyrics above, which you avoid analyzing, speak for themselves as far as I’m concerned; not for me.

    Not every song, poem, painting, or oil-stain on a glass window reflects the face of Jesus.

    If you choose to impute motives onto someone else, then you should expect the same in return.

  12. Larry, I haven’t expressed any beliefs. I’ve only pointed out that yours are fairly obvious, and you interpret songs in such a way so as to be able to express these beliefs.

    It’s no big deal, in the main, but it grates a little when I come here to read about Dylan and his songs…

  13. Your false claims that you know my beliefs ( you somehow confuse the case I make for Dylan’s lyrics referring to US history as reflecting my thinking)gives me room to conjecture what your beliefs are regardless that you say you haven’t expressed them.

    This is not the game I like to play, but you chose it since you avoid addressing the possible meanings in the lyrics of ‘Summer Days’.

  14. Lord Buckley is known for his parody of an evangelistic sermon The Nazz delivered in unfathomable hipster lingo
    but emoted in a rhetorical style that is moving.

  15. In ‘Summer Days’, Dylan also quotes directly from ‘Confessions Of A Gangster’ by Junichi Saga – so how I am making ‘far-fetched’ connections to other writers totally baffles me.

  16. Jay says in the movie:

    ‘Can’t repeat the past. Why of course you can.’

  17. *Should be:

    The doctrine of ‘The Genius of Generosity ‘ is not associated with….

    An evangelistic book by that title came out later so the reference in the Dylan song, if any, is unclear

  18. Correct is:

    I got a house on the hill, I got hogs out in the mud
    I got a house on the hill, I got hogs out lying in the mud

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