By Tony Attwood
Once again we have two versions recorded, but we seem to have got the same recording on both the original Basement Tapes double LP and the Volume 11 CD where the song is “restored” which apparently means without additional reverb and twiddles that were put into the LP version by an enthusiastic record company engineer upon its release.
The song is presumably making fun of the psychedelic mode of writing that was dominating the era when the song was written, and yes it does that. But the trouble with nonsense words is that ultimately they remain nonsense unless they have a little something behind them.
Sometimes they can work, but generally only when there is some hint of some reality underneath, as with the classic English medieval folk song “Nottamun Town”. If you consider that for a moment you’ll perhaps see what I mean…
- Met the King and the Queen, and a company more
Come a-walking behind and a-riding before
Come a stark naked drummer a-beating the drum
With his hands on his bosom, come marching along.Sat down on a hard, hot cold frozen stone,
Ten thousand stood ’round me, yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hands for to keep my head warm,
Ten thousand got drowned that never was born.
(There are many versions of this song – this is just one selected at random).
There is no sense here, but there is a feeling of some sort of contrary reality lurking just out of reach.
Dylan however gives us two alternating chords, a lovely syncopated piano background rhythm and lyrics that start…
Well, the comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus
The poor little chauffeur, though, she was back in bed
On the very next day, with a nose full of pus
Yea! Heavy and a bottle of bread
There simply isn’t anything to latch on to here in these lyrics – it is all just abstractly weird. And that’s the problem; the totally abstract is very hard to take to one’s heart, what we need is some semblance of reality or obvious contradiction to hang on to when listening to a song.
A visual artist can of course do total abstract because one can look at the painting for as long as one likes, but with the song, it has its own time scale and progression, and it is that which seems to demand something that makes some sort of sense or absolute contradiction somewhere for us to hold on to.
Dylan however won’t give us any of that. He gave us plenty to try to hold on to in (for example) Subterranean Homesick Blues, but here, no, there’s nothing.
It’s a one-track town, just brown, and a breeze, too
Pack up the meat, sweet, we’re headin’ out
For Wichita in a pile of fruit
Get the loot, don’t be slow, we’re gonna catch a trout
Now, pull that drummer out from behind that bottle
Bring me my pipe, we’re gonna shake it
Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
Take me down to California, baby
After that, with no variation at all we get the first verse again, for no reason that can be discerned, and there we are.
Interesting music that perhaps with different words it could have taken us on a different journey, but here there seems to be no journey at all.
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 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.
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