Dylan Deconstructed: He’s Inside Out, Upside Down, Right Side Up


By Larry Fyffe

You can’t say that singer/songwriter Bob Dylan doesn’t warn his listeners that the train’ll get lost – referencing himself and a cover song by the Beatles, he writes:

Look down your drain pipe
What colour do you see?
It’s got to be yellow
Don’t try to fool me
And don’t it make you wanna twist and shout
When your outsides in (inside out)
And your downsides up (upside down)
Yeah, your upsides right (right side up)
Yeah, don’t it make you wanna twist and shout
When you’re inside out
(Dylan; Lynn: Inside Out)

The chicken Monkeyman is dancing with the brave Godman on a Post-Modern tight-rope that stretches across the Nietzschean abyss. Bacchus – Dionysus is better.

There’s no doubt that in some of his song lyrics, Bob Dylan stands up for the teachings of Jesus, with no sympathy for the devil.

Or is there?

He’s the property of Jesus
Resent him to the bone
You got something better
You got a heart of stone
(Bob Dylan: Property Of Jesus)

Alluding to the Devil himself, Mick Jagger:

There’s been so many girls that I’ve known
I’ve made so many cry, and still I wonder why
Here comes a little girl, l see her walking down the street
She’s all by herself, I try to knock her off her feet
‘Cause you’ll never break, never break, never break, never break
This heart of stone, oh no, no, this heart of stone
(Rolling Stones: Heart Of Stone)

Dylan does not write, ‘I’m the property of Jesus’, but uses the third person instead, and suggests that the Devil gets the best lines, has got something better – a heart of stone. In the above lyrics, Jagger puts on the mask of Frederich Nietzsche’s son of man with a will to power- he’s certainly no son of God.

In the Bible, Jesus Christ claims He’s the ‘Son of Man’, and never calls Himself the ‘Son of God’.

The high priests of the established montheistic order contend otherwise:

Then said they all, ‘Art thou then the Son of God?’
And He said unto them, ‘Ye say that I am’
And they said, ‘What need we any further witness?
For we have ourselves have heard of his own mouth’
(Lukes 22: 70, 71)

Most leaders of Christianity side with the dubious interpretation given by the high priests to those words uttered by Jesus.

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan offers up a bit of humourous ‘low burlesque’ concerning the matter:

I rapped upon a house with a U.S. flag upon display
I said, ‘Can you please help me out, I got some friends down the way’
The man said, ‘Get out of here, I’ll tear you limb from limb’
I said, ‘You know they refused Jesus, too’; he said, ‘You’re not him
Get outta here before I break your bones
I ain’t your pop’
(Bob Dylan: 115th Dream)

Most of the time, but not all of the time, Dylan is rather cheeky. With his lyrics of double-meaning, in songs that seem at first to be purely religious, Dylan stirs in a fair amount of the Son of Man’s sexuality:

I got a God-fearing woman
One I can easily afford
She can do the Georgia crawl
She can walk in the spirit of the Lord
Jesus said, ‘Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come’
He said, ‘He who is not for me is against me’
Just so you know where He’s coming from
(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinkin’)

For listeners of Dylan’s music and lyrics who insist that his songs are autobiographical, there’s lots of room for a humourous interpretation.

What the ‘Georgian crawl’ involves is likely in Ovid’s book series entitled ‘The Art of Love’ that’s mentioned in ‘Thunder On The Mountain’ – no doubt the art is demonstrated by Mary Magdalene; and while Allen Ginsberg isn’t the type for Dylan, the Beat poet attempts to place himself against the young singer; Dylan makes it clear to him where he’s coming from.

Easily missed in Dylan’s lyrics is a lot of irony and humour:

I’ve been sitting down, studying the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want a good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what’s the matter
with this cruel world today
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

Another case in point – In the following song, to many listeners it appears that Dylan panders to right-wing conservativism. On careful listening, one can’t be sure if the song expresses thoughts like those of the ‘backwoods girl’ or the actual thoughts of Dylan (or at least his persona). He’s a trickster:

I had a woman down in Alabama
She was a backwoods girl, but
She sure was realistic
she said, ‘Boy, without a doubt
Have to quit your mess and straighten out” ….
All that foreign oil controlling American soil
Look around it’s just bound to make you embarrassed
Shieks walking around like kings
Wearing fancy jewels and nose rings
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

There’s a slow train of thought coming around the bend – Dylan is not going to be tied to a cross – be a cross tie:

But it do bother me to see my loved ones
turning into puppets
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up
Around the bend

Don’t forget the Drano – it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a drain to cry.

What else is on the site

1: Over 460 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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


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