Bob Dylan And Charles Darwin


By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan flashes the metaphorical light and dark chimes of Gnostic duality. The singer/songwriter draws upon the ‘brawn-brain’ (physical versus spiritual) theme to create dramatic tension in his song lyrics:

Don’t put on any airs when you’re down on
Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there, and
they really make a mess out of you
(Bob Dylan: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues)

Blame it on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. ‘The Murders In The Rue Morgue’, involves a detective who’s pitted against an orangutan, and the human turns out to be smarter. In another Wilde story, ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’, an Apollonian-like youth, named after mythological Dolus, stays forever young; however, he turns gray in his portrait:

They got Charles Darwin trapped out there
on Highway Five
Judge say to High Sheriff, ‘I want him dead
or alive
Either one, I don’t care’
High water everywhere
(Bob Dylan: High Water; for Charlie Patton)

Some religious fundamentalists may want Darwin’s evolutionary theory dead, but Dylan prefers to keep it alive so he can have fun with it:

The undercover cop was found
Face down in a field
The Monkey Man was on the bridge
Using Tweeter as a shield
(Bob Dylan: Tweeter And The Monkey Man)

Humans nature being what it is, Bob Dylan considers mankind a close relative of the ape:

‘Oh, please let not your heart be cold
This man is dearer to me than gold’
‘Oh, my dear, you must be blind
He’s a gutless ape with a worthless mind’
(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

Persons who get taken advantage of, especially so:

‘Do not let your passion rule
You think my heart the heart of a fool
And you, sir, you can not deny
You made a monkey of me, and why?’
(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

Simetimes, monkeys have a mind of their own:

Well, I sat my monkey on a log
And ordered him to do the dog
He wagged his tail, and shook his head
And went and did the cat instead
(Bob Dylan: I Shall Be Free, No. 10)

According to Dylan, Charles Darwin lends scientific credence to the Romantic metaphor – mankind’s in a struggle for survival in an environment that he’s not suited for:

Every step we take, we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is pilin’ up, we struggle, and we scrape
We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape
City’s just a jungle, more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Darwin gives credence also to the mythology of Eden and the return to the Promised Land:

Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains, and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either get ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the
changing of the guards
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

As noted before, Bob Dylan is not apocalyptic in his outlook, as he is often thought to be. He holds out hope that mankind will adapt to his environment before it’s too late:

Now this is the law of the jungle
As old and as true as the sky
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper
But the wolf that shall break it must die
(Rudyard Kipling: The Law Of The Jungle)

Mankind, sings Dylan, has the brains to break the law of the jungle, and still survive – he can change his mind for the better, and the environment that surrounds him too.

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  1. This argument is so lame and absurd that it provides strong evidence that mankind is the product of devolution.

    It represents a denial of the obvious fact, evidenced by all his albums in the last four decades, that Dylan himself assumes the ‘fundamentalist’ world-view.

    I’d recommend a loud listen to Disease of Conceit, preferably the London ’90 version.

  2. The notion that listening to one track and turning up the volume can actually give an insight into Dylan’s thinking throughout his musical career is, for me, about as daft as the notion that simply asserting that Dylan assumes a fundamentalist world view is some kind of evidence.

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