Bascom Lunsford: The Dylanesque Rhyme Twist (Part III)

Previously in this series:

by Larry Fyffe

In the the song lyrics of ‘Tell Me Momma’, Bob Dylan pays tribute to Bascom Lunsford who records Appalachian folksongs – the surrealistic images in the lyrics below reflect the darkness wrought by love lost:

Ol’ black Bascom don’t break no mirrors
Cold black water dog make no tears
You say you love me with what may be love
Don’t you remember makin’ baby love?
(Bob Dylan: Tell Me Momma)

The innocence of youth gets chased away by the black dog of depression:

Little boy, little boy, where have you been?
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And I shivered while the cold winds blow ….
The prettiest girl I ever did see
Was killed one mile from here
Her head is in the driving wheel
Her body was never found
(Bascom Lunsford: To The Pines, To The Pines ~ traditional)

The images below as black as Appalachian coal:

Oh, what did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
(Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall)

Bob Dylan highlights Lunsfordian references with Dylanesque “rhyme twists” – ‘poor’/’x’:

Jesse James was a man
And a friend to the poor
Little did he suffer men’s pain
With his brother Frank
He robbed the Chicago Bank
He stopped the Glendale train
(Bascom Lunsford: Poor Jesse James ~ traditional)

As he does in the lines following -‘poor’/’door’

John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor
He travelled with a gun in every hand
All along the countryside
He opened many a door
But he was never known to hurt an honest man
(Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)

Another example – ‘wine’/’x’:

No I don’t like a railroad man
If it’s a railroad man, they’ll kill you when he can
Drink up your blood like wine
(Bascom Lunsford: I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground ~ traditional)

Dylan, the poetic alchemist, conjures up -‘wine’/’line’:

Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine
(Bob Dylan: Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

There’s the Appalachian romantic theme of the human spirit rebelling against a disconnect between it and Mother Nature, akin to the writings of William Blake and Leo Tolstoy – capitalist technology, the steel-driving hammer and the iron-horse locomotive, be the tools of the ‘devil’:

Ain’t no hammer in this mountain
Out rings mine, baby, out rings mine
Well, this old hammer it killed John Henry
It didn’t kill me, baby, couldn’t kill me
(Bascom Lunsford: Swannanoa Tunnel ~ traditional)

Bob Dylan’s train of thought tends to be loaded with the dark images taken from the traditional songs that are recorded by Lunsford:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night wind blows cold and rainy
My love, she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Images that reflect the loss of red-hot love and, with it, peaceful mountains of green.

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  1. No, I don’t like a railroad man
    But the railroad man, they’ll kill you when he can
    And drink up your blood like wine

  2. I’ve noted elsewhere that Dylan sings ‘Cold black glass” – not “Old black Bascom” so the tribute in not likely a direct one as asserted above by me in regards to “Tell Me Momma” though most written down lyrics do say it’s ‘Bascom’.

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