by Larry Fyffe
Often on one level in his lyrics, Bob Dylan explains how he comes up with a song:
Well, I’m a stranger here in a strange land
But I know this is where I belong
I ramble and gamble for the one I love
And the hills give me a song
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)
The song can be interpreted as presenting a Transcendentalist Romantic theme as articulated by poet William Wordsworth – there’s a Spirit that pervades Nature that can be tapped into, and its light inspires a songwriter to consummate a piece of art. In short, the hills provide Dylan with a song.
Practical down-to-earth advice is given in the song as well – good art doesn’t come easy; it’s hard and lonely work, but a traditional folksong from the hills of yore is a time-proven foundation upon which a composer might construct a worthy song.
Alluded to in the lyrics above is the song below:
(Bob Dylan: Rambler Gambler – traditional)
Clinton Heylin who writes books about the songs of Bob Dylan finds it’s ‘incongruous’ that Dylan records a number of his songs in a ‘log cabin’ located in the CBC-TV studios of Toronto, Canada. However, it’s not so strange at all when you consider that Dylan is influenced mightily by the music that flows from the past out of log cabins, lumber camps, and tarpapered shacks of America:
(Fiddlin’ John Carson: Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane ~ by W.S. Hay)
The effect of the passage of time on the individual, on man-made structures, and on his objects of art is expressed symbolically, and somewhat humourously, in the song lyrics below:
(Was Brothers: Alice Don’t Live Here Anymore ~ by Bob Dylan et al)
To jump from themes expressed in his lyrics to what Dylan actually values in his personal life, in other words to go outside of art-for-art’s-sake, is better left to those who associate with him. Many of his lyrics are easy to interpret as presenting a rather Gnostic-like viewpoint concerning human existence – trapped in a dark and desolate world from which it’s difficult to escape into the light for any length of time:
In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light
Where wisdom grows up in strife
My bewildered brain, tolls in vain
Through the darkness on the pathways of life
(Bob Dylan: When The Deal Goes Down)
Alluded to by Dylan is a song written between the two World Wars:
(Frank Sinatra: Still Of The Night~by Cole Porter)
Alluded to also is the rather dark Wordsworthian poet of the American South where it’s said that ‘wisdom grows up in strife’. But the poet points out there is wisdom too found by examining the works of great thinkers and writers:
There be the biblical message of love and light:
And Abram said unto Lot
Let there be no strife, I prey thee, between me and thee
What else is on the site
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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