“Married to my hack”. Bob Dylan’s close relationship with a journalist?

By Tony Attwood

This is another of the “Lost on the River” tracks by “The New Basement Tapes” band.  Details of the origin of the songs, for which Bob Dylan wrote the words in the 1960s, and the band itself can be found in the first review of a song from this album.

This song features Elvis Costello on lead vocals.  Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) all feature on the album.

To repeat one comment from the earlier review, as it seems aposite here, “None of us felt we were dealing with something sacrosanct,” Costello commented to The Daily Telegraph. “There’s a sense of playfulness in the folio. They range from the completely barmy to wonderful, beautiful, well-constructed lyrics that are right there waiting to be sung. We were walking in, all this time later, to find ideas in a box and turn them into songs.”

Here are the lyrics (the video is below).

Five in the morning, she would fix my lunch
Put it in a paper sack
Where I’m headed, I always appreciate it
But I’d rather stay married to my hack

I move like the breeze, and the birds and the bees
That I’ve never been known to look back
I got fifteen women and all of them swimming
But I’d rather stay married to my hack

I move fifteen miles every minute, I’m all smiles
I shoot by my sister’s shack
She’s got some friend who waves at men, a fine little hen
But I’d rather stay married to my hack

I got twelve-wheel drive and an oversized hive
And air-cooled brakes in the back
Candy McGraft’s always good for a laugh
But I’d rather stay married to my hack

I got a pedal to hit and an engine that won’t quit
And a carburetor that won’t crack
Maureen and Milly, they’re a little silly
But there’s nothing that they do lack

I got loose-eyed ladies who never seen a man
Just waiting around the back
Gimme a bottle or someone to throttle
Cause I’d rather stay married to my hack

Hearing the song was for me (and that’s the point of these reviews – they are the personal viewpoint of the listener) an absolute shock.  A shock at the un-Dylan-ness of the music (there’s hardly any melody, and only one chord change.  For while Dylan could work on a single note where he did he tended to vary the rhythm, or play with the chords.  At the same time it is so agressive in its format.

And yes, there is nothing wrong with challenging the listener – I’d always agree that such an approach can be a good idea – but the result of this approach is that the song lasts under two minutes.

The length of a song is not a measure of its quality of course, but the words just come pouring out at such speed that there is no chance really to take them in and get a sense.  And if Dylan’s music is about melody and chord changes then overall surely his songs are about the words.

But to be fair, after a few listens I really did begin to get into this song, although I kept on thinking, “why did Costello decide to run one verse almost straight into the next; why not give the listener a moment to breathe?”  But maybe in the end I got it.

Yet I was also taken back to “Rainy Day Women” – and I am not quite sure why, but I can’t shake off the feeling.  The songs are from the same era of course, and both are about the city and living in the city – but Rainy Day has that relaxed feel of being comfortable in the environment, but this is anything but comfortable in any sense.  This is all hassle – which is what Costello captures completely.

I wonder what Dylan made of it – if you have come across a Dylan commentary on this song do let us all know.

Which now brings us to the key question: what is the “hack” that Bob is married to?

A hack can be

  • A taxi
  • A horse ride
  • A pile of bricks or a wooden frame on which a pile of bricks is placed to dry them out
  • A person who does dull or mundane work – particularly a journalist who just churns out stories at the call of the editor, without thinking about them or working on them.
  • A piece of computer code that provides a quick if not elegent solution to a problem.
  • A strategy for managing one’s time or work more efficiency
  • A gash or wound
  • A rough cut or a blow to another person with a stick
  • (As a verb) being able to do it, to be able to cope with it.  Often used negatively as in “he can’t hack it.”
  • To kick wildly (used in rugby)
  • Gain unauthorised access to a computer (not used at the time the lyrics were written)
  • A painful dry cough (as in “a hacking cough”).

Although I might have missed some American meanings that I don’t know, I suspect those will be, like the computer usage of  the word, not in place at the time Dylan wrote the song.  Which leaves us pretty much with a journalist working in a way that emphasies speed of delivery above quality of content.

I am not saying that is right – particularly as I am English and thus not privvy to all the details of North American slang – but it is as far as I can get.  Unless of course “hack” at this time simply meant “job”.  Your guess is probably a lot more valid than mine.

Here’s the video.

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  1. I really like this track…you are right Costello really captures the hassle of city living. Here is an interesting article on the song…showing Bob’s original hand written lyrics…something interesting becomes clear with this.,, Bob ran out of ideas at the last line and just wrote “ just gimme the bottle and the” and then stops… he didn’t finish it! Elvis came up with the “And someone to throttle “ finish!!


  2. A good question to ask Tony … I have been left wondering what he meant by ‘hack’ and here’s hoping you get a good answer from someone to put up in this place eventually. Good one.

  3. In the US, the term “political hack” has been around for many years, denoting someone who is closely tied to a party machine and will mindlessly do the bidding of the party in return for rewards, often in the form of government sinecures.

  4. Me again …. another thing I wish had happened was Bob actually rcording these tunes …he wrote the words but for once now the tune so I was hoping he would somehow, someday, somewhen do just that … record them and make them truly Bob Dylan songs.

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