Bob Dylan: Marshall McLuhan Don’t Live Here No More (and there’s no time to think)

By Larry Fyffe

According to preRomantic poet William Blake, taking his cue from ancient Greek ‘psychology’ (based on the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water), contempory Western society is out of tune with the Universe because the air, its ‘spirit’, succumbs to the domination of sexless Reason, known as the Age of the Enlightenment.

Jump ahead in time a bit, and Marshall McLuhan expands on William Blake’s ‘psychology’: McLuhan concludes that with the invention of mass-producing printing press, the sensual concentration is on the eye – the new technology creates a media that focuses on structuring a consumer-oriented here-and-now.

Says McLuhan, then along comes the Electronic Age – the telegraph, the telephone, the television – everything moves fast – the ear is back, but there’s still no connection with the past, and everybody and everything gets blown away; there’s no time left for you and there’s no time left for me.

However, argued it can be that up jumps a bunch of contemporary artists who rebel against the status quo – not in the manner of Romantic print-media writers because straight-line Reason’s been shattered, and broken to bits. Rather the artists rally against those who control contemporary culture, and they attempt to seize Big Brother’s ‘deconstructive’ electronic weapons for themselves.

The artist find himself in oxymoronic times where he tries to be a trusted daddy, a Shakespeare in the bowling alley – atrempting to gain immortality:

In death, you face life with a child and a wife
Who sleepwalks through your dreams into walls
You’re a soldier of mercy, you’re cold and you curse
‘He who cannot be trusted must fall’

(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

There’s a lonely crowd outside walking on the quick-moving city streets; everybody knows they’re a disposable pawn in a Big Man’s game:

Loneliness,  tenderness, high society, notoriety
You fight for the throne and you travel alone
Unknown as you slowly sink
And there’s no time to think

Everything’s mixed-up confusion; evolutionists spar withm evangelists on the Big Screen of the Apes; Tweeter and the Monkey Man shoot it out on television; and down in the Valley of Sponsors lives the Jolly Green Giant:

Memory, ecstasy, tyranny, hypocrisy
Betrayed by a kiss on a cool night of bliss
In the valley of the missing link
And you have no time to think

Everyone’s watching the rocknroll picture-show, and arrows are flying everywhere; poor Cock Robin’s found dead under his piano; somebody’s gotta take the fall:

Socialism, hypnotism, patriotism, materialism
Fools making laws for the breaking of jaws
And the sound of the keys as they clink
And there’s no time to think

The builder of the song lyrics provides Louise (by the way, she’s lost her box of rain) with a bridge to babble on:

The bridge that you travel on goes to Babylon, girl
With the rose in her hair
Starlight in the East, and you’re finally released
You’re stranded with nothing to share

Ah, yes, the artist shows no fear, blown away as he is by the idiot winds of the New Age, as he ponders where all ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ of Baudelaire have gone:

Loyality, unity, epitome, rigidity
You turn around for one real last glimpse of Camille
‘Neath the moon shinin’ bloody and pink
And there’s no time to think

Alexandre Dumas, junior, writes a French romantic novel about Camille, a courtesan (who wears a red camellia flower when unavailable for sex), who falls in love with Armand Duval; his father convinces her that she must be reasonable and leave his son for the sake of the family’s reputation; Armand thinks she’s run off with another man.

Now it’s modern times with no direction home, conformity rules – standing up against authority is no longer valued; over are the days of draftees rebelling against President Kennedy’s command not to ask what your country can do for you – you’re like John Brown who goes off to war, asking what you can do for your country:

Bullets can harm you, and death can disarm you
But no you will not be deceived
Stripped of all virtue as you crawl through the mud
You can give but you cannot receive

It’s all over now, Baby Blue:

No time to choose when the truth must die
No time to lose or say good-bye
No time to prepare for the victim that’s there
No time to suffer or blink
And no time to think


See also “No time to think: the meaning of the music and the lyrics”

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  1. Many thanks for the correction – an associative slip on my part
    _ ‘virtue’ rhymes with ‘dirt/You’ much better than it does with ‘mud/You’ (lol).

  2. Genesis once mentioned Marshall McLuhan and Lenny Bruce in the same verse

    Echoes of The Broadway Everglades
    With their mythical madonnas still walking in their shades:
    Lenny Bruce declares a truce and plays his other hand
    Marshall McLuhan, casual viewing, head buried in the sand
    Sirens on the rooftops wailing, but there’s no ships sailing
    Groucho, with his movies trailing, stands alone with his punchline failing

    Whilst this obviously does not bring anything to the discussion on this just came to me as I was reading this so thought I’d mention it!!

  3. Written by Phil Collins & Steve Hackett…believe Collins wrote the lyrics. It’s about watching TV and being bored and annoyed by it but still watching. I’ve definitely been there! Great song nevertheless!

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