The consequences of sequences in Bob Dylan’s writing of song

by Filip Łobodziński

One of the most captivating things within this blog is the holistic perspective adopted. And one of its most striking features, enabling one to look at Bob Dylan as a universe of its own with many different facets, is the possibility it offers of finding recurrent motifs and subjects as we move within this Dylan universe.

For example the page A classification of Dylan’s songs gives an insight into what could be a real categorization of various phenomena observed.

And this is something I myself have considered as a way of presenting Bob Dylan’s songs in Polish when sequencing the Polish double album and the 132-song book. What I knew I had to do was to present Bob Dylan as an artist who has maintained a highest level of strong lyric mastery throughout his career. As someone whose early songs can be rivaled by the late ones, and indeed those in between.

Besides, I wanted to see how songs from different phases and periods communicate. How “lost puppy love” songs can be equaled by or compared to “lost senile love”. How has the “waste land” songs” imagery changed from A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall to Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.

When sequencing the album, as I already wrote earlier on, I opted for two faces of Dylan. One is “public”, the other “intimate”.

The first, “public” disc, called Oj tam, stara (=It’s Alright, Ma) consists of 14 songs: Subterranean Homesick Blues, Man Gave Names to All the Animals, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Maggie’s Farm, Tempest, Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, Black Diamond Bay, Jokerman, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Gotta Serve Somebody, Ballad of a Thin Man, Like a Rolling Stone.

The “intimate” disc, entitled A mimo to był sam (=All the While He Was Alone), has 15 songs altogether: To Ramona, Tangled Up in Blue, Romance in Durango, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Ain’t Talkin’, Isis, Father of Night, Mr. Tambourine Man, Time Passes Slowly, Love Sick, Soon after Midnight, Highlands, When the Ship Comes In, Señor (Tales of Yankee Power), Every Grain of Sand.

But with my anthology of printed translations, the idea was far more sophisticated or perhaps far more crazy, depending on your tastes. Because here we enter a territory of interpretation and basic question “what does this or that song mean to me, what does it tell me, how does it resonate within me?” This is the realm of absolute subjectivity.

If we can speak of individual handwriting, penmanship, I dare say we could suggest also an individual, peculiar reading style. A mirrored phenomenon of fingerprints – “worldprints” the world (i.e. a Dylan song) leaves inside one’s mind.

So, my Dylan book is divided into twelve “chapters”.

  1. Oj tam, stara (=It’s Alright, Ma) – “this ain’t a good place to be”

Subterranean Homesick Blues [you can already see I liked to start with this song…]; I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine; Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream; Highway 61 Revisited; Mississippi; A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall; Desolation Row; Trouble; Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum; Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again; Tombstone Blues; Slow Train; Man of Peace; It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

  1. Jak błądzący łach (=Like a Rolling Song) – personal revenge and/or disillusionment

Ballad of a Thin Man; Positively 4th Street; Foot of Pride; Tears of Rage; Like a Rolling Stone; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Jokerman

  1. Gdyby nie ty (=If Not for You) – pure love/romance

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight; You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go; If Not for You; If You Gotta Go, Go Now; Baby, Stop Crying; Love Minus Zero/No Limit; Lay Lady Lay; Never Say Goodbye; Meet Me in the Morning; Forever Young, Down Along the Cove; Buckets of Rain

  1. Jest mi miłość (=Love Sick) – bittersweet love

From a Buick 6; She Belongs to Me; Dark Eyes; Time Passes Slowly; Love Sick; Queen Jane Approximately; Pledging My Time; Wedding Song; It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes as Train to Cry; Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands; Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

  1. Sny o Johannie (=Visions of Johanna) – love lost, tenderness lingers on

If You See Her, Say Hello; One Too Many Mornings; Tangled Up in Blue; Girl from the North Country; You’re a Big Girl Now; To Ramona; Simple Twist of Fate; Visions of Johanna; Million Miles; Shelter from the Storm

  1. Nie myśl już, jest jak jest (=Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right) – bitter farewell

Boots of Spanish Leather; Brownsville Girl; Just like a Woman; All I Really Want to Do; Idiot Wind; Dirt Road Blues; Standing in the Doorway; When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky; Odds and Ends; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; It Ain’t Me, Babe

  1. Burza (=Tempest) – stories of fate

Mr. Tambourine Man; Under the Red Sky; Black Diamond Bay; Tempest; 10,000 Men; Señor (Tales of Yankee Power); Blind Willie McTell

  1. Ten, co czarny miał płaszcz (=Man with the Long Black Coat) – allegories, myths and legends

As I Went Out One Morning; The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest; Man with the Long Black Coat; All Along the Watchtower; Isis; Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts; Romance in Durango; Clothes Line Saga; The Wicked Messenger

  1. Samotna śmierć Hattie Carroll (=The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll) – justice reclaimed

With God on Our Side; North Country Blues; Hurricane; Ballad of Hollis Brown; Masters of War; Blowin’ in the Wind; I Shall Be Released; Only a Pawn in Their Game; The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll; The Times They Are a-Changin’; John Wesley Harding

  1. Blues banity (=Outlaw Blues) – individual rebellion

Gotta Serve Somebody; I Am a Lonesome Hobo; Maggie’s Farm; On the Road Again; When the Ship Comes In; Drifter’s Escape; Rainy Day Women #12 & 35; You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere; Something’s Burning, Baby; Outlaw Blues; Soon after Midnight; Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues; What Was It You Wanted; Pay in Blood; Restless Farewell

  1. W ogrodzie (=In the Garden) – prayers ‘n sermons

Man Gave Names to All the Animals; God Knows; I Pity the Poor Immigrant; Covenant Woman; When He Returns; Death Is Not the End; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Every Grain of Sand; In the Garden; Gonna Change My Way of Thinking; Father of Night

  1. Ostatnie zapiski (=My Back Pages) – looking back on life and the world

Things Have Changed; Duquesne Whistle; Ain’t Talkin’; Dear Landlord; Series of Dreams; Not Dark Yet; Going, Going, Gone; Shot of Love; Thunder on the Mountain; Highlands; My Back Pages; Gates of Eden, Sugar Baby; Changing of the Guards

Now, I don’t mean to argue my selection and categorization is perfect. Far from that. I’d gladly assume anybody could take all the above songs and shuffle them into a completely another set of “chapters”, based on different perspectives and understandings, where, for instance, Idiot Wind could be a neighbour to, say, It’s Alright, Ma, while What Was It You Wanted and Every Grain of Sand would be near-twins.

Right now, I’m working on a sequel to my first anthology. It would comprise not only lyrics but liner poem-prose and maybe some lectures. On va voir, as the Frenchmen in Argentina (and elsewhere) use to say. But this time, if my work is accomplished, I’d divide this next anthology into just three chapters (the jacket notes and lectures would be either sandwiched by them or sent to an extra chapter or appendix). These “chapters” would be Transgression, Condemnation and Redemption. So far, I filled them as follows (with no particular order):

  1. I Shall Be Free [3 versions]; Billy [5 versions]; I and I; One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later); One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below); Dead Man, Dead Man; Obviously 5 Believers; My Wife’s Home Town; Handy Dandy; Song to Woody; 4th Time Around; (You’ve Been) Hiding Too Long; Went to See the Gypsy; Spanish Harlem Incident
  2. Tin Angel; Tomorrow Is a Long Time; T.V. Talkin’ Song; Watching the River Flow, Caribbean Wind [6 versions]; Rambling Gambling Willie; Dirge; Tweeter and the Monkey Man; Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine); I’m Not There; ‘Cross the Green Mountain; Political World; Abandoned Love; Seven Curses; I Feel a Change Comin’ On; It’s All Good; Tangled Up in Blue [5 new versions]; Most of the Time [3 versions]
  3. Precious Angels; Ring Them Bells; Saved; Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You; Chimes of Freedom; High Water (For Charley Patton); If Dogs Run Free; Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word; Maybe Someday; Seven Days; This Wheel’s on Fire; Beyond the Horizon

Any suggestions? Should I think of something totally different? If you give a damn, of course.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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

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3 Responses to The consequences of sequences in Bob Dylan’s writing of song

  1. LarryFyffe says:

    Just of the top of my head, the role played by luck – good and bad (contrasted with stories of fate) in one’s life might make an interesting topic if not already considered – for instance, many of Dylan songs reference playing cards, riverboats, and gambling.

  2. LarryFyffe says:

    If not already taken into account, the role played by luck (good and bad) in life contrasted with stories of fate would be an interesting topic …. playing cards, riverboats, and gambling , and the like, feature in a number of Dylan lyrics.

  3. LarryFyffe says:

    Duplication unintended

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