Take What You Have Gathered From Coincidence: Bob Dylan (Part II)

Part one of this series can be found at Take What You Have Gathered From Coincidence: Bob Dylan (Part 1) (And more Duncan and Jimmy)

By Larry Fyffe

The Bible tells of herders, nomadic they wander in large pastures with flocks of sheep, and also it speaks of settled down, fenced-in garden farmers:

And Abel was a keeper of sheep
But Cain was a tiller of the ground
(Genesis 4: 2)

Cain kills Abel, apparently because he thinks God likes the meat eater best.

Karl Polanyi, in his book ‘The Great Transformation’, asserts the enclosures of the ‘commons’ in England marks the beginning of government imposed capitalism – land, labour, and money become commodites; human social relationships become secondary; the Industrial Revolution follows; the ‘little guy’ gets the short end of the stick.

Frederick Turner, in ‘The Significance Of The Frontier In American History’, points out that immigrants thereto get a second chance at success in the vast open expanses of the ‘Old West’; however, the same fate befalls them. Paradise is lost, then it’s regained, only to fall again – time goes round and round.

Employing irony and black humour while accessing the Bible, mythology, traditional songs and folk tales, history books, and movies, singer/songwriter Bob Dyan deals with the times that are a-changing as they be rocked by circumstance, luck, and fate.

In the Western movie ‘Bend Of The River’, Glyn McLyntock (James Stewart) is a Missouri gunslinging raider who wants to reform. He says, “I ran into these folks in Missouri. Thought I might try my hand at farming or ranching if I can find me some cattle.” More of a wanderer, Cole Emerson (Arthur Kenndy) likes gold. He says to Glyn: “I figure we’re even. Maybe I’m one up on you.”

Sings Dylan:

I didn’t know that you’d be leavin’
Or who you thought you were talkin’ to
I figure maybe we’re even
Or maybe I’m one up on you
(Bob Dylan: Drifting Too Far From Shore)

The song ‘Pirate Jenny’ contains the line, “But you’ll never guess to who you’re talkin’.”

In the Western move ‘Shane’, a gunslinger (Alan Ladd) wants to reform and become a farm hand; he gets some advice from farmer Joe Starrett (Van Heflin): “A homesteader can’t run but a few beef, but he can grow grain, and then has a garden and hogs and milk, he’ll be all right.”

Shane remarks, “I don’t mind leaving, I just like it to be my idea.”

Dylan sings:

You give me somehing to think about, baby
Every time I see ya
Don’t worry, baby, I don’t mind leaving
I just like it to be my idea
(Bob Dylan: Never Gonna Be The Same Again)


The song lyrics of Bob Dylan often suggest figuratively that you throw the dice, take your chances, and see how things turn out:

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I’ll plant and I’ll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer’s on the table, the pitch fork’s on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

Matters often turn out badly for Dylan’s persona, caught as he is between visions of Pocahontas and the bright lights of modern Babylon:

I got a house on a hill, I got hogs all out in the mud
I got a house on a hill, I got hogs lying out in the mud
Got a long-haired woman, she got royal Indian blood ….
Well, I’m leaving in the morning just as the dark clouds lift
Gonna break in the roof, set fire to the place as a parting gift
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

With tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Dylan ponders that perhaps Cain makes the right choice when he gets rid of Abel; Cain settles down; as well, small town life is tranquil:

I was in Wauwatosa, the truth I will tell
It’s a milk and cheese and cream
Yes, known it all my days
And I’m goin’ back to my home town
I’m leavin’ right away
(Bob Dylan/Trapper Schoepp: On Wisconsin)

Just maybe – the little house on the prairie, far away from Whore Of Babylon, is the place to be:

Build me a cabin in Utah
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout
Have a bunch of kids who call me ‘Pa’
That must be what it’s all about
That must be what it’s all about
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Window)

Footnote: the Bob Dylan/Trapper Schoepp song “On Wisconsin” is not yet reviewed on this site, but will be shortly.

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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