Bob Dylan: Dirty Hot Dogs And Heroes In The Seaweed


By Larry Fyffe

The visions of singer/singwriter Bob Dylan are best described as Gnostic. Tangled as he is in an enclosed physical space of darkness, Dylan seeks to escape by means of his works of art to the light of a spiritual eternity, to soar on the wings of his one true love, and render some meaning, through his conscious and subconscious mind, to a Universe that has none; to go where no popular artist has gone before:

My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true like ice, like fire
People carry roses
And make promises by the hour
My love, she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Apparently, God’s an Existentialist, and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are on His side:

Now, Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
She shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
(Leonardo Cohen: Suzanne)

Many of Dylan’s double-edged song lyrics show existence on earth to be absurd; it’s a dark place, worthy of light-hearted, and dark-hearted humour – filled with flowers, garbage, and puns:

I took out my little penknife
And showed it to this rake
He looked at me as if to say
You’re making a mistake
(Bob Dylan et al: Hidee Hidee Ho)

Bob Dylan, big hearted though he may be, doesn’t overlook the fact that the world is one of violence and unfaithfulness, of knives and roses; he cuts you up with his pen, and then he stabs you with a big Jim Bowie knife:

The next day was hangin’ day
The sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up
Killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows
She didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober
He hadn’t had a drink
The only person missin’ on the scene
Was the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Other times, it’s Merry Laughter who gets you in the guts:

I said, “Tell me what I want”
She say, “You probably want hard-boiled eggs”
I said, “That’s right, bring me some”
She says, “We ain’t got any, you picked the wrong time to come”
(Bob Dylan: Highlands)

And if you like variety:

Well, I asked for something to eat
I’m hungry as a hog
So I get brown rice, seaweed
And a dirty hot dog
(Bob Dylan: On The Road Again)

But in all seriousness – don’t call me Shirley, and don’t shoot the piano player:

Where the old drugstore was
Is now a museum
Everyone’s changed
You can hardly see’em
All the piano players
Have gone off to war
[Bob Dylan et al: Mr. Alice (Shirley Temple) Doesn’t Live Here Anymore]

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  1. Thanks for this post, Larry.
    Wonderful opening paragraph, locating earthly and spiritual love within an ‘enclosed physical space of darkness.’ Also, within that ‘enclosed physical space’ we find a sort of existential destabilisation, an ontological uncertainty about the nature of physical existence, what is real and what is not, which underpins the sense of absurdity you identify. In Ballad of a Thin Man we enter the ‘room’ (enclosed space, as in ‘the room is so stuffy /I can hardly breathe’) and engage in a conversation that pulls the rug out from under the real world:
    ‘You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
    And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
    And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
    And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?” ‘
    In more concise way we get the same destabilisation in ‘Yonder comes Sin.’ Another conversation:
    I say: See them six wild horses, honey
    You say: I don’t even see one.
    You say: Point them out to me, love,
    I say: Honey I got to run
    Running of course, as in Drifter’s Escape, may be a way out of this absurdity, this enclosed space (‘there must be some way out of here’) but then again, maybe it is not – ‘people don’t live or die, people just float’, and you can’t come back, at least not all the way…

  2. “Well, six white horses that you did promise
    Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary”

    That an individuall’s life is predetermined by some transcentental ‘essence’, prior to his or her ‘existence’, rather than by good or bad luck, Dylan does indeed question. ..if so predetermined by the orthodox ‘God’ then He (actually, the Gnostic Demiurge) in the final analysis, is to the blame for what happens.

    So sometimes, it’s an individual’s responsibility to realize when it’s time to saddle up Ol’ Hope, and gallop (not float) away.

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