by Larry Fyffe
To draw the attention of the listener to his thoughts concerning the alienation wrought by an industrialized society, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan compares humans to machines (See:”Bob Dylan And Depersonalization“). He’s not a one-trick pony, however – Dylan presents not so much Grimm fairy tale animals that are human-like, but rather he gives humans animal form:
I got a new pony She knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace She got great big hind legs And long black shaggy hair hanging in her face
(Bob Dylan: New Pony)
That is to say – in human social systems, there be the powerful in control, and the powerless under control:
The cat's in the well The wolf is looking down He got a big bushy tail Dragging on the ground
(Bob Dylan: Cat’s In the Well)
Mythically speaking, mankind finds himself locked out of the harmonious biblical Garden of Eden, and thrown out into a Gothic-like landscape that’s filled with dark Satanic mills – a sure sign that the Judeo-Christian apocalypse is at hand:
Well, the howling wolf will howl tonight The king snake will crawl Trees that've stood for a thousand years suddenly will fall .... You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
(Bob Dylan: Man Of Peace)
Burlesque is a literary tool used for constructing satire – takes a matter, and mocks it – often printing the subject in paint the colour of black-humour.
It’s dark out there:
You know the streets are filled with vipers Who've lost all ray of hope You know it ain't even safe no more In the palace of the Pope
(Bob Dylan: Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight)
But hang on – it’s not dark all of the time – there are glimpses of light:
In the song lyrics below, Dylan compares officials of a university to a ‘praise of locusts’ from which he must escape:
But the next time I looked, there was light in the room And the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill Oh, the locusts sang such a sweet melody Oh, the locusts sang their high whining trill Yeah, the locusts sang, and they were singing for me
(Bob Dylan: The Day Of The Locusts)
The plague of praise, but also animalistic sex mitigates the blues – if and when it’s available:
Little red rooster crowing There must be something on his mind Well I feel just like that rooster Honey ya treat me so unkind
(Bob Dylan: Meet Me In The Morning)
Cock-a-doodle-doo – seems that when the tiny one-eyed midget’s in town, he’s not that fussy what kind of sex’s around:
I went down to the river on a Saturday morn A-lookin' around just to see who's born I found a little chicken down on his knees I went up, and yelled to him "Please, please - please"
(Bob Dylan: Don’t Ya Tell Henry)
There’s time to cry, and there’s time to laugh – in the following verse, Walt Disney cartoon animals are given human characteristics:
Oh, the fishes will laugh As they swim out of the path And the seagulls will be smiling And the rocks on the sand Will proudly stand The hour that the ship comes in
(Bob Dylan: When The Ships Come In)
All in all, the world envisioned is a rather absurd place, seen as though through the lens of an organ grinder’s monkey – humans transmute into frogs and mice:
He took Miss Mousy on his knee, uh-huh Took Miss Mousy on his knee, uh-huh Took Miss Mousy on his knee Said, "Miss Mousey, will you marry me?"
(Bob Dylan: Froggy Went A-Courtin’ ~ Dylan/ traditional)
A listener might well be tempted to burlesque one of the song-and-dance man’s burlesque routines:
He saw an animal as smooth as glass Slithering his way through the grass Saw him disappear by a tree near the lake "Hmmhmm, l think I'll call it a Drake"
(Man Gave Names To All The Animals)
‘Drake’ is what a male duck is called, and it’s also the name of a present-day popular Canadian rap singer.