By Larry Fyffe
Most analysts of the song lyrics of Bob Dylan do not grasp that all of his musical works are closely interconnected, centred on mankind’s existential condition with lyrics focused on common human needs.
They see him riding off on his literary horse in all directions when in fact the singer/songwriter intentionally takes on different points of view concerning the matter – views that might be labelled as gnostic, Judeo-Christian, romantic transcendentalist, surrealist, realist, naturalist, and so on and so forth. He then entangles them all up together throughout his artistic creations in an effort to create a hermetic unity.
Bob Dylan utilizes many literary devises to achieve this end. Let’s look at one in particular: high burlesque – a social, political, economic, or religious satire that takes a rather commonplace event and elevates it to a higher literary plain as though it were of grave importance – even essential to the very survival of the human race.
The figurative and imagistic style of the writings in the Holy Bible (that describe the end of the world due to the wrath of the Almighty) is imitated in varying degrees by Dylan to depict the end of a love relationship between two individuals, a happening that is often sad, seldom happy, but, nevertheless, is a rather common occurrence.
Below, Bob Dylan treats a love relationship gone sour as though it were the end of the world, equal to the biblical Apocalypse:
Maybe someday you'll remember what you felt When there was blood on the moon in the cotton belt When both of us, baby, were going through some sort of test Neither one of us could do what we do best
(Bob Dylan: Maybe Someday)
Some of the ornate style of writing in the Bible is observed in the verse quoted above; below, an anthropomorphic God displays His melancholia, and anger at his human creations:
And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal And, lo, there was a great earthquake And the sun became as black as sackcloth hair And the moon became as blood
The following song lyrics paint a picture of a love relationship (born of modern Babylon) lost in the wrathful manner associated with the Judeo-Christian God:
Something is burning, baby, are you aware? Something is the matter, baby, there's smoke in your hair Are you still my friend, baby, show me a sign Is the love in your heart for me turning blind?
(Bob Dylan: Something’s Burning)
The imagery in the verse above suggests that the end-times are surely near:
And the kings of the earth Who have committed fornication And lived deliciously with her Shall bewail, and lament for her When they see the smoke of her burning
A sure sign that the end of a love relationship is coming soon, that its apocalypse is at hand, be that the ‘elements’ of earth, air, fire, and water are out of balance therein , and ‘humours’ like sorrow, anger, coldness, and unfaithfulness abound:
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale Everything is looking blue I just can't be happy, love Unless you're happy too It's bad out there High water everywhere
(Bob Dylan: High Water)
Imagery that’s present in the Holy Bible:
And it came to pass after seven days That the waters of the flood were upon the earth
(Genesis 7: 10)
Mind you, Bob Dylan is not beyond burlesquing himself when it comes to writing a song about a broken love affair:
Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases Pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces Begging God for mercy and weepin' in unholy places Angelina, oh Angelina, oh Angelina
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)
Seems the former female lover is more than two-faced; she’s four-faced. She’s not only human, but a wild animal, and, at the same time, a tame animal. And she’s can fly like a bird:
As for the likeness of their faces They four had the face of a man And the face of a lion, on the right side And they four had the face of an ox, on the left side They four also had the face of an eagle
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