Bob Dylan And William Saroyan: A Thousand Miles From Sure

Bob Dylan And William Saroyan: A Thousand Miles From Sure 

By Larry Fyffe

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott performs the satirical song ‘Acne’ with the young Bob Dylan on radio. Elliott’s well known for a rendition of a traditional folk song that a country singer makes a big hit with – Bobby Bare sings the following words in a live performance:

Can't remember when I ate
It's just thumbs and walk and wait
And I'm still five hundred miles away from home
If my luck had just been right
I'd be with them all tonight
But I'm still a five thousand miles away from home

(Bobby Bare: Five Hundred Miles Away From Home) 

The song’s quite similar to the following fiddle and blue grass tune:

Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
Last night I lay in jail, had no money to go my bail
Lord, how it sleeted,  and it snowed
Oh me, oh my, how it sleeted, and it snowed
I've been to the East, I've been to the West
I'm going where the chilly winds don't blow

(Doc Watson: Reuben’s Train)

Singer/ songwriter writer Bob Dylan takes a word sample:

Well, I been to the East, and I been to the West
And I been out where the black winds roar
Somehow though I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River shore

(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

And from the same song:

If you miss the train I'm on
Count the days I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
A hundred miles, Lord, Lord, Lord
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles 

(Bob Dylan: I Was Young When I Left Home) 

The folk song begins:

Ol' Reuben made a train, and he put it on the track
He ran it to the Lord knows where
Oh me, oh my, ran it to the Lord know knows where

(Reuben’s Train)

 You can hear its echo in the Wilf Carter-like yodelling song below:

I thought I heard that steamboat whistle blowin'
And she blowed like she never blowed before
I'm afraid my little lover's on that boat
I'm afraid my little lover's on that boat
And it will take her to the Lord's knows where

(Shirkey and Harper: Steamboat Man) 

And in the Dylan song:

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she never blowed before ....
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like my woman's on board
(Bob Dylan: Duquesne Whistle ~ Dylan/Hunter)

Likely a coincidence, Bobby Bare’s “five thousand miles away from home’ appears in the a one-act play ‘My Heart’s In The Highlands’ by William Saroyan. The drama is a romantic comedy with an Existentialist absurdist bent, featuring a struggling and moneyless poet, and his son Johnny. Also, orphaned Henry, the adopted, aways whistling, newspaper boy, and  Macgregor, an ever-hungry, singing Scotsman who says he’s forever dreaming of his homeland:

"I reckon I'm five thousand miles from home.
Do you think we could eat a little bread and cheese
to keep my body and spirit together?"

(My Heart’s In The Highlands: William Saroyan)

Saroyan’s an optimistic humanist in the days of the Great Depression, and his creative works impact Dylan’s own. Below is a famous aphorism by the writer and dramatist :

"Good people are good because they've come to wisdom through failure.

We get very little wisdom from success, you know."

(William Saroyan)

Sings Bob Dylan:

Some speak of the future
My love, she speaks softly
She knows that there's no success like failure
And that failure's no success at all

(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

And then there’s the absurdly humourous:

I said, "Tell me what I want"
She say, "You probably want some hard-boiled eggs"
I said, "That's right, bring me some"
She say, "We ain't got any, you picked the wrong place to come"

(Bob Dylan: Highlands)



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