The Bob Dylan Canon, Part 3: Bringing It All Back Home; Highway 61 Revisited; Blonde on Blonde

And now we get to the meat of Dylan’s career, those couple of years when he was the coolest guy on the planet, when the Beatles and the Stones acknowledged as much, when he was on the type of roll that very few artists ever go on.  It would all grind to a halt after a time, but this was Dylan’s first golden era.

Bringing It All Back Home

From the opening track, Subterranean Homesick Blues (Two Parts Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business + Two Parts Howl + A Pinch of Howlin’ Wolf), this was clearly an entirely different affair from Dylan’s earlier work. Even the acoustic numbers, like Love Minus Zero/No Limit and She Belongs to Me, have electric guitar and percussion on them, there are no ‘protest songs’ and the kaleidoscope imagery of Another Side of Bob Dyan is even more fractured and introspective. 

Highway 61 Revisited

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

Sophomore year of college, probably the spring semester, and I am sitting in Hag’s dorm room, listening to records.  One of us puts on Side Two of Highway 61 Revisited, and about midway through Desolation Row, Hag says, “I wonder what this song is about.” I snappily reply, “eh, it is just a rewrite of ‘The Waste Land.'”

I must point out that as I say this I have no idea what I am talking about.  I am talking out of my ass.  I am completely and totally full of shit.  It is also important to note that Hag knows I am completely and totally full of shit.  Hag could end my nonsensical ravings by asking “Could you explain what you mean?” thereby exposing that I am completely full of shit, a total fraud, but being a truly good person, Hag just lets it slide, one of the many acts of true humanity and kindness Hag has pointed in my direction over the years.

Here is the odd part:  Even though I was completely full of shit, a total fraud, had no idea what I was talking about, I may have been on to something, and while Desolation Row is certainly not a “re-write” of  The Waste Land, it seems to have been informed and influenced by that poem. The same sense of chaos and dread is present in both the song and in the poem and in both the center is holding only because of these bits of civilization and culture that are conjured up.  All of that, and the Spanish sounding guitar line snaking throughout this song is fantastic.

Blonde on Blonde

This is the masterpiece.  The songwriting is brilliant, the Nashville session musicians are fantastic, and Dylan’s performance is perfect.  He was on top of the world when this album was released, with several albums in the charts, several hit singles, many artists covering his songs (including Elvis!), one world tour completed and another scheduled.

Google Searching 'Blonde on Blonde' Images gets you some very interesting results

And then his motorcycle skidded off the road, and he and some friends hung out in the basement for a little while.

Download link to song selection:

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