The Bob Dylan Canon, Part 5: Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait

May 3, 2011

Nashville Skyline

If Dylan’s songs reveal anything about his thoughts on love, it is that love must be nurtured and tended to like a garden.  Left untended, the garden will fail.  Based on his songs, Dylan tends to ignore his garden frequently and the plants wither and die.  At least he recognizes this and usually blames himself for his failures in love, with a few exceptions, like Idiot Wind.

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The Bob Dylan Canon, Part 4: John Wesley Harding

January 2, 2011

Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant to the United States.  He was a member of the IWW and was tried and executed for murder based on flimsy evidence, at best.  There is some belief that he had a rock solid alibi for the murder, in that he was in bed with a married woman, but he refused to name her, as her reputation would have been destroyed, so he went to his death instead.  Read the rest of this entry »

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

December 8, 2010

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. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bob Dylan Canon, Part 2: Another Side of Bob Dylan

November 3, 2010

Bob Dylan can be as bitchy as a seventh grade girl who is crushing on a cute boy, writes his name on her notebook, surrounds it with hearts and flowers but then the cute boy goes and kisses her BFF and HOW COULD SHE DO THAT, THE SLUT!  Woe unto any who slights Dylan, because the crabby bastard has been known to eviscerate people in song.  I am not complaining about this as some of my favorite songs (Positively 4th Street, Like A Rolling Stone, Idiot Wind) are exercises in score settling.  Also, I am the type of guy who thinks that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, you should not say anything at all come sit down next to me.

Ballad in Plain D from Another Side of Bob Dylan is just such a song, about the end of his relationship with Suze Rotolo, and it pulls no punches.*  He has never played it live, and has supposedly said he never should have released it, and I can see why.  The lyrics are brutal.  There are two sisters, and he loves the younger one with “the innocence of a lamb, she was gentle like a fawn.” So far, so good, but the older sister and the mother are not happy with this relationship with “Each one of them suffering from the failures of their day.”

The older sister is focused on:

For her parasite sister, I had no respect
Bound by her boredom, her pride to protect
Countless visions of the other she’d reflect
As a crutch for her scenes and her society

Jesus, Bob, don’t hold anything back.

As the relationship sours, he blames himself in part:

Myself, for what I did, I cannot be excused
The changes I was going through can’t even be used
For the lies that I told her in hopes not to lose
The could-be dream-lover of my lifetime

But the blames remains with the older sister who manipulates his lover:

Beneath a bare lightbulb the plaster did pound
Her sister and I in a screaming battleground
And she in between, the victim of sound
Soon shattered as a child ’neath her shadows

The relationship is over, and echoing the closing scene of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy, the singer is asked “How good, how good does it feel to be free?”  Like the Borstal Boy, he knows he is not free, and responds “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?

*I am taking the lyrics at face value here.  I know there is some debate about the nature of Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo and the true cause of their breakup, but exploring that is beyond the scope of this blog.

The Bob Dylan Canon, Part One: Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

October 31, 2010

Last week I listened to Bob Dylan’s debut album for the first time in several years.  As soon as I finished it, I cued* up his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and then his third long player, The Times They Are A-Changin’. At this point I thought to myself, “You should listen to all of Dylan’s albums sequentially!” Read the rest of this entry »

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