Pledging My Time

Here is an only moderately crappy video of late 90’s Bob Dylan performance. What’s interesting about it is this; has this always been a blues song and I just didn’t notice? Either way it works really well, although most blues songs don’t have quite as many words. It does show that too often, the persona of “Bob Dylan” has overshadowed the musicianship of Bob Dylan. Because the experience of hearing Blonde on Blonde as an album is all about the psychedelic intellectual journey, not the drier exercise of picking apart the musical structure of the songs. Of course, I’m coming at it as a non-musician, and for professional listeners I’m sure the experience is much more complex. But it is odd that on an album as familiar as this, I never actually noticed the musical styles and influences of the individual songs. It’s different to think of it as ‘Bob Dylan playing a blues song’ rather than a ‘Bob Dylan song that sounds like the blues.’ It’s a fine distinction.

Outlaw Blues

Bob Dylan fancies himself such an outlaw that he feels kinship with Jesse James. He’s so outlaw he’s got himself a “brown-skin” woman (but he loves her!) Also, sunglasses, possibly at night. All I can think is he’s gotta be kidding with this checklist of cool things and his cool image. Because he’s Bob Dylan and there’s no way he’d seriously equate wearing sunglasses with being an outlaw. (Because that’s dumb even by John Hughes movie standards.) See, Bob Dylan was sooo cool in his day that he was above the concept of coolness. He had nothing but contempt for poseurs and phonies who went around taking the measure of other people’s cool. Or maybe he was a little dweeby Jewish boy from Minnesota who secretly loved the hell out of being considered the coolest guy in town and postured really really hard to get there. Or maybe he was just a more-or-less regular normal dude all along and was really just baffled by how seriously he was being taken. Who knows; Dylan moves in mysterious ways.

Here’s some words.

Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some funny lagoon ?
Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some muddy lagoon ?
Especially when it’s nine below zero
And three o’clock in the afternoon.
Ain’t gonna hang no picturev
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Ain’t gonna hang no picture
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Well, I might look like Robert Ford
But I feel just like a Jesse James.
Well, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
Oh, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
I got no reason to be there, but I
Imagine it would be some kind of change.
I got my dark sunglasses
I got for good luck my black tooth
I got my dark sunglasses
I’m carryin’ for good luck my black tooth
Don’t ask me nothin’ about nothin’
I just might tell you the truth.
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
She’s a brown-skin woman, but I
Love her just the same.
Songwriters: Bob Dylan
Outlaw Blues lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

One of Us Must Know

Sooner or later, baby, one of us must know. Even Bob Dylan sometimes apologizes for being an ass. Given Dylan’s famously biting tongue, this is downright sweet. I always thought it had an almost pensive spirit, a sense of real emotion. Sometimes Dylan uses his wordplay and wit to make a sneak attack of something really affecting. Makes you think what, if anything, you would say to an old lover or a distant friend to smooth over old slights.

One More Cup of Coffee

I’ve always wondered where Bob Dylan thinks he’s going, and what he’s planning to do down in that valley. It feels like a fragment of some larger epic journey. There’s something heroic and tragic about it. He is on a quest of some kind; like Odysseus, he’s waylaid by a beautiful, mysterious stranger; she is a goddess with her own path to follow; who knows how long they’ve dallied together but now she must let him go. But first a little coffee for the road. It’s the mundane detail of the coffee that really makes the story – epic tales are nothing but bluster without the mundane to bring them to life. Now mind you, Bob Dylan doesn’t usually capture my imagination quite this way. Sure, plenty of his songs are epic and full of their own mythology, but they’re also willfully obtuse, jokey, satirical. It’s hard to interpret Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream as a hero quest; more like a buffoon’s comic picaresque. But this is a serious song here, a real hero quest, perhaps an allegory for the trajectory of life, perhaps just spilled over with sadness from a man freshly divorced. Anyhow you look at it, it’s a different level for Dylan. And, as with many of Dylan’s songs, other singers have hit it out of the ballpark, especially those with superior vocal abilities, i.e. Jack White, Robert Plant.

 

 

On the Road Again

Apropos of nothing. Bob Dylan is hitting the road because he’s got himself some nasty in-laws. You can also view it as a metaphor for how society’s weird standards work to alienate the poor sensitive artist. Which is a bit of a heavier message than just whining about your in-laws. We want our Dylan to have depth; we don’t want him wasting his barbs on pedestrian things. But, you know, for my money, I’m happy enough if it’s just a funny song about in-laws, that old comedic standby.

Notice there’s no video. Yep, there’s no video. Go buy yourself a Bob Dylan album.

On The Road Again
WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
Well, I woke up in the morning
There’s frogs inside my socks
Your mama, she’s a-hidin’
Inside the icebox
Your daddy walks in wearin’
A Napoleon Bonaparte mask
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, do you have to ask?

Well, I go to pet your monkey
I get a face full of claws
I ask who’s in the fireplace
And you tell me Santa Claus
The milkman comes in
He’s wearing a derby hat
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you have to ask me that?

Well, I asked for something to eat
I’m hungry as a hog
So I get brown rice, seaweed
And a dirty hot dog
I’ve got a hole
Where my stomach disappeared
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I gotta think you’re really weird

Your grandpa’s cane
It turns into a sword
Your grandma prays to pictures
That are pasted on a board
Everything inside my pockets
Your uncle steals
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I can’t believe that you’re for real

Well, there’s fistfights in the kitchen
They’re enough to make me cry
The mailman comes in
Even he’s gotta take a side
Even the butler
He’s got something to prove
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you don’t move?

Obviously 5 Believers

With Bob Dylan, nothing is ever obvious. Dylan embodied the legend of the cryptic poet; some saw him as more like a soothsayer than a rock singer. Meanwhile he always maintained that there was no sooth to his sayings, and everyone should just chill the eff out. Sometimes the soothsayer just wanted to rock out. This song was more of a throwaway than most, and less verbose. It makes not much more or much less sense than the average blues song. Though sometimes Dylan’s singing sounds like an ornery experiment (can one vocalize and hork phlegm at the same time? Yes, apparently ) he’s actually not much worse at it than the average bluesman. An uptempo R’n’B number is well within his reach, and it’s a good fit. And really, it’s fun when the gnomic one just cuts loose; Dylan always seems to be having too much fun with his own cleverness, but he doesn’t always seem to relish musicality itself. Though he doesn’t entirely step away from the persona, here the music doesn’t feel like just a vehicle for delivering the bon mots.

My Back Pages

Another one of those Bob Dylan songs that most people agree was definitively done better by someone else. True, The Byrds really elevated it beyond Dylan’s own croak-and-guitar interpretation. If you direct your attention to the video, a birthday celebration of relatively recent mint, you may notice that among the army of big name buddies swapping verses and solos up there, Dylan’s contribution is the least enthusiastic. Roger McGuinn sings it like he owns it, which I guess at this point he kind of does. These kinds of star-packed events often feel like self-congratulating circle jerks, and I’m not sure why Bob Dylan goes to so many of them, given that he inevitably looks like he’d rather be dead. Anyway, this is definitely a Dylan classic that is long out of Dylan’s hands.