She Belongs to Me

The irony is heavy in the title of this one. This is a woman who plainly does no such thing as belonging to anyone. Maybe in your dreams, Bob. No conversation about songs about…well, anything… would be complete without Bob Dylan in it. In this case, it’s songs that seared themselves into my little half-baked child mind and became cornerstones of my future identity. (We’re also ostensibly discussing songs about women, which dovetails neatly.) Between this and the Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale, I pictured in detail the woman I wanted to be, or maybe I recognized the person I already was and felt validated. “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back” sang Dylan “She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall.” She’s the ultimate muse because she’s got no interest in being any muse at all. She’s so radically self-contained that great men have no choice but to write songs about her, knowing that they’ll never really have her and she’ll never really need them. I’m an artist too, I get it. I know what inspiration feels like. Inspiration comes from wanting someone you can’t really ever have, or maybe you have them for a minute but they’re already halfway out the door even when they’re right beside you and you both know it. Artists write and paint and compose about the muse because the muse is unknowable. The muse is compelling because she (or he or they) is incapable of seeing the artist the way the artists sees her. If she needed him as much as he needs her, she wouldn’t be a muse, she would just be another needy person. Needy people reveal themselves, they open themselves up, they want to be known and seen and understood, they’re looking for someone to complete them, they’re ready to compromise and communicate and to be vulnerable and to sacrifice pieces of themselves in order to feed the union, and in that they are boring.  They’re the wives and husbands who do the right thing and stay and forgive and do the work of making it work and lose their own identity behind an ampersand. They’re suckers. Nobody writes songs about those people. Songs are written about the ones who walk away and remain themselves.

(Because of copyright reasons, this is a cover by the Tom Tom Club)

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.

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?

Mr. Tambourine Man

It’s amazing that Bob Dylan was doing this in 1965. Maybe we take him for granted, with his iconic weirdness and the sheer inescapability of his influence. But think of how bleak and Brylcreem conservative most of pop culture was in ’65. Psychedelia wasn’t even a thing yet, the surrealist explosion of the counterculture wasn’t in full swing. Most pop stars still wore neatly pressed suits and sang about holding hands. Then this guy comes along, and poof! minds blown.The thing about Dylan, at his most Dylanesque, is that his songs have the unshakable internal logic of a dream. When Dylan looks the camera in the eye and delivers a line about his magic swirling ship or whatever, he does it with such conviction, it makes complete sense. Like a dream, you don’t think to question it, you just go along. Then, when you think about it, it makes no sense whatsoever and all the logic collapses and you’re left feeling like you’ve come out of a fever dream. A lot of Dylan’s classic sixties songs have that effect. In the case of this song, you can judge if the effect is more or less effective when the man himself comes at you, or if The Byrds’ more stylistically trippy cover works better. A lot of people think the latter, because Dylan’s singing is, well, it’s Bob Dylan’s singing and it’s not to everyone’s palate. Either way, the song is its own journey.