Bob Dylan The Reactionary

January 14, 2009


Bob Dylan The Reactionary


R.E. Prindle


     As I say I haven’t listened to anything by Dylan since ’66.  Not exactly true, I have listened to and watched a couple of newer items on You Tube or wherever but I hope I won’t be judged too harshly on account of a chance listening like that.

     What I mean to say is a correspondent sent me a quote from a song called Highwater- for Charlie Patton.

     I’m more clear now on why I haven’t listened to later Dylan because I didn’t think the song was very good.  The Poet Laureate of Rock can surely do better than that.  The song was from an album called Love and Theft.  I’m not sure which half of the equation this song represents.

     As the quote has religious overtones perhaps my correspondent was reacting to the recent examination of Dylan’s religious attitudes  in the movie by Joel or perhaps to some religious essays on Dylan I’ve written like for instance, Lubavitcher Bob.  Beyond that I don’t know what he could have meant.

     From the lyrics it looks like Dylan takes himself quite seriously as a man in black.  I thought the lyrics were pretty nonsensical as represented by these three lines:

     Well, the cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies

I’m preachin’ the word of G-d, I’m puttin’ out your eyes

I asked Fat Nancy for somethin’ t’ eat

     Well, I’m not going to struggle too hard to unravel the deep inner meaning of those lines, let Charlie do it, but I am taking Dylan literally on the middle one.   As a man in black he is preachin’ some word anyway- G-d, the D-vil or somewhere in between.  Not always easy t’ tell.

     But back t’ the quote my correspondent sent that does have probable religious overtones.  Since it’s expressed so cryptically of course, it’s all deniable:

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew

You can’t open your mind, boys,

to every conceivable point of view.

They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway 5

Judge says to the high sheriff, I want him dead or alive.

Either way, I don’t care.

Highwater everywhere.

     In this song of unlimited non-sequiturs this verse can almost be read to make sense.

     In the next verse which may make it related, or perhaps not, Dylan says he’s a preacherman so we’ll assume Dylan is speaking Biblically.  He is a Bible scholar you know as well as a Lubavitcher.  Dylan always blazes new trails, don’t he?

     OK.  I don’t know who George Lewis is supposed to be.  There’s a couple Black musicians by that name so let’s assume a Black man is ‘tellin’ the Englishman, Italian and Jew what’s what.  Nobody can believe three things at one time so the wise thing would be to bet on the Jew if you want to win, win, win.  That last is a parody on a line or two from the old folk song Stewball for those who didn’t recognize it.  I almost didn’t.

     We will assume that Darwin and Evolution are meant by the Englishman, the Pope and Catholicism by the Italian while the Jew needs no explanation.  Might be Dylan, I don’t know.  Two, Pope and Jew, are religious while Darwin is Scientific  and his science demolishes religion.  “The King takes the Queen every time’ to quote a new folk song by Larry Hosford.  So the Pope and Jew are out to get Darwin in order to preserve their folly.  Thus they have Darwin trapped out on Highway 5.   Why 5?  Why not 61?  Dylan must have been cruising the highway from LA to Seattle at the time looked out the window of the bus saw a sign saying I5 so he said ‘That rhymes’ and put it in.

     Dylan trapped on Highway 5 is filler so to the Judge i.e. Biblical authority tells the high sheriff- high sheriff sounds real wild west, don’t it, I knowed you’d think so- he wants Evolution/Darwin brought in dead or alive. OK.  So as Dylan believes that the Bible is literally true and the veritable word of G-d proceeding from his own lips then it follows that Dylan is anti-Evolution and Darwin.  Must be or we’ve got ourselves a contradiction here.  Dylan is thus first cousin to William Jennings Bryan who persecuted Scopes way down there in Tennessee where they make that sippin’ whiskey.  Hence Dylan is a reactionary rejecting the truth, as Woody Allen would say, for G-d.

     Well, brav-, but a big raspberry for B-b if that is what he meant.  Who can say?  It’s poetry.  Of sorts.  A bigger raspberry for my c-rresp-ndent who should learn to say what he means without pinching his heroe’s words.

     Highwater everywhere.  He’s a drowning man.




15 Responses to “Bob Dylan The Reactionary”

  1. Rand Says:

    Deconstructionism is how a bookkeeper approaches poetry.

  2. reprindle Says:

    Exactly in deconstruction the exact worth of any poem is determined. Right on.

  3. Ben Says:

    I think you might be projecting a bit…

  4. reprindle Says:

    Have you heard the Christmas album yet?

  5. jackie hayden Says:

    or maybe not

  6. Scott Says:

    You know, it’s always best to write about things you know something about. R.E. Prindle is way out of his element. To argue that he misses the point is a waste of time. Let me just say, there are dimensions to Dylan’s work that you just plain don’t get because of your level of consciousness. And I make a distinction between intelligence and consciousness. To take a few minor works of his, out of context, to prove what point? That you don’t feel/get it? That’s pretty clear. It’s not approachable through the intellect, you gotta feel it. You either do or you don’t.

  7. reprindle Says:

    Welcome all.

    Jackie: …or maybe not…. Yeah, well, if you don’t find the argument convincing you don’t. Do you object to the word reactionary or the term Man In Black? Dylan definitely considers himself a religious figure of some sort. Doesn’t want to be Jesus because look what they did to him.

    Dan: George Lewes? Seems like a stretcher. Inventive though.

    Scott: Or things you think you know something about. It’s not question of getting it. A while back there might have been something happening here but that point was passed long ago. I’ve got the weary blues from waiting so it’s time to move on.

    If it’s not approachable from the itellect it’s not there.

    But then, if you like it what does it matter? Enjoy.

  8. JC Says:

    This is possibly the most inane piece of horseshit I’ve ever read concerning Dylan. You don’t listen to his music, you are so simplistic as to think a song is inherently autobiographical, you have zero credibility and are lacking any sign of a coherent frame of reference.
    An asshole such as yourself trying to comment on a musical artist to whom he doesn’t listen is akin to a Stevie Wonder critique on Van Gogh.
    Seriously–this is utter horseshit; were you that desperate for “content?”

  9. reprindle Says:

    Good god, man, if you don’t realize that Dylan’s songs are inherently autobiographical then you aren’t listening, seriously. I suppose you don’t think Ballad In Plain D is autobiographical?

    Dylan is a poet. I don’t have to listen to him reciting his poems to music to understand them. I can read them and get the full content. Dylan’s instrumentation since Bringing It All Back Home has always been interesting. Are we talking about a musician or a poet? I’m talking poet. That’s the same as literature. Get with it.

  10. Scott Says:

    Hey Prindle, stop embarrassing yourself!….You don’t know what it is , do you Mr. Jones????!!! Or in the words of Jimmi Hendrix….Are you experienced???? Clearly you’re not…Let it go, you wrote a bad article.

  11. reprindle Says:

    There is someting happening here fifty years on isn’t there, Scott? Can you guess what is is? You can stand by my fire, but make sure you don’t get burned.

  12. Scott Says:

    It’s just an ego trip for you Prindle. But really, give it up. You’re making a fool of yourself by defending your narrow point of view. I don’t need to stand by your fire. I just can’t take people who try to empower themselves at Dylan’s expense. Talk about standing by someone’s fire. You’re running off his energy. Shame on you.

  13. reprindle Says:

    I’m sure you’re a nice enough fellow Scott although a little ooarse in your language. There is something you don’t seem to understand. This is what it is- Dylan, like it or not, has made himself historically significant. He is a historical subject who has to be put into historical perspective.

    He appeared in the White House before Obama. In his own way he affected the course of the sixties. He is a significant figure in the history of sixties New York City. He deflected the career of the Beatles. I could go on but I’m surprised that you, who seem astute enough, do not realize this fact.

    As such he has subjected himself, like it or not, to historical, musical and literary criticism. That’s what I do. If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. I have no cause for shame while you should be ashamed for your shallowness.
    So, lay down your arms and accept the fact that Dylan has to satisfy certain poetic and literary canons.

    Enjoy his stuff how you will but learn to live with literary realities.

  14. Scott Says:

    I still say that you’re approaching it from the wrong direction. Peace

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