Bob Dylan The Reactionary
January 14, 2009
Bob Dylan The Reactionary
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.
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.