And in comes Romeo, he's moaning,
You Belong to Me I believe."
Before 1962 very few people took popular music seriously. Not only was popular music outside the realm of "serious" art, but even its effects were considered unimportant. There are some obvious exceptions to this rule: popular and folk culture scholars, a few educators, some media specialists, several general semanticists. One of the latter, S. I. Hayakawa, wrote an article in 1955 entitled "Popular Songs vs. the facts of Life" pointing out the detrimental effects of much popular music, its encouragement of what he calls "intentional orientation." People with intentional orientation respond not to the real, external, "intentional" world but to some verbalized but false "intentional" one. Like navigating with a false map, operating with intentional orientation is dangerous.
Dylan's songs reveal his awareness of these dangers and his concern about them. From the beginning Dylan was conscious of the Tin Pan Alley tradition which had dominated the popular music song trade in America since the First World War. On his second album he introduced "Bob Dylan's Blues" by contrasting his sons to the commercial pap written in Tin Pan Alley. The song itself is about the images in which we have come to believe, the fictions which help us avoid or keep us from seeing the intentional world, beginning with the image of the Lone Ranger who rides into our living rooms to right every wrong:
Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto
They're riding down the line
fixin' everybody's troubles,
Ev'erybody's 'cept mine-
Somebody musta tol' 'em
That I was doin' fine
Oh you five and ten cent women
With nothin' in your heads,
I got a real gal I'm lovin'
And lord I'll love her till I'm dead.
Go 'way from my door and my window too
The main source of false images and intentional orientation in popular music is the romantic love song. Hayakawa's main thesis is that the "diluted, sweetened, sentimentalized, and trivialized" idea of love presented in popular American music contributes to the "triple threat disorder of Idealization (the making of impossible and ideal demands on life), which leads to Frustration (as a result of the demands not being met), which leads in turn to Demoralization (or Disorganization, or Despair)." Hayakawa takes popular love songs and traces their correlation to what he labels "the IFD disease".
-first, the Idealization of love and lover ("Dream Lover, where are you?" the Everly Brothers sing);
-then "unrealized expectations. . . result in disappointment,. . . frustration,. . . self-pity" (I'm all alone and blue, nobody to talk to);
-finally, to escape these frustrations there is a "retreat into a symbolic world, since symbols are more manageable and predictable than intentional reality for which they stand" ("I'd rather have a paper doll to call my own/than a fickle-minded real live girl").
The false idealization which leads to the IFD disease is what I call the "True Love" myth after Jack Scott's first big hit, "My True Love," one of the finest examples of the type:
I prayed to the lord to send me a love,
He sent me an angel from heaven above,
The stars in the skies he placed in her eyes,
She is my true love.
The touch of her hand captures my soul
And the kiss from her lips sets my heart aglow
And I know from heaven, from heaven above
Came my, my true love.
Darling, I love you, I'II always be true.
My prayers, they were answered when the lord sent me you.
With love and devotion that I never knew
Until the lord above sent me you
I thank the heavens, the heavens above
For sending my true love,
MY TRUE LOVE.
This song trivializes both secular and religious love, both interpersonal and spiritual experience is banalized.
After illustrating the IFD pattern in popular songs Hayakawa says, "It may well be asked if songs can be otherwise and be popular." Looking at the blues and jazz, he shows that they are intentional oriented: "there is no magical attitude towards love indicated in blues. Love means a mutual human relationship." Having provided enough examples to make his arguments convincing, both the argument that most popular love songs distort love, creating an unattainable goal, and the argument that the blues tend to be more realistic and healthy in portraying love and life, Hayakawa ends by making a plea:
I am often reminded by the words of blues songs of Kenneth Burke's famous description of poetry as "equipment for living." . . . The blues demonstrate that popular art can function as "equipment for living." Can't our songwriter's try to do at least as much for our young people as Bessie Smith did for her audiences, namely, provide them with symbolic experiences which will help them understand, organize, and better cope with their problems?
Dylan opened the way for a new kind of songwriter who answers Hayakawa's plea. Dylan's songs provide symbolic experiences which have helped a generation cope with the problem of "growing up absurd" in modern America. His songs provide "equipment for living" not merely on the socio-political level, but on the psychological and spiritual levels. Beginning with the immediate social situation, Dylan explores the emotional roots of this situation and the psychological problems it causes, reaching eventually in his finest poems the spiritual dimensions to these problems. Chapter one traces this progressive development from social to psychological to spiritual levels of meaning in Dylan's love songs.
. . . the arts we live with--our picture books and stories and the music we hear--
actually form our emotive experience . . . . Bad art is corruption of feeling.
-Susanne Langer, Philosophical Sketches
Throughout Dylan's songwriting career there are love songs in numerous musical styles-folk, rock, country-western, blues, jazz. Of his 190 songs written between Bob Dylan, his first album released in 1962, and Blood on the Tracks (1975), eighty-seven are love songs. Included in this category are all songs which are concerned with the love relationship, whether that concern is in breaking off ("Don't Think Twice") or longing for ("Visions of Johanna") the relationship. Certainly this would include many songs which are not merely love songs since Dylan uses the form of the love song for other purposes quite frequently. "She Belongs to Me" is an artist's self-portrait; "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" analyze the psychology of moving from one stage to another; "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" describes the artist-audience relationship. Even "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", one of Dylan's finest love songs using a typical Tin Pan Alley musical from, is more like a contemporary thirteenth chapter of Corinthians using the form of the love song to personify the abstraction Love, a necessary poetic figure in an age where the idea has become so trivialized:
My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn't have to say she's faithful
Yet she's true like ice, like fire
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can't buy her.
Further, it is clear that Dylan uses the love song to speak metaphorically about human relationships in general. When he says in "Obviously Five Believers" that "I could make it without you if I just didn't feel so all alone," he is not speaking just of his need for a lover. Still, it should be possible to look at Dylan's love songs and ask whether they present love in the "diluted, sweetened, sentimentalized, and trivialized" form which Hayakawa found to be typical of American popular music in 1955.
In the early "Bob Dylan's Blues" already quoted, Dylan distinguishes the "five and ten cent women with nothin' in your heads" from the "real gal Im lovin'". He addresses these five and dime women more fully in later songs such as "It Ain't Me, Babe," where he uses the image of the last line, "Go 'way from my door and my window too," to begin each verse. Without appearing to be, the song is closely worked. The couplet, "I'm not the one you want, babe,/I'm not the one you need," within the popular song context sounds like the casual repetition with slight variation to fill up the verse and add to pattern. As later songs reveal, however, these words represent an important dichotomy. In "Memphis Blues Again" Dylan writes,
When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
'Neath her Panamanian moon,
An' I say, "Aw, come on now,
You know you know about my debutante,"
She says, "Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want."
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.
The false myths have told us what we need so often that we lose our own sense of what we want. Dylan, stuck inside these myths, a product of the white American culture, realizes that he cannot simply opt out of that culture's musical traditions. He cannot forget this debutante with her "True Love" myth and turn to Ruthie with her honky-tonk blues; he must deal with the negative reality, deny it creatively, even use it as the basis for the positive reality he seeks.
The same point is made in a more general context by ;the folklore scholar Charles Seeger. Commenting on the transmission of musical tradition, he echoes the values of Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot but shows a keener eye for the realities of how traditions are passed on:
If, as I take it, the common ultimate goal is maximum continuity between the best known of the past and the best conceivable for the future, what we have to deal with here is an equation between what people will accept from their ancestors (either directly as survival or indirectly as revival) and what they will create for themselves and their children. No matter what the reviver thinks of the present state of affairs, therefore, he must accept it as his given quantity and use it as the base that it inevitably is for whatever accretion it may accept. This base will in all probability be a conglomeration of opera arias, salon music, popular songs of various vintages, some folk and near-folk materials (such as hill-billy, makawaya, mambo, jazz, be-bop and their successors) with more and more exotic music and-not to be forgotten-the commercial exploitation of the whole lot. Indigestible? By no means. Oral tradition can digest anything, give it but enough time.
Preservation and development of oral tradition and giving it enough time to do its work in is, therefore, the key to the situation. From this viewpoint, the error of folklorists and educators has been one and the same-overemphasis upon the written tradition.
Dylan sings his songs with an awareness of what both Hayakawa and Seeger are saying: the present popular music tradition in America is artificial and psychologically unhealthy, but it must be used as a base upon which to build. In accepting that base Dylan uses two stratagems. First, direct rebuttal, his "five and ten cent women" songs in which he attacks the false ideals and refuses to participate in their perpetuation: "Don't Think Twice," "To Ramona," "On the Road Again," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Positively 4th Street," "I Want You," "Just Like a Woman," "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "Dirge," and "Idiot Wind." The second stratagem is to create a complementary line of simple, straightforward love songs to his "real gal," a line extending from "Girl from the North Country" and "Tomorrow is a Long Time" to most of the songs on New Morning, Planet Waves and Blood on the Tracks.
Having set up this dichotomy of "real gal" vs. "five and ten cent women" love songs, let me qualify the classification immediately. While the first attempts to revive what is valuable in the popular love song tradition and the second to rebut what is harmful, both are concerned with the basic motivation in all love songs, the problem of loneliness. It is precisely because of the false solution to the problem of loneliness posed by the "True Love" myth, its picture of an ideal "Dream Lover" who comforts, protects and satisfies totally, that Dylan is so concerned. The five and dime woman in "It Ain't Me, Babe" wants complete protection and expects to get this by controlling her lover, making him "a lover for [her] love and nothing more," to have and to hold, heart and soul ("I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul" Dylan says in Don't think twice"). The catch-phrase and clichés of popular love songs fit together to form a destructive pattern for her lover and loved alike, a pattern which Dylan does an admirable jog of both rejecting and replacing.
Since the straightforward love songs dominate less in the early albums, I will concentrate on the love songs dominate less in the early albums, I will concentrate in the songs which reject and rebut the "True Love" myth. I have already mentioned that some songs extend far beyond the category of simple love songs. Some have taken this process so far that they are no longer love songs at all, e.g., "Mr. Tambourine Man." Most people consider it a drug song but some have realized that the drug imagery is metaphoric. Steven Goldberg calls it an "invocation to his muse," but I find that somewhat pretentious, not because Dylan does not merit association with Homer and Milton but because he is clear in his choice of traditions, and the aristocrat literary tradition is not his choice. "Mr. Tambourine Man,' if placed in a tradition, must be seen in relation to songs of the down-in-out, the hobo, the immigrant and the rejected lover, those who find no meaning in the left in the world. Since you left me baby, I almost lost my mind, so play it again Sam: that is more relevant source or tradition than Milton's muse. The song opens,
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you.
Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly hear to stand but still not sleeping,
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.
I am not arguing that this is simply the lover's dejection. One could certainly talk of it's relation to Weltschmerz, the death of God, nihilism, existentialism, The Waste Land, Waiting for Godot, A season in Hell and so on. And one would not be wrong, just as Goldberg's comment on Dylan's muse is not wrong. There are clear thematic relationships, but Dylan's choice as an artist is to develop these themes with in the American popular song traditional; to discuss any of his songs solely in context of literary tradition is misleading. His accomplishment as an artist, the real grounds on which any judgment must be made, is in the development of these complex themes through a popular medium in the marketplace. Both artist and critic must keep in mind the context in which the art is presented.
The popular art context has been described and analyzed extensively in recent years. One of the best descriptions is that by socialist art critic, Ernst Flischer, in his book The Necessity of Art:
. . . the capitalist world has discovered rich possibilities of profit through the production of artistic opiates. The producers of these opiates states with the assumption that most consumers are troglodytes whose barbarian instincts, keeps them awake, and systematically stimulates them. Then dream-image is commercialized. . . The fairy tale motif is brought up to date and mass manufactured. And all this at a time when artist and writers are struggling against the cliché and a painfully experimenting for means of reproducing a new reality.
The discrepancy is alarming: on the one hand, the necessary search for new means of expressing new realities. . . ; on the other hand, masses of human beings for whom even old art is something wholly new, who have yet to learn to distinguish between good and bad, whose taste must be formed, and whose capacity to enjoy quality must still be developed.
Fischer then quotes from Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus; one of the characters, a composer,
believes that all art needs to be set free 'from being alone with an educated elite, called "the public," for this elite will soon no longer exist, and then art will be completely alone, alone unto death, unless it finds a way to "the people," or, to put it less romantically, to human beings'. If that happened, art would 'once more see itself as the servant of a community, a community welded together by far more than education, a community that would not have culture but which would perhaps be one. . . .
If we take as a premise this estrangement of art from the people (and such respected non-socialist writers on aesthetics as Susanne Langer and John Dewey share this view), how can the artist best respond to the present situation? I suggest that Dylan's songs represent a unique experiment in creatively responding to an unhappy situation. While Hayakawa did not stress the point, what he asks of the songwriter is to function not as a production worker in the troglodyte song factory bust as an artist creating "equipment for living" in the new world we are faced with today. That in itself is a great challenge, but Fischer's view of the larger context increases the challenge from providing songs which have artistic integrity to providing songs which will bridge the culture gap, as it were, from the aristocratic traditions of the past to the mass media of the present in order to release the artistic potential in those media and provide a democratic art form for all the people in the future.
Rather than attempt to foist onto the masses "the best which has been said and thought' from the past, Dylan's tack is to embody in modern popular forms those questions which have been asked by great art through the ages. The answers of the past, the myths and legends, are dead for us now, trivialized by modern banality. Scholarship is to old art what anthropology is to old civilizations, and the mass of people will never be either scholars for anthropologists. Must they therefore be cut off from the best ideas of the past? The speaker in "Mr. Tambourine Man" is more than a down-and-out lover, he is a lover of "manunkind," and artist who finds the modern world desolate stripped of its myths. "The ancient empty street's too dead for dreamin'"; there are no myths, no taboos, no restrictions for the modern man. He is "wholely, totally free to do anything . . . but die" Dylan says in "Gates of Eden." This is negative freedom from restraint: "And but for the sky there are no fences facing." This theme of freedom is central to understanding Dylan's love songs.
Once the relationship of freedom to the love theme is clear the designation of Dylan as love poet becomes less startling. "It Ain't Me, Babe," the prototypical rebuttal of the "True Love" myth, rejects the bondage of false romantic images and myths. In the lengthy "Ballad in Plain D" Dylan describes a couple, each of whom falls in love with an image of the other. Looking back, the speaker says he cannot be excused
For the lies that I told her in hopes not to lose
The could-be dream-lover of a life time.
But after the "timeless explosion of fantasy's dream" he sits alone in his room and says,
Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me,
How good, how good does it feel to be free?
And I answer them all most mysteriously,
Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
He is free now, free from the illusion that the lord up above will send down an angel to be his true love and fulfill his every fantasy. But where does that leave him? Free, but alone.
The problem of freedom, then, is the complement to the basic concern of the love song, the problem of loneliness. In what has become known as the "Western Tradition" freedom is usually associated with being alone. From the European figures of the saint and the artist to the American frontier figures of the pioneer and gunslinger, freedom has meant isolation, freedom from the sins, restrictions, laws, limitations, biases and corruption of society. Erich Fromm has argued that men seek to Escape from Freedom. Dylan agrees with Fromm that freedom is the greatest challenge facing twentieth century men; his songs are attempts to coax, push, or persuade us to face our freedom. There are many ways of avoiding it and Dylan, like Prufrock, has known them all. I would like to discuss three specific love songs which are centrally concerned with this theme.
The first of the three, "To Ramona," is addressed to a woman who has been fooled and misled not by some Don Juan with "romantic" lines but by a much harsher lie. She is a southerner who has come north to the city and escaped into a fast crowd of political protesters and doomsday hucksters. The middle verses of the song are explicit enough but I would like to comment about the first and last verses, for they express certain views which are basic to Dylan's world view. In the first he comforts Ramona and tells her, "The pangs of your sadness / Shall pass as your senses will rise." I am tempted to discuss this couplet in terms of its alliteration, or to point out the King James Bible associations of the verb "to pass" which is used again in the final verse ("Everything passes"), contributing to the song's poetic unity; but the important point here is the double entendre on the word senses which expresses one of Dylan's basic views: that sense derives from sense, that we come to the truth in our guts rather than in our head, that if we come to our senses we must use our senses, that the truth is in what we feel, not in what we think. This relates to the earlier distinction between need and want. Others tell us what we need from their rational, or rationalized, viewpoint. But what we must do, as he tells Ramona, is to sense in our guts what we want. Do not let people's games and images catch you up in a false "intentional" view of the world, he advises her; you think you are an outlaw but remember that "to live outside the law you must be honest" ("Absolutely Sweet Marie"), i.e., honest with yourself.
This advice is qualified by a second fundamental assertion that one can never explain anything to someone else:
And there's no use in tryin'
To deal with the dyin'
Though I cannot explain that in lines.
This too is completed by a fuller statement in the final verse:
I'd forever talk to you
But soon my words
They would turn into a meaningless ring,
For deep in my heart
I know there's no help I can bring.
While this might at first seem to conflict with Dylan's giving advice, it actually reinforces his major point: no one can make up your mind for you, you are on your own. This is the "great platitude" which Ortega says underlies "radical reality," the perception
that life is untransferable and that each man has to live his own; that no one can take over his task of living for
him; . . . that no one can replace him or surrogate for him in feeling and wanting; that, finally, he cannot make his
neighbor think for him the thoughts that he has to think in order to orient himself in the world . . . and thus find his
right line of conduct-hence, that he must be convinced or not convinced, must see truths and see through nonsense, on
his own account, without any possible substitute, deputy, or proxy.
Ortega continues to say that "it follows that since human life is in the strict sense untransferable, it is essentially solitude, radical solitude."
This is the lesson which Miss Lonely has learned in "Like a Rolling Stone." She too is a tricked, misled woman who tries to escape from freedom, not into "causes" but into high-class games. She has "been to the finest school" and "dressed so fine" but for all that the illusion is beginning to crack. Dylan pushes hard to open the crack further. The importance of the song is seen most clearly in the chorus. The word which echoes throughout the chorus, and the song as a whole, but which Dylan leaves for us to infer, is alone. How does it feel to be all alone, we almost hear the line sung. The song enumerates the ways Miss Lonely has used to escape that aloneness.
The "point" of the song is the same as that of "To Ramona," despite the totally different tone. Unlike the lover who coaxes Ramona to give up her illusions and face her freedom, the speaker of "Rolling Stone" is hard, pushy: "Now you don't seem so proud," now you're gonna have to get used to living on the street. The song is built on the contrast between the "once upon a time" fantasies which Miss Lonely used to conceal herself with and the directionless, homeless condition she finds herself in now. That nagging, pushy word "now" rings throughout the song, heavily in the first verse, two repetitions coming on the beat and held a quarter note; muted in the second by moving off the beat and shortened to and eighth note but still occurring twice omitted in the third verse (which stresses revelation instead of the "used to/now" contrast), and then recurring in the last image of the song, having moved from the initial to the middle to the final position in the line: "you're invisible now/You got no secrets to conceal." Dylan stresses this effect by echoing this pushy word with the twice-repeated opening word of the chorus, "How does it feel?"
These effects, though subtle, are not intellectual; they work on a deeper level. The listener is pushed into identification with Miss Lonely and into facing the Now, the aloneness he "used to" escape in various ways. The song asks each of us how it feels to be without a homes. It works by a different method that "to Ramona," where gentleness expresses concern; "Rolling Stone" disguises concern with a harsh tone, speak to both those who have already fallen and those who are liable to fall, to those who know they have compromised with the mystery tramp and those who have yet to find this out. This is not to deny that the song works as a "put-down," but I see no implication that "I'm better than you, only "You see you're just like me, I hope you're satisfied" ("Memphis Blues Again").
The third love song concerned with freedom portrays a man who has sought to escape the pain of loneliness within the intimacy of a close relationship with one who, he come to realize, "takes just like a woman/But . . . breaks just like a little girl." The pain inside the relationship is worse than the loneliness. It is Dylan's finest poem on the failure of human relationships because of illusion created by social myth.
The plot is simple, typical in Dylan: boy gets girl, or rather man gets woman, only to find that she is not what he thought so he leaves. Following a tired and true formula he begins in the middle; the façade which makes her look like a woman has begun to break, her ribbons and bows have fallen from her curls, but the pretense is still being maintained "at all cost." The opening lines illustrate Dylan's feel for the metaphoric power of language and of the non-visual nature of mush of his imagery. He does not present these lines for the eye nor for any of the senses. The image functions on a level where emotion and intellect are inseparable, for one does not respond with the physical senses nor yet with the intellect. Dylan's materials are not the sights and sounds of the world but the emotions which he evokes by words and their connotations. Dylan's art is in the interface between emotion and language. And in both emotion and language he achieves universality through specificity. The use of all-inclusive terms in the song (nobody, everybody) functions to suggest this universality.
The rain/pain identification in the opening lines (rain is a significant image throughout Dylan's poetry) sets up the paradox on which the song centers: that one escapes from psychological pain by withdrawing inside the pain only to achieve a numbness, not a relief from pain. At the same time the lines evokes the isolation of the one who feels pain, knowing no one else can feel it. "Tonight" adds another basic image wish I will take up later when discussing"Visions of Johanna." The rather enigmatic construction "inside the rain" illustrates another frequent feature of Dylan's poetic technique, a-grammaticalness and condensation of phrase. ("Far between sundown's finish and midnights' broken toll," the opening line of "Chimes of Freedom" is another example, and "It's Alright Ma" throughout.) The phrase could read as a condensation of "outside in the rain" but more accurately to describe its effect is to say that it has no meaning insofar as the physical world is concerned; it functions solely as a psychological metaphor. The speaker feels isolated, alone in his pain.
Because the speaker is a part of the dramatic action in "Just Like a Woman," it is a more complex poem than the two previous love songs. In verse one the speaker is standing "inside the rain" and Baby is pictured looking very much like the famous emperor from the popular children's story: "Everybody knows/That Baby's got new clothes." (Cf. The opening words of "Rolling Stone.") The speaker becomes the naïve child whose lack of inhibition allows him to see what nobody else will admit: "But lately I see her ribbons and her bows/Have fallen from her curls." Verse two continues this presentation of Baby as one who is wrapped in pretense and contrasts her to other royalty who the speaker prefers to Baby:
Queen Mary, she's my friend,
Yes, I believe I'll go see her again.
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can't be blessed
Till she sees finally that she's like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls.
In form this song is standard; the verse pattern is basically A A B A, very common in popular music, indeed common in songs in general. It follows the basic formula of (1) stating a musical theme, (2) repeating the theme to establish the pattern, (3) altering it for variety, and (4) returning to the original theme to provide a sense of completion. Dylan is not simply following convention out of habit, indeed he is generally credited with having broken most of the conventions which bound popular songs before 1962. Richard Goldstein writes,
He lengthened the lyric line, which had been locked into gospel brevity.
He demolished the old a-b-a song structure and instituted a free-verse stanza which left endless possibilities for melodic innovation. Before the Beatles, he invented the rock album as a unit of expression, in which the artist sought to crate a unified mood through his songs. Finally, he broke the ironclad three-minute rule by writing songs which went on as long as they had to, sometimes lasting twenty minutes.
Dylan uses convention effectively because of his mastery of the basic forms and their purpose. "Just Like a Woman" demonstrates Dylan's use of basic forms for artistic purposes. The break or interlude (B) which follows the first two verse and chorus units (A) serves not only as a musical variation but as a transition in the poem from present to future via the past. For clarity let me refer to the verses with their chorus as A1, A2, A3 and the interlude as B. A1 and A2 describe the present, as the verb tense reveals. Having begun in media res, the poet must recall how this situation arose; this becomes the function of the interlude, by its nature a digression. B provides the beginning of the tale, shifting to the past tense:
It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse
Is this pain in here,
I can't stay in here,
Ain't is clear that . . .
This interlude helps explain that enigmatic opening phrase, "inside the rain." The speaker has come "in here" because he "was dying there of thirst." It is not that Baby has changed, for "It was raining from the first"; it is only that in the past when he was lonely and thirsty, he had imagined that being inside would be better, he had believed that a "True Love" would end his pain. He found, however, that the numbness "in here" is not preferable to the thirsty pain of his former lonely existence out there.
The parallel to "Rolling Stone" is extensive, but the change from second to first person allows for a much more complex development of the theme, revealing the speaker's disillusionment as the "True Love" myth fails him and Baby futile pretenses at being a "big girl." Likewise the change from the "used to/now" contrast to the "in here/there" contrast allows for fuller development of imagery. In the here and now it is clear that
I just can't fit,
Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit.
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes you do,
And you make love just like a woman, yes you do,
Then you ache just like a woman,
But you break just like a little girl.
The speaker rejects the numb security achieved through pretense (fog, amphetamine and pearls), preferring to return to the lonely pain out where he was hungry and thirsty but at least aware of who he is. The change in the chorus of from third to second person serves to pull the listener into the song's dramatic situation (cf. same technique in "Hollis Brown"). Dylan begins by speaking of "she" and "Baby" whose faults we can see from the outside, but if "Baby can't be blessed/'Til she sees finally that she's like all the rest" (notice the double meaning of the word "finally") then we are all like her. In the final chorus we see-finally-that we are her.
"Just Like a Woman" explores the "True Love" myth on a deeper level than the songs discussed already. Where "It Ain't Me Babe" functions mainly on the social-political level with psychological implications, this song begins on the psychological level and opens up into even deeper levels which can only be labeled spiritual, as the Queen Mary reference suggests. Another song on the Blonde on Blonde album explores those spiritual levels more fully; Queen Mary becomes the central figure in "Visions of Johanna." Because an analysis of "Visions" will take us so far beyond the escape- from-freedom theme explored in these three songs and the "True Love" myth which is the central concern of this chapter, let me postpone that analysis until after I have presented Dylan's finest dissection of the romantic mystique surrounding the idea of Love in the Western World. The love relationship, because it is where individual freedom and social myth clash most harshly, is central in Dylan's poetry. The purpose of these myths is to mold us to the needs of society, of civilization, of culture, asking us to forget our own nature and what we want. In the case of the love relationship the basic drive is clear: I Want You. These three words become the title of Dylan's finest rebuttal of the "True Love" myth.
In "I Want You" Dylan uses all the conventions and associations of his trade for artistic purposes. The song is delivered so perfectly that one can listen without hearing it. Even more than in such songs as "Desolation Row" and "Visions of Johanna," the melody and accompaniment work to carry the intense lyrics so that the words are absorbed rather than understood; they come back to haunt one's mind, playing around the edges of consciousness until something clicks and what he is saying becomes clear. The title is simple and in the tradition of popular music; a thousand love songs have said nothing but "I want you." Dylan reduces the expression of desire to the utter simplicity of the chorus:
I want you,
I want you,
I want you so bad, honey,
I want you.
No schmaltzy metaphors, just simple statement emphasized by musical accompaniment. The chorus ends with the third in the voice, giving it an incomplete sound, wanting completion, union with tonic. This effect is further enhanced by having the last "want you" come one measure after the completion of the eight measure antecedent phrase used in the verse. Musically one wants the completion of the consequent phrase but is left with only another monotonous repetition.
The song is not an attempt to express desire except in the chorus. The verses of the song are an analysis of the things which keep one wanting, the things which deny us what we want and tell us what we need. The first verse reads:
The guilty undertaker sighs,
The lonesome organ grinder cries,
The silver saxophones say I
Should refuse you;
Cracked bells and washed out horns
Blow into my face with scorn,
It's not that way, I wasn't born
To lose you.
Reading the verse I think of Keat's injunction to Shelley to "load every rift with ore." The words function not only as parts of phrases but also as independent units to create associations: "guilty" (the first obstacle when we talk of physical pleasure is puritan guilt), "sighs" (the romantic lover always sighs), "lonesome" (the basic motivating feeling behind it all), "cries" (in two senses, as noun and verb), all these words create appropriate in and of themselves. "Undertaker" suggests one key issue, the other being guilt. ("To His Coy Mistress" is a marvelous seventeenth century parallel to Dylan's poem.) The condensation of "guilty undertaker," evoking the tension between guilt and death, gives the song an especially intense opening.
Other images in the first verse reinforce those already mentioned. "Silver saxophones" and "washed out horns" suggest the romantic sentimentality of Tin Pan Alley which Hayakawa denounces. The bitter irony of the lines, "washed out horns/ Blow into my faith with scorn," suggest a pent up and perverted sexuality, while "cracked bells" subtly but accurately connects this "IFD disease" with the American Dream. The line is particularly cutting because of the parallel construction: "Cracked bells and washed out horns." The final line of the stanza, "I wasn't born to lose you," completes in reverse order the life-cycle suggested by the opening reference to the undertaker, reinforcing again the unnatural quality of the situation.
Before discussing the other stanzas let me comment on the contribution which the music makes to the artistic success of this song. Dylan's delivery is closer to whining than singing and is particularly monotonous musically. One note is repeated for two, three, four stanzas at a time and in seven of the nine stanzas of the chorus. From the description a reader who had not heard the song might think it had no melody; actually the melody, or tune, as it is popularly called, is provided in the accompaniment by what sounds like an electric piano. It is quite possible that one of Dylan's motives for replacing his guitar-harmonica accompaniment with a band was to relieve himself, as vocalist, of the necessity of "carrying" a tune. He is freer to concentrate on delivery of the lyrics if there is an organ, guitar, bass, and drums to provide musical interest. Listening to Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, one notices that the voice is almost completely independent of the music. Usually the accompaniment does more than provide musical interest of course. "My songs are pictures," Dylan says, "and the band makes the sound of the pictures"; "I Want You" is a good illustration.
The monotony of Dylan's voice in "I Want You" is artistically functional. The song is about wanting and wanting and never getting. But Dylan does not convey this monotony by boring us. Monotony, or to be more precise, frustration is expressed in the voice but the song as a whole has life. Dylan achieves this effect by superimposing the melody played by the electric piano upon the voice so skillfully that when recalling the song most people actually remember the melody in the voice.
The strange image in the last verse, "Your dancing child with his Chinese suit," puzzled me for years until I began to think about Dylan's love songs in general. As though with a click I realized that it was a perfect image for pop music, probably drawn from the memory of the Beatles in their Nehru jackets. Like a pied piper, the dancing child has played "catchy tunes" on his flute and lured all the children into believing his false image of love. But Dylan has taken that flute and used it to destroy the "True Love" myth. Why? For exactly the reasons that Hayakawa listed: because the dancing child lied, created false images of love and life, and because he took you for a ride, frustrated you, kept you from knowing what you wanted; and because Time's winged chariot was on his side (I could play these games had I but world enough and time); and of course because I want you, not the image you put on to fit society's myth, but the "real gal I'm lovin'."
The catchy tune played by the electric piano is the musical symbol of the stolen flute used to pervert the listener's view of love; though not even sung, it is heard more the words. To emphasize this effect Dylan omits it during the interlude, a technique which is doubly effective because the interlude is, by contrast, quite prosaic:
All my fathers, they've gone down,
True love, they've been without it,
But all their daughters put me down
'Cause I don't think about it.
These daughters, like all "five-and-ten-cent women" (read people) which Dylan sings of, want the protection and security only found in the intentional world of "True Love," i.e., they want to escape from freedom, from life. "I Want You," just as "To Ramona," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Just Like A Woman," is a plea for "you" to come out and experience life, to stop swooning at silver saxophones and crying over old organ grinders and begin responding to real human experience. Dylan, like Hayakawa, suggests a return to the extensional world of the blues and the Queen of Spades (a name borrowed from Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades"):
Well, I'll return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chamber maid,
She knows that I'm not afraid
To look at her.
She is good to me
And there's nothing she doesn't see,
She knows where I'd like to be
But it doesn't matter.
The Queen of Spades, the complement to Queen Mary, is no five-and-dime woman but a real gal, viewing reality without the distortions of false ideals and dream-lover images. Like Ruthie in Memphis Blues Again," she knows the difference between what you need and what you want. For the kids who have grown up absurd in a world of guilty undertakers, drunken politicians and sleeping saviors, Dylan's songs provide symbolic experiences which aid in coping with these inhabitants of Desolation Row. He has chosen to work in the medium where the kids hang out, or get hung up (the word play is Dylan's in the Playboy interview). This is a decisive and fundamental commitment on the part of Dylan as an artist, a commitment to place his art in the marketplace and not in a museum.
Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms; everybody knows that. To go to an art gallery thing where you get free milk and doughnuts and where there is a rock'n'roll band playing: that's just a status affair. I'm not putting it down, mind you: but I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I think museums are vulgar. They're all against sex. Anyhow, I didn't say people "hang out" on the radio, I said they get "hung up" on the radio.
-Bob Dylan to Playboy, 1966
I close this chapter on Dylan's love songs with the most haunting of them all, the most complex and in my estimate the finest poem Dylan has written, "Visions of Johanna." An analysis of this song will illustrate some of Dylan's basic poetic techniques and provide grounds for several generalizations about them before I embark, in the following two chapters into the background against which Dylan's major artistic accomplishment must be seen. It is my thesis not only that Dylan's songs from a unified body of poetry which, in recording Dylan's own inner psyche, gives expression to some of the major psychological realities of our times, but also that his unique choice of medium provides the foundation for the creation of a new relationship between artist and audience.
Because of its complexity, let me begin by commenting on the structure of "Visions of Johanna." Each of its five verses consists of three sections marked by consistent rhyme, line length and musical division. Within this form there is some flexibility due to Dylan's measuring of lines not in traditional feet but in musical beats or measures, producing an effect similar to Hopkins' "sprung rhythm." The five beat line from verse one,
And Louíse holds a hándful of ráin, temptin' yóu to defý it,
has the same number of beats as the much longer equivalent line from the last verse,
But like Louíse always sáys, "Ya can't look at much cán you man?" as she hersélf prepáres for him.
This is the most exaggerated instance, chosen to make the point clearly. (Its only rival to Dylan's work is the incredible image from the light-hearted spoof-song on the same album: "You know it balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,/Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat.") The feminine rhyme opening the last verse is also typical of Dylan, revealing a propensity he shares with Lord Byron.
The three sections within each verse are parts which contribute to the whole but with their own unity as well. Without this organization this complex poem would probably be incomprehensible. The sections are more easily distinguished by listening to the song than by looking at it on the page in Writings and Drawings. The first verse is clear as presented there but in every other verse lines have been either divided or sandwiched. Because of the extended analysis I will be making I will transcribe the son's lyrics here in a form which more accurately reflects the structure of the stanzas and with line numbers for reference.
Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tyin' to
be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it.
Lights flicker from the opposite loft,
5 In this room the heat pipes just cough,
The country music station plays soft
But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off,
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ 2 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
10 In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman's bluff with the
And the all-night girls whisper of escapades out on the "D" train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight, ask himself
if its him or them that's really
Louise, she's all right, she's just near,
She's delicate and seems like the mirror/veneer,
15 But she makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna's not here.
The ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 3 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously,
20 He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up he speaks of a/her farewell kiss to me.
Hes sure got a lotta gall
To be so useless and all,
Muttering small talk at the wall
While Im in the hall.
How can I explain? Its so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past dawn.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 4 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Inside the museums Infinity goes up on trial;
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while,
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while,
30 But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles.
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, Jeeze,
I cant find my knees
35 Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 5_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
The peddler now speaks to the countess whos pretending to care for him,
Saying, Name me someone thats not a parasite and Ill go out and say a prayer for
But like Louise always says, ya cant look at much can you man? As she herself prepares for him
40 And Madonna, she still has not showed,
We see the empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road,
He writes everythings been returned that was owed
45 On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonica play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.
This song is in many ways typical: it is long, seems to be based on personal experience, portrays a rather ambiguous relationship with a woman, and is filled with obscure images, some with a surrealistic quality. It is forty-eight lines and twelve minutes long; reviewers constantly speculate on the question, who is Johanna? Is it a code name for Joan Baez? Is it Sara, Dylans wife? The image ending verse two is perhaps the most celebrated in Dylans work. The songs history is important. As with several of the songs on Blonde on Blonde, Dylan was already performing Visions of Johanna in early 1965 (at the Berkley Community Concert, e.g., preserved on the Zimmerman Looking Back bootleg) but chose not to record them until mid-1966. It is certainly not something dashed off in the studio as the outlaw Dylan would leave us to believe.
The song is also typical in setting and mood as set by the opening line, evoking that late night mood which often descends when we are up late night in a friend's apartment ("loft" is evocative, with its sensual connotations and its sense of isolation) talking, drinking, smoking, and perhaps making love. There is a feeling of quick intimacy which we try to convince ourselves is not superficial, but the cloak of illusion is pierced by the reality outside when Louise tempts us "to defy it." This third feminine rhythm completes the first section of the verse.
The second section consists of four shorter lines (three beats instead of five) which furnish the scene by filling in detail. The first two contain what are normally referred to in poetics as images, words or phrases which evoke response from the physical senses. I bring this up because a certain phrase of Dylan's has caused people to label him a poet of images. Dylan's comment, "I write in chains of flashing images," is accurate enough of "Chimes of Freedom," written about that time. The song almost certainly sparked the phrase in Dylan's mind, for the third verse opens,
Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze,
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder.
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
And the poet and the painter far behind their rightful time,
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
It is a song of rich imagery, with image piled upon image as in "Hard Rain," imagery that makes one not only see but hear. Even in "Chimes," however, the predominant effect is not created through the recreation of physical sensation. This is not only to say that Dylan's images are figurative rather than literal but that they usually evoke no sensuous response; they by-pass the sensual and work directly on the mind, drawing their power not from the sensual world or its evocation but from the world of words and their connotations. There is seldom mimesis in Dylan's poetry. One needs only read or listen to "Desolation Row," counting the pictures it conjures up. The song consists of ten verses describing ten "scenes," but does anyone "see" the blind commissioner with his hand tied to the tight-rope walker (and his other in his pants)? Or pound and Eliot in the captain's tower of the Titanic? Or Romeo moaning? or Ophelia with her iron vest? Or Einstein disguised as Robin Hood? Dylan's poetry is not imagistic in the usual sense of the word. His "flashing images" are usually conceptual in nature and highly allusive and connotative rather than sensuous. They are signatures for emotional states, not attempts to show us the physical world.
All of which is only to say the obvious once one sees that Dylan constantly seeks to transcend the physical world, to reach the ideal where the visions of Johanna became real. That can never be, and yet life without the quest is worthless: this is the paradox at the heart of "Visions of Johanna," the same paradox explored by Keats in his odes, especially to the Grecian Urn. In his performance of this song at Royal Albert Hall Dylan substitutes for lines 44-45 these:
Knowing everything's gone that was owed,
He examines the nightingales' code
Still left on the fish truck that loads
Did he think, perhaps, that the British would understand the allusion better than an American audience? The tension in the song between Louise, the flesh-and-blood lover, and Johanna, the transcendent ideal, is a traditional Romantic theme.
One of the most confusing of Dylan's poetic techniques is his constant shift of person. In an interview (April, 1975) Mary Travers commented that his use of the first person on Blood on the Tracks made it more personal. Dylan's reply was that first, second, third, even "fourth person" were "all the same." One cannot speak except about himself, Dylan implies, and once the listener becomes aware of the intermixture of these perspectives Dylan's songs become less obscure. In the first verse all three persons are used. The traditional English ambiguous pronoun "you" (second person) in line one could lead anywhere. Line two produces first person plural: "we." That "we" includes "I" (the speaker), "you" (everyone, especially the listener), Louise (the speaker's lover), and "he" (the speaker observing himself). the last is the most important, for it is the ability to see oneself from the outside, to see all the "selves" within one, which distinguishes the artist (Eliot uses that horrible term "depersonalize" for this) and which Dylan wants so much to share with his audience. This self-observation is first obvious in the third section of stanza one.
In this poem Dylan's struggle with the "True Love" myth passes from the psychological into the spiritual realm; this is why I conclude chapter one with an analysis of "Visions of Johanna." The central metaphor which unifies the song is the sexual relationship. The speaker observes himself entwined with Louise and yet wishing she were the ideal, the madonna who links one with God or Truth or Beauty or whatever name one gives to transcendent reality: Johanna. This is implicit in the final section of stanza one, but in verse two becomes explicit; Louise "makes it clear/That Johanna's not here." Verse two also emphasizes another contrast, however, for if Louise is not Johanna, neither is she an "all-night girl" or a lady who plays "blind man's bluff with the key-chain." the opening section of verse two depicts the decadence of sexual games, both middle-class games such as wife swapping (line 10) and, to use Blake's phrase, "the harlot's curse" (line 11), games which are merely attempts to escape from freedom. Louise is without pretense, a victim of neither of these games, but for the speaker she is a mirror which gives back is own reflection, an image which is not Johanna. the final section of verse two carries the process a step further, for in it Louise too replaces her real lover with her own "visions of Johanna."
Having been displaced (the final line of each verse serves as a transition to the next which is broader in scope), the speaker backs further from himself, describing himself as "little boy lost," a quite unflattering portrait of the questing knight in search of the madonna. this negative view of himself, especially harsh in the middle section, can lead only to the desperate cry in the final section (returning to the first person), revealing the torture of being caught inside the nightingale's code with the highway blues again.
Verse four expands beyond the night, beyond Louise, beyond the speaker to the world devoted to expressing those visions of Johanna, the world of art. But in this world too there is pretension and prostitution. Art which gives eternal expression to that restlessness at the heart of human experience has been artificially preserved in the museums where the visions are put "up on trial." Through these museums parade the "veneer" people, staring at the sterilized visions in their cold tombs.
Dylan's evocation of the museum in this verse is exceptional. The word "echo" in line 29 recreates the sound of a museum with its stone walls and high ceilings, but more importantly, it captures our emotional response to this second-hand, artificial experience. This is reinforced by the words "see" (1.31) and "hear" (1.33) which parody the tour guide's language, creating for us the scene as the jelly-faced impact of this scene where the tourists' "unknowin' eyes" stare cruelly at the judge Infinity is heightened by the double entendre of the phrase "primitive wallflower freeze," referring not only to an ancient work of art but to another kind of woman who contrasts decidedly with the jelly-faced women. Finally, the word "mule" is another perfect choice, for it connotes not only stubborn but ugly and sexless. To one with visions, to one who prizes the infinite value of art, the mules' relationship to it "all seems so cruel."
Verse five expands even further. Louise and her lover have been metamorphosed into the countess and her peddler: one pretends to care, the other cynically denies that anyone cares. Neither attitude is satisfactory but their opposites are reconciled in the poem: both are shown to be true and neither complete without its opposite. The peddler has accepted life as a fraud: everyone is a parasite. But if everyone is parasitic then the relationship is symbiotic. Louise chides both for not taking a large enough view. No matter which view one takes, however, Johanna has not materialized. (By referring to her "Madonna" Dylan emphasizes the spiritual level of meaning.) There is no salvation from the situation. The fiddler, who is the peddler who is the speaker, can only hit the road, knowing that "the rain/And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain." Those final lines rival Keat's for teasing us with their ambiguity. Does the urn or the speaker say that "Beauty is Truth? We are never quite sure. Likewise here, we cannot be sure whether the harmonicas play both the skeleton keys and the rain, or if it both the rain and the visions that remain. (Dylan consistently prefers the coordinating conjunction, forcing the reader to decide for himself the relationship which exists.) And the phrase skeleton keys is itself hauntingly ambiguous, musically appropriate while suggesting both death and the key which opens every door. The beauty of poetry is that it can mean more than one thing. In the best poetry all meaning are complementary and Visions of Johanna must be counted among the best poetry.