Shakespeare in the Alley

about Bob Dylan


click on photo for more info comeback eighties christian seventies country goes electric sixties


Throughout Dylan's career he altenates between the Apollonian Thief and the Dionysian Joker. This is discussed extensively in Show Three.


the folk period: 1961-64

This early period of songs in the folk style, using only guitar and harmonica accompaniment, include four albums, all dominated by the Thief:

1. Bob Dylan (1962) with traditional songs such as "House of the Rising Sun" and only two  originals, “Talkin’ New York” and "Song to Woody"
2. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), the first thematic album with all original songs except for "Corinna." Includes "Blowin' in the Wind" which becomes the white Civil Rights anthem--and later an anti-war song; "A Hard Rain's A-gonna Fall" which destroys the idea of songs as being only three minutes.
3. The Times, They Are A-Changin' (1964) which seals his image as a "protest singer" with the title song and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" which related the true story of a black maid killed by a rich white man in a fit of temper.
4. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) attempts to rebuff the "protest singer" image with love songs such as "To Ramona" and the intense poetic imagery in "Chimes of Freedom."


going electric: another sound of bob Dylan (1965-66)

In this second phase Dylan wears the mask of the Joker.  It is brief and intense, breaking the entire popular music scene open, fostering new ideas about what song writing is. These three albums set a high bar by which all later Dylan work is measured. There are three albums:
1. Bringing It All Back Home (Jan. 1965)
This transition album contains one side acoustic, one side electric. It makes clear in a way that the previous album does not that the folk Dylan, the protest singer is gone. It includes the classic "Mr. Tambourine Man" with its spiritual themes and "Subteranean Homesick Blues" as social commentary, a kind of more sophisticated form of protest, as is "Maggie's Farm," the song which set the Newport Folk Festival ablaze in 1965.
2. Highway 61 Revisited (August, 1965)
Containing the pivotal song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” this album’s defiant tone defines the Joker as individualistic and alienated, living on desolation row where he invites Queen Jane to come see him. 
3.  Blonde on Blonde (June 1966)

The acronym manages to get Bob’s name back in the title, which was there in the first four albums.  This double LP is filled with women including Johanna, that vision of the ideal, and Ruthie, the embodiment of everything physical.  The Joker is stuck inside of Mobile, but soon gets lucky.


somebody got lucky, but it was an accident (1966-74)

While taking a rest from touring, Dylan has a motorcycle accident which allows him a way out of the multiple claims on him which had accumulated. He holes up in Woodstock, jams with the group later to be called the Band, and writes lots of mellow songs in the traditional mode, songs later to be released as The Basement Tapes. Then the John Wesley Harding album announces the return of the Thief by tell us that "the mocking bird's gonna fly away."

the outlaw returns to rolling thunder (1974-79)

In 1974 Dylan emerged from eight years of self-imposed isolation and tours with the Band, then in 1976 assembles a hord of musicians and poets to go on a rambling tour of small houses. It's called the Rolling Thunder Review. The Joker is back with Blood on the Tracks and remains for two more albums, Desire and Street Legal.

the outlaw gets saved: the chritian period (1979-8?)

They say Dylan was baptized in Pat Boone's swimming pool, but who knows. What we do know is that he releases three overtly Christian albums with a strongly evangelical tone, declaring that "you gotta serve somebody." Yes, the Thief is back.

lost in juarez again: o mercy! (198?-96)

This is the lowest period of real creative output for Dylan. There are good songs occasionally but no albums which compare to his best work. Biograph presents the best compilation of his works to date (1985), including some unreleased recordings. By and large the songs from this period are in the voice of the Joker, one even named "Jokerman."

i know a place where there's something going on (1997-2006)

This category will have to be updated as new work emerges, but the three albums which it now contains rival the "great three" of the mid-sixties. Time Out of Mind (1997) is in the Joker's voice. This dark album is followed in by the mellow Love and Theft (2001) which returns to the voice of the thief. Modern Times (2006) remains mellow, with the best song declaring "I'll be with you when the deal goes down," a kind of philosophical verse of "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder I'll Be There." As Dylan ages, the two voices can often reside in the same album, sometimes in the same song.

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