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Shakespeare in the Alley


Show SIX: lOVE SONGS, pART I

 

summary

DYLAN REJECTS the sappiness of Tin Pan Alley love songs. creating new depth to his most common type of popular song. Some of his love songs are love songs, but some are about the, artist/audience relationship, some about spiritual love, and one, “I Want You,” is a critique of popular love song tradition, closing with a Beatles image: " Your dancing child wth his Chinese suit, He spoke to me, I took his flute..."

 

SHAKESPEARE IN THE ALLEY: THE LOVE SONGS   Part I

Welcome back, folks, to this the sixth show in the series.  My theme this week is a favorite of both Shakespeare and Dylan:  love.  Shakespeare wrote all those love sonnets, some of which were about much more than just romantic love.  “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love that changes when it changes finds.”  You may not think first of love songs when you think of Dylan.  Often people thing of protest songs, but in 1965 an interviewer asked Dylan, “ What does the word protest mean to you?”  Dylan’s reply reveals much about the recent transition he had made.  He says, “To me?  Means uh…singing when I don’t really wanna sing.”


I:  Do you sing protest songs?
D: No.
I:  What do you sing?
D:   I sing love songs.

 

But when Dylan says “love songs” he isn’t thinking of the kind of popular love songs heard on the radio when he was growing up.  Most of those love songs came out of what was called “Tin Pan Alley” the cacophonous noice created by hundreds of commercial song writers banging on old pianos in one district of New York.  They turned out songs by the dozen hoping to hit it big, songs like this one from 1957, the year Dylan moved from his sophomore to his junior year in high school. 

DUPREES VERSE OF “YOU BELONG TO ME”
Cross the ocean in a silver plane,
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain
Just remember till you’re home again
You belong to me.

 

That’s the Duprees version of “You Belong to Me,” a typical kind of 50s love song. 
Dylan was, from the beginning, looking for something more real than this kind of commercial song to sing.  He first found it in the folk tradition and in Woody Guthrie.  Dylan’s reaction to Tin Pan Alley can be found on the Freewheelin’ album in 1962 in his introduction to “Bob Dylan’s Blues”:

“BOB DYLAN’S BLUES”  from Freewheelin’ with introduction
Unlike most of the folk songs today written in Tin Pan Alley,
This was written somewhere down in the United States.

Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto
They are ridin' down the line
Fixin' ev'rybody's troubles
Ev'rybody'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 away from my door and my window too
Right now

 

So let’s take a look at Dylan’s kind of love songs, for he has written many.  About half of his songs are in once sense or another “love songs.”  This may surprise you at first, since we tend to think of other kinds of songs when his name comes up. But Dylan has always written love songs, from “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” in 1962 to “Lay Lady Lay” in 1969 to “If  You See Her Say Hello” in 1975 to “Make You Feel My Love” in 1997 to “When the Deal Goes Down” in 2006

Opening of “Make You Feel My Love” ON Love and Theft

When the rain is blowing in your face
and the whole world is on your case
I could offer a warm embrace
to make you feel my love

When evening shadows and the stars appear
and there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
to make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
but I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
no doubt in my mind where you belong

 

Obviously Dylan writes lots of other kinds of songs, too.  We think of those first, when Dylan is mentioned, because that’s what made him stand out in the sixties.  When Dylan came on the scene in 1961 over 90% of all popular songs were on the theme of love, courtship, breaking up, or getting back together.  Dylan changed that.  He blazed a trail which paved the way for other song writers.  The term singer-songwriter did not exist before Dylan.  Now it’s a category.

So it’s really a rhetorical question to ask if Dylan changed popular music.  American popular music has never been the same since his influence was felt.  But he has always written love songs of various kinds. They stand in relationship to the rest of his work somewhat like Shakespeare’s sonnets stand in relationship to his s.  In them, the artist explores this basic theme which is found in all kinds of literature.  But he does not focus on this one theme exclusively.  In the rest of his work, he explores many universal themes.  And we will look at those too, in other shows, but this show focuses just on love songs.

~”DON’T THINK TWICE” NOT FROM TIN PAN ALLEY
Dylan’s love songs project a freshness and honesty which give them an appeal which songs coming out of Tin Pan Alley lacked.  He uses basic images, images of the road, of light and dark, of name, which speak to something deep within us.  One of his most famous love songs is deceptively simple.  It has been recorded by countless artists over the years.  Many people know Dylan songs as they were covered by others more than they know Dylan’s version.  This one was first a hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1962, but let’s listen to Dylan’s version, from the Freewheelin’ album, 1962:


“Don’t Think Twice” on Freewheelin’
It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don't matter, anyhow
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don't know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm trav'lin' on
Don't think twice, it's all right

               It ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
So don't think twice, it's all right

               It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear you any more
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I'm told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right

 

Many of Dylan’s love songs echo that loner’s refrain “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul.” As he returns to this theme he gets even more intense.  Possession by others is something that he rants against.  We might almost call some of his songs “anti-love songs.”   Looking back at this song after knowing Dylan’s later work, we find themes and symbols which taken on deeper significance than we tended to see in 1962.  Images such as light, lonesome road, and window become recurring symbols as we move through Dylan’s four decades of songs. 

I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
But goodbye's too good a word, gal
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right

 

~ANOTHER SIDE: ”IT AIN’T ME BABE”

A couple of years later another of his anti-love songs illustrates his rejection of fitting into anyone else’s idea of who he should be.  By 1964 when “It Ain’t Me Babe,” comes out he had been labeled “the voice of a generation” and had already begun his unsuccessful attempt to escape that role.  Thus the title of the album: Another Side of Bob Dylan. It’s the last of the four first albums on which he performs alone with just his guitar and harmonica.  This song on one level portrays a romantic relationship, or rather the rejection of one; but at another level it speaks of his relationship with his audience, for they, like the “you” in the song, were wanting someone “To protect you an' defend you/ Whether you are right or wrong.”  It opens with another use of the window image, and a line right out of an old folk song.


IT AIN'T ME, BABE  verse one
Go 'way from my window,
Leave at your own chosen speed.
I'm not the one you want, babe,
I'm not the one you need.
You say you're lookin' for someone
Never weak but always strong,
To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong,
Someone to open each and every door,
But it ain't me, babe,
No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

 

This may seem to speak more to the situation in my generation growing up in the 60’s than to the situation today.  Certainly we can hear a rejection of the gender stereotype of the times, which, as Dylan told us, were a-changin’.  It rejects the male white knight figure who is “never weak but always strong” who comes riding in “To protect you and defend you whether you are right or wrong.”   The song was written just about the time of the publication of the first major book in the second wave feminist movement.  Betty Freidan’s Feminine Mystique challenges the role females are asked to , the weak role of one who waits for the doors to be opened.  But there is more than that going on here.  It is also Dylan’s rejection of the role he was being asked to  as the “voice of a generation.”

 Go lightly from the ledge, babe,
Go lightly on the ground.
I'm not the one you want, babe,
I will only let you down.
You say you're lookin' for someone
Who will promise never to part,
Someone to close his eyes for you,
Someone to close his heart,
Someone who will die for you an' more,
But it ain't me, babe,
No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

 

Here we see him rejecting more than the role of  “protest singer” which his previous album, The Times They Are A-changin’ , had created.  He is also rejecting all the stereotypical promises made in so many standard love songs of the ‘50s.   The refrain, “No, no, no” might even be a negation of the Beatles’ refrain popular at the time:  

CHORUS OF BEATLES’ SONG  
“He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Even Beatles’ love songs were sappy until they met Bob and he turned them on in more than one way.   

The last verse of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” uses images that tease us.  They prefigure the psychedelic phase  soon to emerge:


Go melt back into the night
Everything inside is made of stone.
There's nothing in here moving
An' anyway I'm not alone.
You say you're looking for someone
Who'll pick you up each time you fall,
To gather flowers constantly
An' to come each time you call,
A lover for your life an' nothing more,
But it ain't me, babe,
No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

 

The common love song term “babe” acts as a double entendre suggesting a lack of development on the part of the one being addressed.  His overall message to “babe” is clear:  I am not the one to protect you from the truth but to tell you the truth.  And that is what Dylan’s songs are always about: the truth.   He makes that clear repeatedly.  He says it most blatantly in “Outlaw Blues” on the next album, Bringing It All Back Home in 1965, the first album with electricity:

FOURTH VERSE of “OUTLAW BLUES” 
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.

 

~LOVE SONG ON ART/ARTIST/AUDIENCE RELATIONSHIP: “SHE BELONGS TO ME”
But let’s not drift off into the blues.  Let’s get back to love songs. 

As “It Ain’t Me Babe” illustrates, many of Dylan’s love songs are not just love songs.  And some which seem to be love songs are not really love songs at all.  Let’s look at another song on the 1965 albu  Bringing It All Back Home.  The title,  “She Belongs to Me,” is at first enigmatic and then, as we begin to understand the lyrics and think of what he is saying, it starts to make sense.  In this case, it also alludes to the sappy love song tradition.  One of the most popular love songs of the 50s was titled “You Belong to Me.” I ed a verse for you at the beginning of this show.  

FIRST VERSE OF “SHE BELONGS TO ME”
She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.

 

Since this song comes to us in the popular song medium, our first response is to see it as a love song. “She’s got everything she needs” makes us think first of our romantic ideal, the girl of our dreams, but that ain’t where this song is going.  Somehow this relationship of “you” to “she” isn’t about romance:

SECOND VERSE:
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees.

 

Some of my gentle listeners may be asking, “But who’s really listening to the words?  And who’s gonna stop and think about them?   This is pop music heard at parties and on the radio while we’re driving around.”   Well, let me tell you this, by 1965 when Bringing It All Back Home came out, people had already begun to change their way of listening.  And many realized that this was not a song about romance but about the artist and his art.  That the “she” was really “the artist”  and the “you” was the other part of the same person.  Like so many other artists, especially Romantic artists, Dylan is writing about the demands of art on the artist.

THIRD VERSE:
She never stumbles,
She's got no place to fall.
She never stumbles,
She's got no place to fall.
She's nobody's child,
The Law can't touch her at all.

 

I opened the series with reference to Allen Ginsberg, who stands in the alley behind Dylan in opening scene of Don’t Look Back, a film shot in 1965 and who visits the grave of Jack Kerouac with Dylan in the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975.  The artist, in the words of that other central Beat poet, Lawrence Ferlingetti, is up there like the trapeze artist, “constantly risking absurdity,” Dylan even once described himself as a trapeze artist.  Ferlinghetti’s words are so apt:  “spread-eagle in the empty air,” the trapeze artist is always in danger when performing “over the heads” of the audience, and with no net, with nothing to protect him.  Or I should say “her,” for the artist is a female figure here (as in may other depictions). 

FOURTH VERSE:
She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She's a hypnotist collector,
You are a walking antique.

 

Dylan, like Coleridge in his famous poem “Kubla Khan,” pictures, an almost religious relationship of artist to audience.  Coleridge’s closing lines in his 1816 poem convey this idea, describing the way the modern artist, i.e., the Romantic artist, is viewed:

                And all  … shall seem him there
And all shall cry, Beware, Beware.
Weave a circle round him thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey dew hath fed a
And drunk the milk of paradise.

 

Here we see Coleridge portraying the artist as someone both revered and feared by the audience.  “Beware,” they say, but also “he hath drunk the milk of paradise.” Compare Dylan’s closing verse:

FINAL VERSE:
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum.

 

Dylan and Coleridge are both describing the relationship of the audience to the Romantic (capital R) artist, and since the turn of the nineteenth century, that has been the dominant image of the artist.  This love song is not really a love song at all.  Dylan uses the outer form to convey an inner truth about the artist, his art, and his audience.  This popular song form has been transformed into an artistic medium of much greater substance.  Most love songs have one simple message:  I want you (or in the case of the breaking up song, I don’t want you anymore).  This song goes far beyond that.

The association of Dylan with the English Romantic poets is more than superficial, as Dylan makes clear in his 2004 memoir Chronicles Vol.1.  After discussing the harm that television was doing to young minds, he comments that the three minute song, standard for the radio when Dylan came along in 1960, did the same kind of harm. So he began to seek ways to create longer songs. This is what he writes in Chronicles:

I had broken myself of the habit of thinking in short song cycles and began reading longer and longer poems to see if I could remember anything I read about in the beginning.  I trained my mind to do this, had cast off gloomy habits and learned to settle myself down.  I read all of Lord Byron’s Don Juan and concentrated fully from start to finish.  Also Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.  I began cramming my brain with all kinds of deep poems.  It seemed like I’d been pulling an empty wagon for a long time and now I was beginning to fill it up and would have to pull harder. (56)

Clearly Dylan had moved past the stage of thinking of himself as just a folk song writer.  He was consciously seeking ways to break through to something new and he did.

~LOVE SONGS ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL:  “OH SISTER”
So some of Dylan’s love songs are really love songs, like “Don’t Think Twice”; but some of them might be called anti-love songs (as we saw in “It Ain’t Me Babe,” which protests against the sick view of the phony love song); and some are not love songs at all but are songs using the form to examine the relationship of the artist and his art.  Then others are about -- would you believe this? -- about our relationship to God and to one another?  

There are many kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished different kinds of love:  the erotic, the platonic, the fraternal love; and then there was the love for humankind as a whole, which they called agape.  That was their word for the kind of love exhibited by Jesus of Nazareth and Gandhi of India and Martin Luther King, Jr. of the United States of America.  And some of Dylan’s “love songs” are about this kind of love.

I’m not talking about songs from the so-called “Christian period.” We’ll get to that in a different show.  Dylan was always concerned more with the spiritual than the political.  Let’s look at a song from the Desire album released in 1976.  Notice how the first verse makes you think first of  romantic love, Eros as the Greeks called it, the  kind which popular songs are so often about—but then it takes a turn.

“OH, SISTER” FROM DESIRE:
Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your arms
You should not treat me like a stranger.
Our Father would not like the way that you act
And you must realize the danger.

 

That opening image created by “when I come to lie in your arms” sends us to the bedroom, of course, but then we get to “Our father would not like the way that you act” and we are thrown for a loop and have to rethink what’s going on here.

Oh, sister, am I not a brother to you
And one deserving of affection?
And is our purpose not the same on this earth,
To love and follow His direction?

 

This is not from Slow Train or any of the Christian albums which came out in 1979-83, this is from the 1976 album Desire.  It really shouldn’t have been such a shock when Dylan started to release overtly Christian albums a few years later—but it was.  His focus was, from the first, spiritual rather than political.

We grew up together
From the cradle to the grave
We died and were reborn
And then mysteriously saved

Oh, sister, when I come to knock on your door,
Don't turn away, you'll create sorrow.
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore
You may not see me tomorrow.

 

It is the mystery of life and death and meaning and chaos that always was at the center of what Dylan saw.  Some may think that it is pushing too far to note the allusion to Christ who stands at the door and knocks in the final verse.  But not really. The ‘I’ in Dylan’s songs is often not the songwriter from Hibbing, Minnesota but some other who may be almost anyone.

~A REAL LOVE SONG:  “IF NOT FOR YOU” (FROM NASHVILLE SKYLINE)
So, some love songs are really about the spiritual love the Greeks called agape.  It’s clear that Dylan gave lots of thought to the love song as a form.  He did write some wonderful love songs that are just that.  I don’t want to give the impression otherwise, by focusing only on the songs which aren’t really love songs.

So let’s look at one of Dylan’s finest love songs, a true tribute to romantic love, to eros, to a kind of whole-hearted devotion to another human being which we all aspire to but few reach.

FIRST VERSE OF “IF NOT FOR YOU” ON NASHVILLE SKYLINE
If not for you,
Babe, I couldn't find the door,
Couldn't even see the floor,
I'd be sad and blue,
If not for you.

 

It all sounds so simple—and it is, of course, until we see the complex design of the rhyme throughout the song.  Christopher Ricks in his book Dylan’s Visions of Sin devotes almost five pages to an analysis of the rhymes and Dylan’s subtle changes from verse to verse.  The second verse, as Ricks points out, sounds as if it’s the same pattern as the first but it’s not.

               If not for you,
Babe, I'd lay awake all night,
Wait for the mornin' light
To shine in through,
But it would not be new,
If not for you.

 

Then the bridge alters the pattern, and it repeated, but with variation, as Ricks points out, so that the concluding repetition of the title phrase comes next to last the first time and then returns to last on the repetition with slight alteration.  Variety within similitude.

               If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all,
I'd be lost if not for you,
And you know it's true.

               If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all,
Oh! what would I do
If not for you.

 

Then comes the final verse with its need to end without seeming to stop, as Ricks puts it.  And to achieve this Dylan comes up with a dual rhyme, a line ending with two words that combine the two rhymes.

               If not for you,
Winter would have no spring,
Couldn't hear the robin sing,
I just wouldn't have a clue,
Anyway it wouldn't ring true,
If not for you.

 

Here’s Ricks’s comment in Dylan's Visions of Sin (471):

If the song is to end, and it must, you know, then in some way it must itself “ring true” that this is an ending, not a stopping.  And this word “true” is the only rhyme-word that has returned, other than that of the refrain.  “And you know it’s true” returns now as “Anyway it wouldn’t ring true”—and this with a reminder about the challenge to which all art has to rise.  For the earlier rhyme on “new” (“But it would not be new’) asks to be taken in conjunction with “true,” to remind us that the challenge to the poet is to say something at once new and true.  ….   It’s not difficult to say something new if doesn’t matter whether it’s true, or to say something true if it doesn’t matter whether it’s new.  Dylan’s song rings new and true.  And it does so by courtesy of rhyme, including that dual rhyme with which it enters upon its ending.

Ricks is the esteemed literary critic and Oxford Professor of Poetry.  His book compares a whole sereis of Dylan songs to British poetry.  Somehow he omitted my favorite comparison, that of the most famous carpe diem poem in British literature with Dylan’s song on that theme.  It fits into the pattern of Dylan’s rejection of the Tin Pan Alley tradition and with phony love songs.  One of his songs acts as a rebuttal of such phoniness.

~CARPE DIEM, DYLAN STYLE:  “I WANT YOU”                                                                      It’s a song about our attitude toward love, a love song which falls into that long tradition in poetry, one we label carpe diem poetry.   Given the changes in sexual mores since the mid-sixties, it may seem outdated to be talking of “seize the day and get it on right now,” but then I doubt life was quite so pure when Andrew Marvell wrote his famous monologue “To His Coy Mistress” in the 17th century.  As a child of the 50s,  I can hardly keep up with what’s acceptable and what’s not.  The idea of virginity, however, has deep roots in our Western tradition and is still a potent force.  Its most extreme expression is perhaps the concept of “courtly love” from the Middle Ages when knights would pledge themselves in Platonic devotion to their ladies.  Certainly the idea (or ideal) of female purity is still alive and well.  Dylan's dissection of this romantic mystique remains relevant today, however, because in it we see the clash of individual freedom and social myth. 

The purpose of social 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.  There is an ebb and flow back and forth between these two poles.  In the 50s we were pushed toward accepting the restrictions on our behavior and thought. It was the time of  Joe McCarthy and the black lists, of suburban houses made of ticky tacky, of conformity in speech and dress and political views, of  the KKK and the John Birch Society.  In  popular  music the challenge to these restrictions came in the form of Elvis the Pelvis.  It couldn’t be said openly, but the underlying message of rock n roll was clear: I Want You.  These three words become the title of Dylan's finest rebuttal of what I call the "True Love" myth.  That’s the mid-twentieth century American social myth of love that is pure and sexless.  It is eternal and never fades away.  It is found in countless songs that have faded away but also in such classics of rock history as this by Buddy Holly: “NEVER FADE AWAY”

This kind of vapidity, of falseness, permeated popular music up into the sixties.  It conveys a naïve and even phony attitude toward love still apparent in early Beatles songs:
“I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND”
This is the kind of songs the Beatles were singing before they met Dylan in 1964.  Compare the first verse of “I Want You”:
FIRST VERSE OF “I WANT YOU”: from Blonde on Blonde

The guilty undertaker sighs,
The lonesome organ grinder cries,    $$$ Put Ricks comment on web 151
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.
I want you,
I want you,
I want you so bad, honey,
I want you.

 

This verse makes me think of  the injunction by the English Romantic poet John Keats, who was clearly an influence on Dylan, as we shall see in part two of this series on love songs.  Keats told his contemporary Shelley to "load every rift with ore."  I.e., pack in as much meaning as possible in every word, every line.  The words of the first two lines in “I Want You” function not only as parts of phrases but also as independent units to create associations:  
The guilty undertaker sighs,
The lonesome organ grinder cries…

Note the significance of each word:

  • "guilty" reminds us that guilt is the first obstacle when we talk of physical pleasure; it comes with our puritan heritage
  • "sighs" reminds us of what the romantic lover is supposed to do,
  • "lonesome" reminds us of the basic motivating feeling behind it all, the feeling that makes Ramona want to be exactly like her friends, the feeling that made the speaker in “Just Like a Woman” try to fit, the feeling that makes you say, “I want to hold your hand.”
  • "cries" can be heard in two senses, as noun –the sound of sadness --and verb--it rhymes with sighs),

These words create appropriate responses in and of themselves.  "Undertaker" suggests one key issue, the other being guilt.  This is Dylan’s mid-20th century version of Andrew Marvel’s famous poem "To His Coy Mistress."   Marvel’s poem opens with these famous lines:


Had we but world enough and time
This coyness lady were no crime…
But there isn’t enough time so he gives this warning:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near

Therefore, the poem ends, let’s get it on NOW!  Marvel doesn’t use those exact words, but he does echo that word NOW just as Dylan does.  Both make the same point.  Dylan’s modern carpe diem poem-song has the same message to the shy sister, the coy cutie:  don’t hold back, don’t listen to all these phony views that create guilt; time is running out.   The condensation of "guilty undertaker," evokes the tension between guilt which keeps the coy lady from acting and that which time inevitably brings, death.  This tension 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.

The bitter irony of the lines "washed out horns/ Blow into my face with scorn," suggest a pent up and perverted sexuality, while "cracked bells" subtly but accurately connects this phony view of love 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.  This reverse order of death to birth reinforces again the unnatural quality of the situation.   Let’s listen to that first verse again:

In the chorus, Dylan reduces the expression of desire to utter simplicity: I want you.

No schmaltzy metaphors, just simple statement emphasized by musical accompaniment.  The chorus ends with an incomplete sound, created by ending on the third note in the scale which leaves us wanting competition, longing for a return to the 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 analyze the obstacles to fulfillment.  Each verse speaks of what keeps us wanting,  of what denys us what we want.  The second verse extends the list, emphasizing the link between the phoniness of the “true love” myth and the phoniness of politics and religion:

SECOND VERSE:
The drunken politician leaps
Upon the street where mothers weep
And the saviors who are fast asleep,
They wait for you.
And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin' from my broken cup
And ask me to
Open up the gate for you.
I want you, I want you,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

 

The saviors and politicians, like the undertaker and the organ grinder, preach the same phony line, telling me that “I should refuse you.”  This is the true love myth, but the truth is otherwise, as we see in the break:


Now 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.

 

There it is, the “true love” myth.  The fathers have gone down without true love, but the daughters still hold out for it, for “true love.”   Not so, however, for “the queen of spades” who stands in contrast to these daughters:

Well, I return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chambermaid.
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.
I want you, I want you,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

 

The contrast is a clear as black and white, hardly needing any analysis once the context is clear.   But just as the second verse adds political level of meaning, the third verse adds the context of the American musical tradition.  The queen of spades may be a chambermaid at one level but it is also the central figure in Robert Johnson’s famous blues song.  Dylan’s song focuses on the contrast between the phoniness of much popular music (which means white music) and the reality of the blues tradition (which means black music).  There’s nothing the queen of spades doesn’t see; she is not hoodwinked by the true love myth, by the false promises of drunken politicians, by phony religious views of “saviors who are fast asleep.”

This helps clarify that enigmatic image which opens the last verse: "Your dancing child with his Chinese suit."   This puzzled me until I began to think about Dylan's love songs as a group. With that context it suddenly made sense: it was a perfect image for popular music, perhaps inspired by the memory of the early Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in their Nehru jackets. 

Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit,
He spoke to me, I took his flute.
No, I wasn't very cute to him,
Was I?
But I did it, though, because he lied
Because he took you for a ride
And because time was on his side
And because I . . .
I want you, I want you,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

 

Like a pied piper, the dancing child has ed "catchy tunes" on his flute and lured all the children into believing his false image of true love.  But Dylan has taken that flute and used it to destroy the "True Love" myth.  Why?  Because the dancing child lied, creating false images of love and life; and because he took you for a ride, frustrating you, keeping you from knowing what you wanted; and because Time's winged chariot was on his side;  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'" as he says in “Bob Dylan’s Blues.”

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.  The melody and accompaniment work to carry the intense lyrics so that the words are absorbed rather than understood;  they come back to haunt the mind, ing 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."   But from the first line it’s clear that something beyond that is going on in this song

 

This song also highlights Dylan’s ability to use the vocal and instrumental arrangement to reinforce the central meaning of a song and thus contribute to its artistic success.  Dylan's vocal delivery in “I Want You” closer to whining than singing and is particularly monotonous musically.  One note is repeated for two, three, four bars at a time and in seven of the nine bars of the chorus.  That description might lead someone who had not heard the song to think it had no melody; actually the melody, or tune, as it is popularly called, is provided in the accompaniment.  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.  On the mid-sixties albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s voice is almost completely independent of the music.  Usually the accompaniment does more than provide musical interest of course.  "My songs are pictures," Dylan said at the time, "and the band makes the sound of the pictures."  "I Want You" is a good example. 

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 instrumental melody upon the voice so skillfully that we remember that catchy tune. This “tune” is the musical representation of the stolen flute from verse five.  In typical love songs, it has benn used to pervert the listener's view of love. Though not even sung, it is heard more than the words.  To emphasize this effect Dylan omits it during the break, a technique which is doubly effective because it provides an interlude which is, by contrast, quite prosaic:

BREAK: with “tune” before it
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" which Dylan sings of in “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” want the protection and security only found in the phony world they create in their heads, i.e., they want to escape from freedom, from life.  "I Want You" is like many other Dylan songs such as "To Ramona," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Just Like A Woman." It is a plea for us to come out and experience life, to “please crawl out your window,” to stop swooning at silver saxophones and crying over old organ grinders and begin responding to real human experience.  Dylan suggests a return to the real world, the one portrayed in the blues rather than that found in the typical popular love song.  We see this in his allusion to Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades" in the third verse.  The Queen of Spades 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 “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the 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  is Dylan's in the boy 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.

And that’s one good reason to discuss Dylan’s lyrics on the radio, because it is the way, one at least, that we hear his songs naturally.  Live performance remains his favorite means, of course, but the record or CD ed on the radio or on our sound system is how we hear him most of the time.

But just because it’s in this popular medium is no reason to assume that it is rude, and crude and culturally unsophisticated.  Let’s close our analysis of this wonderful song by listening to it all the way through, uninterrupted.  Here it is from Blonde on Blonde, the 1966 double album which came out just three months before the motorcycle accident that ended his touring for almost a decade.


~CLOSING
And I want you to come back next week when I continue looking at Dylan’s love songs.  I will focus most of the show on that incredible love song which is so much more than just a love song: “Visions of Johanna.”  It’s one of Dylan’s most complex works, one which focuses on the struggle to reconcile our longing for the ideal while confined to the world of the real.  Johanna and Louise—how do we cope with the difference?  But until next week, this is Bill King saying, I’m so glad you came around.

 

 
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