Posts Tagged ‘Blonde on Blonde’

Bob Dylan in America: Out of Many, One

“I’ll know my song well before I start singing”—Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is a plagiarist. Did you know that? Just ask Mokoto Rich, who pointed out that the lyrics from Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times, strongly resembled the poetry of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod.

Bob Dylan is a fake. Did you know that? Just ask Joni Mitchell, who recently told the Los Angeles Times that, “Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Bob Dylan is a poet, a genius, and one of the greatest artists in American history. Did you know that? Just ask Sean Wilentz, whose recent book, Bob Dylan in America, attempts to properly place Dylan in the lineage of American artists, from Allen Ginsberg to Walt Whitman, from Aaron Copland to Blind Willie McTell.

Wilentz is, by his own admission, a fan, so there is an unmistakable affection for Dylan throughout the book. When Wilentz discusses the accusations of plagiarism, for example, there’s no hint of condemnation. Similarly, Wilentz writes first-person accounts of concerts with the admiration and awe of a member of the “spellbound” audience.

But Wilentz is also a historian (and a rather renowned one at that), so Bob Dylan in America is not the gushing ode to Robert Zimmerman that so many Dylan books quickly become. Instead, Wilentz uses Dylan as a springboard to investigate the annals of American artistic history, tracing Dylan’s influences and inspiration back to their roots. As a result, Bob Dylan in America is about America as much as it is about Bob Dylan. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #55: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

This song is a joke. Not in a bad way. The whole song hinges on one joke, and a pretty basic one at that, which is repeated again and again throughout each verse. The crux of the song, if you couldn’t figure out Dylan’s usual subtlety, is a pun on the word “stoned.” Get it? “Everybody must get stoned”? It’s a drug reference!

Dylan’s sense of humor often gets overlooked, but this is probably his most famous joke. It’s also his most hokey. But if you listen to the song enough, you stop hearing the pun.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m favoring this song because it’s the lead track on Blonde on Blonde; if this song were on Bringing it all Back Home, or even Highway 61 Revisited, I’d probably dismiss it as almost as one note as “Nashville Skyline Rag.” But placed where it is, it ends up setting the tone for Dylan’s best album. As a result, I’ve listened to it more than enough times to get beyond the joke. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #47: 4th Time Around

“4th Time Around” is an easy song to forget about, coming towards the end of Side Three* of Blonde on Blonde, sandwiched between two more up-tempo, absurdist numbers, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Obviously 5 Believers.” On an album as groundbreaking and epic as Blonde on Blonde, “4th Time Around” is something of a throwback: a breakup song set in simple waltz time.

*It’s a little odd that we still refer to “sides” of albums that originally came out on vinyl, even though hardly anyone still listens to it regularly in that format anymore.

This song is often compared to The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” with some going so far as to call it an “homage” or “parody” of John Lennon’s tune. Lennon himself even implied as much in interviews. Such comparisons are probably a stretch—I don’t think Dylan was ever concerned with responding to The Beatles the way The Beatles were concerned with responding to Dylan—but there are a lot of similarities in the songs: the waltz time, conversational lyrics, etc. For The Beatles, though, such a song was a notable step forward—for Dylan it was more of a return to form. Continue reading

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