Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks", Part 3: The Scandalous Affairs of Poets

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...
Dylan at St. Lawrence Uni (Wikipedia)
by Garrett Sawyer

When you think about it you'll realize very few lyricists are well read enough to make reference to other poets in their own lyrics and make it sound so natural, so appropriate.

Only Paul Simon immediately comes to mind when he wrote in "The Dangling Conversation", "And you read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost".

In one of his songs from "Blood on the Tracks", however, Bob Dylan equals Simon, poet for poet.

Let's keep going:

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

In complete contrast to the venom that was "Idiot Wind" this song is wistful and loving. It's as if Dylan is saying simply in his own inimitable way, "We should be together but you're leaving and I will be lonely when you do".

The most powerful image in the song is the reference to the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud (sample lyric: "Situations have ended sad. Relationships have all been bad. Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud. But there's no way I can compare all those scenes to this affair").

The soap opera referred to was a torrid, volatile relationship between Frenchman Paul Verlaine and the much younger Jean Rimbaud, whom Victor Hugo once described as "an infant Shakespeare".

The elder Verlaine was already married to a young wife who was pregnant when the two poets met. The two men began a scandalous affair, subsequently moving to London where they later broke up.

Verlaine returned to Paris but missed the younger man and eventually invited the younger Rimbaud to a Brussels Hotel. The reunion went poorly, marked by arguments and alcohol.

Finally Verlaine bought a revolver and ammunition and shot Rimbaud in a drunken rage, one shot missing, the other wounding a wrist (when Dylan sings in the very first verse "I've been shooting in the dark too long" he might have been referring to this incident). Verlaine was arrested and, despite the withdrawal of charges by Rimbaud, sentenced to two years in prison.

Dylan is comparing the previous loves of his life to the volcanic ill-fated passion that existed between the two men. Then he declares that his current love completely out-shadows all the previous ones. How much more lyrical power can you concentrate into so few words? That's why Dylan is Dylan.

Meet Me in the Morning

Standard twelve bar blues. In this simple but heartfelt tune Dylan and the subject of the song have been separated.

He has been morose since her departure (sample Lyric: "They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. But you wouldn't know it by me. Every day's been darkness since you been gone").

Now he is imploring his love to join him for a new morning, not only of the day but hopefully for their relationship.

The Gentleman from Stratford-on-Avon once wrote "Brevity is the soul of wit". It's still true 400 years later. And Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is proof. Dylan can express in a few well-chosen lines what might take another artist or band an entire album to get around to saying.

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