It was in 2012 that I first listened to Bob Dylan. Somehow I don’t know why he never appealed to me before that. I was into a lot of blues music which was mostly about guitar.
But when one of my musical heroes, John Mayer, stated his love for Dylan, I was both surprised and curious. My father had Dylan’s discography in his computer. I listened to a few albums first. It took me awhile to figure out Dylan’s style. Now I can safely say I am a fan.
John Wesley Harding, released in 1967, is the quintessential folk rock album with laidback bohemian flourishes in delivery. The opening track John Wesley Harding was about a “friend to the poor”. Harding was a criminal who bullied the rich and haughty to help the poor with money. This poor man’s hero possessed wit and courage each time fleeing when he saw the cops.
As I Went Out One Morning was about the charms of a woman. A beauty “that ever did walk in chains”, the character says he instantly fell for her looks. She lured the man to marry her, that they would both run away. But then the lines went:
“Just then Tom Paine, himself/came running from across the field/shouting at this lovely girl/and commanding her to yield”.
The song was about the powers of sexuality of a woman, of what it can do to men.
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest was about self-righteousness.
Frankie Lee, despite needing money, disagreed an offer from Judas Priest. Frankie Lee desired “eternity” above everything else. Later, he found that Judas Priest lived in such an eternity, a big house “as bright as any sun/with four and twenty windows/and a woman’s face in ev’ry one”. The song was about our delusions of self-righteousness, that we should not be“mistaking paradise/for that home across the road”.
I Am A Lonesome Hobo was about jealousy that leads to downfall. The lyrics went:
“Well, once I was rather prosperous/There was nothing I did lack/I had fourteen-karat gold in my mouth/And silk upon my back/But I did not trust my brother/I carried him to blame/Which led me to my fatal doom/To wander off in shame”.
The song talks about the twist of fate in our lives once we break from morality. It has a haunting acoustic guitar playing emphasising the story of the hobo.
Blood On The Tracks released in 1975 had Tangled Up In Blue, the story of a husband who is being looked down upon by his in-laws for being poor. He runs away with the hope of finding a better life. The song was about poor men who come to marry women who belong to rich families. The lyrics grappled with inner conflict and desperation.
You’re A Big Girl Now was about a man who reflects upon his lover who is all grown up. He says the girl has changed, but he keeps drifting in loneliness without her. The song about unrequited love was a tribute to all lovers who felt like Dylan.
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go was another beautiful love song.
It spoke about the longing that Dylan knows he will feel when his lover departs. Infact, both had a fight which is left unresolved. Dylan fears the worse and requests her to come back.
“I’ll look for you in old Honolulu/San Francisco, Ashtabula/Yer gonna have to leave me now I know/But I’ll see you in the sky above/In the tall grass in the ones I love/Yergonna make me lonesome when you go”.
Shelter From the Storm reminded me of a scene from the movie Cold Mountain. It was a story of a soldier who fleed from war seeking shelter amidst the storm. He travelled by foot through valleys and rivers and comes across a log house.
There a beautiful woman welcomed him in, where he was nursed and fed. The song was about hope and belief in love.
If You See Her Say
Hello was about an innocuous man who longs for his lady love. He imagines her living life far away from him.
The song was like a prayer, that this lady would live happily without any danger, and that he would soon return to her.
Dylan, through his repertoire, has shown he can cover a range of subjects and themes.
His explorations with love, isolation, longing, identity and existence are remarkable coming from a singer-songwriter.
I have yet to discover more of his albums.
I can safely say, though being just in the initial stage, I am falling in love with the man’s poetry.