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Nobel Dylan

I remember the firs time I listened to Blonde on Blonde.  I'd been impressed by some of his songs, and lots of them I found weirdly artificial -- his pseudo-illiterate grammar no American ever used, his teenage-genius visions.  he was somehing -- no doubt -- but I couldn't predict what.  But hearing Blonde on Blonde I was sure I was listening ot one of the great works of art dcreated in my lifetime.  Then came John Wesley Harding and I was astonished all over again.  I've listened far less to the music he's done since -- though some of what I've heard almost matches those two albums.

ANd the Nobel gives me leave to reveal my long-ago-earned but so-far-secret knowledge of the import of one of his most teasingly obscure but actually quite obvious songs:  All Along the Watchtower.

"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now - the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, and their foot-servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

The secret of the song is that it is a moebius strip.  The last stanza is actually the beginning:  the ladies on the watchtower observe two riders approaching.  The point of view then shifts to the two riders:  the joker and the thief.  The hour is getting late for their arrival.  But they can never arrive -- because they and their conversation have been put first, and when the last line as sung is reached, and the ladies see them in the distance, they must begin again.  "There must be some way out of this," says the Joker -- but there isn't, despite the Thief's insistence that they've been through that (they have) and they should not talk falsely:  the hour is getting late, but can never pass.  The Joker has it right.

[BTW on a couple sites I read the words "barefoot servants too" which is absurd.]

Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Oct. 13th, 2016 03:03 pm (UTC)
Reply
“All Along the Watchtower” also has one of the fastest take-offs in rock ’n’ roll—with the very first line we are off and roaring. (Dylan’s “Hurricane” achieved the same difficult feat.)

Note how Jimmy Hendrix, in adding two worthless syllables (“There must be some kinda way out of here”), totally destroys the effect.

--Greg Feeley

dalaruan
Oct. 13th, 2016 03:28 pm (UTC)
Absolutely sweet Marie
Listened to "Blonde on Blonde" in the summer of 1990, during a very, very bad year of my life. I was in my early twenties then, living alone in the big house of a family who spend the summer in Sweden. I rummaged in the father's stock of boring classical LPs and found Bob Dylan. The only popular music in the whole house! For my generation Dylan sounded almost as oldfashioned as Bach. But I sat there in an old armchair, staring out of the window and listened to Blonde on Blonde all day long. for many, many days until I knew the lyrics by heart. I still know them. "To live outside the law you must be honest." Yes.
crowleycrow
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Absolutely sweet Marie
Not many old albums could do that -- and not many young people would be as receptive.
mr_mediocre
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Absolutely sweet Marie
There's a cover of "Absolutely Sweet Marie" by Jason and the Scorchers from back in the early 1980s that turns it into a rave-up. First version of the song I heard and by far my favorite.
richardlehnert
Oct. 13th, 2016 03:31 pm (UTC)
Nobel Dylan
I remember reading, 40 or so years ago (I think in Rolling Stone), another critic's view that the song's last verse is actually its first, or is simultaneously its first and last, and ever since have heard the story retell itself in that order even as Dylan and so many others sing it as writ.

But "barefoot servants" does seem to be Dylan's original wording. It's what I've always heard him sing, and it's how that line appears in the various editions of Dylan's own book "Lyrics" (I've have just checked the "Lyrics 1962-1985" edition).

And "barefoot servants" makes it own vividly scene-setting sense, I feel, and a bit more than does the more stock and slightly more abstracted "foot-servants," which also doesn't scan quite as well.
crowleycrow
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Nobel Dylan
What!? I've saved my Secret Wisdom all these years for nothing?
crowleycrow
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Nobel Dylan
Of course it has to be in Dylan's order or it won't be recursive. In the "right" order it just ends.
richardlehnert
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Nobel Dylan
Ayup!
womzilla
Oct. 16th, 2016 03:30 am (UTC)
Re: Nobel Dylan
The official Bob Dylan website, BobDylan.com, has the lyrics of (I believe) all of his songs and it agrees that "barefoot servants" is the lyric--though I, too, have heard Dylan's version as saying "their foot-servants". He might even have sung it that way sometimes.

I do not know if the site has the original lyrics or the current lyrics of songs that Bob has changed over the years--though it appears that "Tangled Up in Blue" follows the version from Blood on the Tracks, not any of the hundreds of revisions that have followed.

Edited at 2016-10-16 03:31 am (UTC)
crowleycrow
Oct. 16th, 2016 11:04 am (UTC)
Re: Nobel Dylan
I guess it depends on how the lyrics of the songs were acquired. From Dylan's written pages, or from listening and transcribing? Were the transcribed or copied lyrics submitted to Dylan for correction? (That would have placed Dylan in a quandary -- choose between what i did sing and I wanted to/should have sung?). Now that he has a Nobel specifically for what he wrote, all this will become increasingly urgent to decide.
Chris Heinz
Oct. 13th, 2016 06:59 pm (UTC)
All Along The Watchtower
Thanks for the analysis of "All Along The Watchtower". I have been performing the song with blues/rock bands for maybe 10 years. I started with the Hendrix version & couldn't get it to work so I do it Reggae. I have indeed been singing "barefoot servants too", thanks for the correction. I really like the moebius strip concept. Other notes:

1) I have been told by other players that "Watchtower" is the most commonly played song by bar bands.

2) Between the 2nd & 3rd verse everybody takes solos. Coming into the 3rd verse, I channel my chi, fill my lungs, tighten my diaphragm, and belt out "All along the watchtower" with everything I have. I have said many times that this is how I expect to die. Massive cerebral aneurysm belting "All Along The Watchtower".

3) I do the song in Bm, Bm A G A, but every 4th time through do instead Bm A Em7 F#m7
richardlehnert
Oct. 14th, 2016 12:32 am (UTC)
Re: All Along The Watchtower
"barefoot servants too" is what Dylan sings on John Wesley Harding, and it's the wording that appears in his own books of lyrics.
crowleycrow
Oct. 14th, 2016 01:12 am (UTC)
Re: All Along The Watchtower
Well okay then. More strangeness even than I thought.
murasaki_1966
Oct. 14th, 2016 01:57 am (UTC)
If Dylan has a Nobel Prize for Literature, surely it can't be too long until Ursula Le Guin has hers.
Rodger Cunningham
Oct. 14th, 2016 04:17 pm (UTC)
Hear hear.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 15th, 2016 12:55 pm (UTC)
Ursula Le Guin
now THAT would be something!
i'd be more than happy to see Mr. Crowley get one too... :)
crowleycrow
Oct. 15th, 2016 02:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Ursula Le Guin
My Address to the Academy is already written.
tinacastanares
Oct. 14th, 2016 04:56 am (UTC)
laying down a weary tune
Recently I had the deep pleasure of teaching and singing Dylan's mystical, gorgeous song "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" to an audience that, for the most part, had never heard it. It's my favorite of his, though obscure, I guess.

I can't think of any poetry I've read that does a better job of properly reducing us humans in the face of giant Nature....in this case, humbling our own best musical offerings in comparison with the Music of the seas, the rivers, the winds.

In this act of humbling it achieves nobility, yes Nobelity, especially as the lyrics are paired with a melody and chord progression vaguely oldish, Scottish, heroic.

Here are the words:

Lay Down Your Weary Tune
Bob Dylan

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drum of dawn

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The ocean wild like an organ played
The seaweed wove its strands
The crashing waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and the sand

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The crying rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love's breast
The branches bare like a banjo moan
To the winds that listen the best

I gazed down in the river's mirror
And watched its winding strum
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

crowleycrow
Oct. 15th, 2016 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: laying down a weary tune
Ah I can hear it, at least a little. One from long ago I think.
hendrikboom
Oct. 17th, 2016 01:04 pm (UTC)
Re: laying down a weary tune
Seeing it here, I find I can still sing it. All I remembered, though was the melody and the chorus.

You're right. It is an old one.
innovationhave
Oct. 14th, 2016 09:02 am (UTC)
Thats astonishing...
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )