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Bob Dylan’s 2012 album Tempest’s closing song ‘Roll On, John' features the lyric: ‘Tyger, Tyger, burning bright’ – Dylan’s ‘self-reflexive’ commentary on the album’s own Bllakean ‘fearful symmetry’. William Blake in ‘The Tyger’:
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? '.
In the apocalyptic closing verse of Infidels’s opening song ‘Jokerman’ (1983):
It’s a shadowy world, skies are slippery grey A woman just gave birth to a prince today and dressed him in scarlet He’ll put the priest in his pocket, put the blade to the heat Take the motherless children off the street And place them at the feet of a harlot Oh, Jokerman, you know what he wants Oh, Jokerman, you don’t show any response
This is derived, partially via Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, from Revelation 17 King James Version (KJV)
17 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth.
In Tempest’s second song, ‘Soon After Midnight’: ‘Charlotte’s a harlot, dresses in scarlet’ In Tempest’s penultimate and title song: ‘he read the book of Revelation’. Michael Gray on Infidels in Song & Dance Man III (2000):
. . . it was all too obvious, even in the murky dusk of 1984, that this wasn't a tyger at all. No fearful symmetry here, no burning bright, no fire in the eyes. This was the runt of some domesticated mongrel litter, by Hollywood out of Tin Pan Alley, set loose just for the tourists. A real Bob Dylan tyger wouldn't have looked at it twice.
John Gibbens, author of The Nightingale’s Code: A poetic study of Bob Dylan, writes in his ‘Bow Down to Her on Sunday’ Web article about Blakean ‘fearful symmetry’:
But a song can have ‘hidden’ or ‘other’ meanings in another way: not as concealed within it or ‘behind’ it, but hidden in the sense that we don’t see them until we see the larger form of which the thing we are looking at is a part. These are the relations that give a work of art its third dimension, its depth. The larger form is the artist’s body of work and also the “order of words” that Northrop Frye speaks of, the total form of literature.
From Andrew Muir’s erstwhile Judas! Number 7 – October 2003, Michael Gray on ‘Christopher Ricks’ Dylan’s Visions of Sin’ Penguin Books, 25 September 2003:
. . . and there was a scarily good reworked lecture by John Gibbens – a piece so alert and sensitive to the nuance and detail of poetic effect that I almost wanted to give up using words myself, on the page or the public platform.
In December 2009 there was a BBC Radio 6 programme called Bob Dylan's Changing Times. In it we got the delusional and dull-witted tabloid biographer Howard Sounes stroppily dismissing Dylan's Eighties work, in an irritating London wide-boy accent, as having 'no[oooow] unifying concepts!' Wrong: he just didn’t perceive any. No surprise there. Last night the wind was whispering; Sounes was trying to make out what it was. The unifying concept blowing through Infidels is blowing – which frames its fearful symmetry: the ‘code in the lyrics’. More specifically the blowing of the Ram’s Horn Music on Rosh Hashanah. Infidels is Dylan’s Rosh Hashanah album: tashlich breadcasting. As for the Tangled Up in Jews website, which has cleverly equivocated and sidestepped the issue of ‘Jokerman’’s breadcasting for what is now into the third decade: ‘with the truth [shofar] off, what good will it do?’ There are fewer ‘unifying concepts’ blowing through 2001’s “Love And Theft” than through 1983’s Infidels. But what does the Warmuthian cut-and-paste generation care – in its two-dimensional perception and delusional critical arbitration about the limitations of the genius of the person whom they call, paradoxically, a genius? ‘Hurricane blowing’ (’Jokerman’); ‘St James Street / Where you blew Jackie P’s mind’ (‘Don’t’ Fall Apart On Me Tonight’): revisited eighteen years later in ‘the secrets of the breeze’ and the blowing of Gabriel’s horn. Fearful symmetry between the opening and closing songs of Infidels – and between Infidels and “Love And Theft”’s own fearful symmetry between its opening and closing songs. ‘Things twice’.
In his book The Nightingale’s Code: A poetic study of Bob Dylan (2001), John Gibbens quotes from Henry Miller’s surreal ‘My Dream of Mobile’: a chapter in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). (I had to go to Sodom and Gomorrah to locate it.) Here is a smaller snippet from Gibbens’s own excerpt, the snippet fitting perfectly with the ways I have thought about Bob Dylan’s ’Jokerman’ since 1983; and from within the first few listenings. When I saw the excerpt in 2002, the snippet below just leapt out at me as original ‘Jokerman’ inspiration (even though Gibbens does not evidently use it in that way) – directly in keeping with the interpretative tenor of much that I had already thought and written:
Events transpire in all declensions at once; they are never conjugated. What is not Gog is Magog––and at nine punkt Gabriel always blows his horn. But is it music? Who cares?
Dylan’s ‘Gabriel blows his horn’ lyric, links, via Henry Miller, “Love And Theft” (2001) with Infidels (1983), where there was far more alchemy than in that much later album so celebrated for its ‘cut and paste’. But getting back to scarlet and harlot, there are some other Infidels lyrics which form fearful symmetry with the new album Tempest – and ‘precisely’ in this respect of ‘blowing’. The album opens with ‘Duquesne Whistle’. No real connection with ‘Jokerman’ – other than obliquely in terms of Dylan’s long-term ‘total form of literature’ obsession with the blowing of horns and whistles. Call it the kind of ‘unifying concept’ which excites Gibbens. (Find his bookshop talk on Youtube) But ‘Scarlet Town’ has this line:
Little boy blue come blow your horn in Scarlet Town where I was born
Which is indebted to this nursery rhyme:
Little Boy Blue come blow your horn, The sheep's in the meadow the cow's in the corn. But where's the boy who looks after the sheep? He's under a haystack fast asleep. Will you wake him? No, not I - for if I do, he's sure to cry
Which isn’t so far off from another nursery rhyme to which ‘Jokerman’ is partially indebted:
Little lad, little lad, Where wast thou born? Far off in Lancashire, Under a thorn; Where they sup sour milk From a ram’s horn.
Children’s writer Nigel Hinton inhabited Whitmanesque multitudes above the ‘surface waste’. Rimbaud is another, and Hinton is many – call him Critical Everyman. Hinton supping Eighties-Dylan sour milk in ‘Into the Future, Knocked Out and Loaded’ in the highbrow former Dylan fanzine The Telegraph in the late Eighties:
So, since 1979, I have found Dylan’s work to be largely lacking in that quality that put him in another class from everyone else. Even when his songs in this period had been clever (and many of them have been clever and beautiful) they have always been explicit. The meaning is all there on the surface and there has not been that elusive, ambiguous quality with which he used to manage to invest even simple words so that they would suddenly open up to a new meaning. Even rich and complex songs such as ‘Jokerman’ are rich and complex only on the surface – they do not have resonances that suddenly bloom to reveal something previously unthought of by the listener. There has been no mystery in his art and, simultaneously, he has been less musically and vocally inventive.
But with the truth shofar off, what good would it do? At blog Ralph the Sacred River, http://ralphriver.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/bobdylan-carl-sandburg-and-problem.html:
Thursday, June 03, 2010 Bob Dylan, Carl Sandburg, and the "Borrowing" Problem At 12/06/2010 04:42:00 PM, Singing Bear said...
Whatever Dylan's motives may or may not have been in, seemingly, fabricating events by misusing the words of others, it certainly indicates the lengths he has gone to to break free from the prison of his 80's slump. Japanese novelists, Henry Timrod and now this. As a life-long Dylan fan, I'm beginning to feel a little uneasy about the plagiarism*. On the other hand, much of the work that has arisen from this activity is stunning. Not sure if it justifies such 'love and theft', though.
Luke 7 King James Version (KJV) for those oh-so-sensitive to the delicate nuances and cadences of bluesy language:
30But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. 31And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? 32They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
Gibbens p 101:
Likewise the invocation, "Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune", is countered right at the end of the record by a verse of typical and brilliant scorn . . .
Which is this:
What about that millionaire with the drumsticks in his pants? He looked so baffled and so bewildered When he played and we didn’t dance
Fearful symmetry. Warmuthian cut-and-paste generation dance to it. And drink its Tempestuous cup, for the Titanic sails at ‘dawn’ (which it didn’t) . .. A year after Infidels: Sunday Times, 1 July 1984 Week in Focus p 15 -- Mick Brown ‘exclusive’ interview:
Bob Dylan tugged at a cigarette, stroked the beginnings of an untidy beard and gazed pensively at the stream of traffic passing down the Madrid street. “What you gotta understand”, he said at length, “is that I do something because I feel like doing it. If people can relate to it, that's great; if they can't, that's fine too. But I don't think I'm gonna be really understood until maybe 100 years from now. What I've done, what I'm doing, nobody else does or has done.” The messianic tone grew more intense. “When I'm dead and gone maybe people will realise that, and then figure it out. I don't think anything I've done has been even mildly hinted at. There's all these interpreters around, but they're not interpreting anything except their own ideas. Nobody's come close.”
Incidentally, the sentence I have italicized above, naughty Mick, Mick the ‘Exclusive’, put into Dylan’s mouth for dramatic effect . . . © 2012 Paul Kirkman, ‘Messianic’ Dylanologist.
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