Imagine failing to attend and collect a Nobel Prize at the conferring ceremony by citing previous commitments! Well, Bob Dylan could and didn’t turn up.
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, Dylan is known as the ‘voice of protest’ and one of the greatest songwriters of all times. Recently, the world celebrated his 80th birthday worldwide. It would be safe to say the man himself would have been largely unperturbed by it and could have being writing a new song.
For this week’s Album Talk, fellow cowboy Narendra Kusnur and I discussed Bob Dylan’s transitional album ‘Bringing It All Back Home.’
Note: Language may be altered to suit the platform’s requirements.
Me: Isnt this the album where Dylan went electric?
Kusnur: Side A was electric and the B side was acoustic. It was the album when Dylan was going through a transformation as an artist. He was moving away from folk and protest to electric and his lyrics also changed.
Me: In that process he invented a genre called ‘Folk Rock.’
Kusnur: Yes, this album has its beginning. Earlier he wrote protest songs, including his first two albums. His self-titled first album had 2 original songs and the rest were covers. The second album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ had songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War” and the third one ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ were all about protest. With this album he changed his musical course. Though he did acoustic songs later too but mostly all were electric.
Me: This album too had some protest songs but still is a very ‘un-Dylan’ one.
Kusnur: Songs like “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” have a lot of protest element. This is transition album for him so it is neither the earlier Dylan nor the later one on this album.
Listen to It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
Me: The album opens with the fast paced “Subterranean Homesick Blues” which talks about the farce behind anti-establishment politics. The song is relevant even today.
Kusnur: According to him, the song was inspired by the scat music of the past. Some people also say it is a precursor to rap due to its structure.
Cowboy Kusnur starts singing,
“Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off.”
Me: The man’s lyrics were something else.
“20 years of schooling..
They put you on a day shift.”
“A man in the coonskin cap, in the pig pen
Wants eleven dollar bills, you only got ten.”
“You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows.”
Listen to Subterranean Homesick Blues
Kusnur: That is the best line in the song. During the 60s, a lot of people were addicted to cough syrups which were banned. Hence the lines “Johnny’s in the basement, Mixing up the medicine.”
Me: The next song “She Belongs to Me.”
Kusnur: This song has a lot of interpretations. Some say it is about other women while many feel it is for his ex-girlfriend.
Me: There were some love songs in the album like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.”
Kusnur: Even “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The thing with Dylan is you can interpret the songs the way you want. One can never make out if he is being sarcastic. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is essentially a love song he wrote for folk singer Joan Baez whom he was dating. Many feel it is for his other ex-girlfriend Nico, from the band ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’, who also had a fling with Jim Morrison.
Me: I think instead of writing about who all had a fling with Morrison, it should be about who didn’t! My pick from this album is “Outlaw Blues” which is about ‘coloured women’ not allowed to marry white guys.
Kusnur: It is about his rebel side too.
Listen to Mr. Tambourine Man
Me: Then there is “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
Cowboy Kusnur singing, again.
“Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate.”
Normalcy restored. Again.
Me: The lyrics are were psychedelic but he wasn’t into hard drugs when he wrote this song.
Kusnur: It is open to interpretation. He wrote this song before that famous meeting with The Beatles where they all got stoned. This song was supposed to be featured on his previous album. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is an acoustic and folk song similar to the stuff he wrote before this album. Due to the lyrics some find it psychedelic while others feel it is imaginative.
Me: The beauty of Bob Dylan is one can interpret the songs the way they want.
Listen to It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Kusnur: Bob Dylan was influenced by Jack Kerouac, a protest music writer, and also by another writer Arthur Rimbaud. A lot of musicians including Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison are said to be inspired by Rimbaud. That says something about the man.
Me: “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is a straight finger pointing song. It reminds me of the Queen song “Death on Two Legs” from the album ‘A Night at the Opera.’
Kusnur: “It’s Alright Ma” has a very poetic structure. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is one more song which has multiple interpretations. One theory is that it is him quitting folk and protest music. Second says it is about a new Bob Dylan while one more talks about the song being about an ex. As you said that’s the beauty of Bob Dylan, one can interpret him the way they want.
How do you interpret Bob Dylan?
Until next time!
P.S Cowboy Kusnur does sing better than you would have expected.