The Simple Art of Music: Bob Dylan and Noir
ARTICLE BY John Radosta, Independent Scholar
Abstract: This article traces Dylan’s extensive use of, and connections to, crime fiction, tracing its roots from ballads such as “Barbara Allen” through Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin stories (particularly on the album Tempest), and into film noir. Many of Dylan’s noir songs, such as “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” “Down the Highway,” “Scarlet Town,” and “Tin Angel,” share rhythms and themes with crime fiction that highlight the seedy underbelly of society. This is distinct from his songs of social protest, such as “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” where the goal is to effect change, instead of the vicarious experience of crime for entertainment’s sake. While there has been extensive study of Dylan’s use of film noir dialogue in his lyrics, this study focuses more on the attitudes and aesthetic of pulp fiction. It also includes a review of several of Dylan’s more recent music videos, such as “The Night We Called it a Day” and “Duquesne Whistle,” and their relationship to the noir tradition.
Keywords: James M. Cain; Raymond Chandler; crime fiction; Bob Dylan; James Ellroy; Dashiell Hammett; Griel Marcus; noir; Otto Penzler; Edgar Allan Poe; Harry Smith
Man has climbed Everest. He has invented, devised, created in every realm of human endeavor . . . but there is one that has been neglected, Mr Bond. That one is the human activity loosely known as crime . . . And yet . . . in one week, the curtain will go up for the single, the unique performance. And then will come the applause, the applause for the greatest extra-legal coup of all time. And, Mr Bond, the world will rock with that applause for centuries.
—Ian Fleming, Goldfinger
With the exception, perhaps, of the title of 1983’s “License to Kill,” Bob Dylan seems never to have made an allusion to another enduring cultural phenomenon that came out of the 1960s: James Bond. However, this monologue from Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel (Gert Frobe’s iconic film version was so memorably delivered in 1964) anticipates Dylan’s imminent arrival on the world stage as well as his long-abiding interest in crime fiction. Fleming wrote in the tradition of pulp and noir fiction, a tradition that Dylan continues to honor as he explores criminality throughout his work, not least in the albums of original material he has released recently, starting with Together Through Life. My intention in this essay is not to show that Dylan makes specific references to specific titles—though he does, and they will be explored—but that he draws extensive inspiration from this literary genre. In the same way that he has walked “a road other men have gone down,” reworking the conventions of traditional murder ballads, blues, and other musical styles, Dylan finds a clear appeal in the cynical worldview of noir, which intersects easily with his interest in songs similarly populated by cons, harlots, and other low-lifes. Each artistic medium provides his writing with themes that parallel our times.
Dylan’s early work is best known for his concerns with injustices borne of poverty, social inequality, and race. The 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin’ takes aim at the injustice and asks us to change it: when we learn that William Zanzinger, who “Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres / With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him / And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,” walked off with a six-month sentence, Dylan tells us, “Now’s the time for your tears.” When we hear of the mass murder-suicide and “seven new people born” at the end of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” we know instinctively that these new unlucky seven are likely to feel the same weight of poverty and despair that the Browns did, unless we do something to rectify economic inequalities. But improving the human condition is not the primary goal of noir, and so we leave this worthy cause to wander some more.
Noir does cast an eye on the crushing power of situations beyond a person’s control, but it does so mainly to signal the foolishness of the character’s attempts to win a rigged game. American pulp fiction began in the early twentieth century, in magazines such as Black Mask, in which Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories were published, as well as many others including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which survives to this day. The pulps, so called for the cheap paper on which they were printed, emphasized lurid stories, often set in seedy and sleazy corners of the city. There was no pretext of literary merit, just fast-paced stories designed to shock you into turning the page to the next hellish tale. In the introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, Otto Penzler defines noir works as
existential, pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists, who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters whose greed, lust, jealousy, and alienation lead them into a downward spiral as their plans and schemes inevitably go awry.
In his own introductory essay to the same collection, James Ellroy adds that “[t]he social importance of noir is its grounding in the big themes of race, class, gender, and systematic corruption.” Today, practitioners of noir are as varied as Ken Bruen, Dave Zeltserman, and S. A. Cosby. Given Dylan’s attraction to similar themes, both with an eye towards social improvement in his protest songs, as well as an interest in some of his later work in presenting the seedy spectacle of little people making big mistakes, I would add Bob Dylan to that list.
Before the pulps, there were dime novels and myriad periodicals. One of those was the Philadelphia-based Graham’s Magazine, which, for a time in the early 1840s, was edited by Edgar Allan Poe. While at the helm, Poe published one of his own sensationalizing tales, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in which he introduces the first literary detective, C. Auguste Dupin. One inspiration for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Dupin used “ratiocination” to deduce the outré truth behind bizarre crimes. But while Holmes generally remains in more civilized circles (except for his occasional escape to an opium den), Poe’s Dupin steps boldly into the darkest corners of society. In “Rue Morgue,” he confronts the brutal, animalistic murders of two women in graphic detail, down to a severed head. In the next Dupin story, “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842-3), following the tradition of murder ballads, Poe uses as his starting point the real-life murder of the cigar-store girl Mary Rogers, whose body was found in Newark, New Jersey in 1841. The final Dupin story, “The Purloined Letter,” (which the first Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891) significantly resembles), invokes the memory of the surgeon John Abernethy.
It has long been known that Bob Dylan is well-versed in Poe and especially in the Dupin stories. As far back as 1965, he visited “Rue Morgue Avenue” in “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” However, especially since the start of the new millennium, he has mined those stories for more than a simple warning to stay away from dangerous neighborhoods. In his Theme Time Radio Hour, ostensibly recorded in the fictional “historic Abernathy building,” he reads “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” During the legs of his “Never Ending tour” in support of 2012’s Tempest, ticket pre-sale codes included such allusions to Poe as “nevermore” and “raven.” Meanwhile, several songs on the album make direct references to Poe, including “Duquesne Whistle” and “Scarlet Town,” which features a grotesque ball reminiscent of “Masque of the Red Death.” He also makes a direct reference to “Mr. Poe” and his “tell-tale heart” on his latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways.
Dylan’s most detailed exploration of a Dupin story is in the Tempest tune “Tin Angel.” The song depicts a murderous love triangle, in which the cuckolded husband climbs through the window of the room where his wife is visiting her lover. It is a vile story of marital betrayal and murder, reaching as far back as Aeschylus’ Agamemnon—the ancient play in which the triumphant commander of the Greek forces returned home from Troy, only to be murdered in his bed by his wife and her lover—right into the present day. On the face of it, the two works are not immediately connected, beyond the setting of a boudoir, but there are significant recurrences of details. For example, Dupin lives in “a time-eaten and grotesque mansion,” while “the boss” of Dylan’s story comes home to “a deserted mansion and a desolate throne.”
It is in the scenes of murder where Dylan hews closest to Poe’s description. He describes the boss’s approach to the murder room using many of the details scattered about the miserable apartment in the Rue Morgue. All of the witnesses attest to the fact that though they “heard two voices in loud and angry contention—the one a gruff voice, the other much shriller—a very strange voice,” they “[c]ould not be sure whether it was the voice of a man or of a woman.” Dylan echoes that in his depiction of the boss as he “Peered through the darkness, caught a glimpse of the two / It was hard to tell for certain who was who.” His entrance to Henry Lee’s room is similarly detailed. Dupin recognizes that the murderer must have entered and escaped through the windows, as the staircase was being observed. When deducing how the killer gained access to the room, Dupin notes that near the window “in question there runs a lightning-rod.” Dylan takes care to have the boss “Cut the electric wire” before “lowering himself down on a golden chain,” an image quite similar to a copper lightning rod. Both rooms contain gold, the Rue Morgue’s site providing a red herring motive for the murder, while in the song, beyond the golden chain, the faithless wife claims her lover is “dearer to me than gold.” One of the tell-tale clues Dupin finds is “a small piece of ribbon, which from its form, and from its greasy appearance, has evidently been used in tying the hair in one of those long queues of which sailors are so fond.” Meanwhile, Dylan’s harried boss “ran his fingers through his greasy hair.” The cumulative effect of these repeated key words and images reinforces Poe’s influence on Dylan’s writing, while their transformed use in new contexts and plot points illustrates Dylan’s mastery in reinterpreting the source of that influence.
Of course, in Poe’s macabre tale, the killer is inhuman—literally. Straining credulity, Dupin deduces that, given the difficulty in attaining the height of the window and the savagery of the wounds found on the two women, the perpetrator must have been “no animal but an Ourang-Outang.” Twice in Dylan’s song the boss is knocked down a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder to be compared to a similar simian. First, Henry Lee (his name is the same as the title character in Dick Justice’s song on The Anthology of American Folk Music) calls him “a gutless ape with a worthless mind,” and then the spurned husband acknowledges the transformation, telling Henry Lee, “You made a monkey of me, what and for why?”
Poe’s story is notable for its bizarre plot, but also for its unusually diverse cast of characters, one that presents to his audience a broader and more realistic view of society than was often shown to readers at the time. This combination of sensational events taking place within a realistically seedy setting is what spurred American pulp fiction decades later. The stories of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett feature their heroes tramping through desolate neighborhoods with broken down houses and apartment buildings, bars too cash-poor to afford new signs when they change names, and a frightening array of characters dragging through one miserable hour to the next. The vivid descriptions allow us, the readers, a vicarious (and cheap) thrill in walking down those alleys without the fear of getting a shiv in the back.
Dylan can’t, or won’t, stick with a musical form for more than two or three albums, but his interest in Penzler’s world of bleakness and nihilism, a world seething with the most atavistic levels of lust and greed, is one interest that is long abiding. Returning to his earliest influences from traditional ballads with the pair of albums Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong in the 1990s, Dylan packed the playlist with murder ballads and voyeuristic glimpses of seedy lowlifes. These songs, like the sensationalist stories portrayed in pulp fiction, were popularized through mass media, first as broadsides, then later as recordings on shellac or vinyl. Over the course of two albums, Dylan sets sail on a transport ship to Australia with “Jim Jones,” he’s sentenced to hard labor on a chain-gang in “You’re Gonna Quit Me,” and he suffers plain old “Hard Times.” During the same period, he also recorded the ghostly murder ballad “Polly Vaughn” and the Robert Johnson tune “32-20 Blues.”
Though these are all covers of traditional ballads and blues, they are late-century rambles through those same dark and dangerous alleys that keep the focus on lurid crime, not for the romance of the west, as in “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” or to protest injustice, as in “Hurricane” or “The Death of Emmett Till.” These songs simply provide the vicarious experience of being in the murder room, of witnessing for ourselves as “they got old Stack-A-Lee and they laid him right back in jail.”
On the Road: From Poisonville to Smithville and Beyond
Noir’s ability to get us to sympathize with low-lifes and losers, to root for sleaze peddlers and dope fiends, to experience the corrupting forces of lust and greed and pure bad faith, is at the rotten heart of pulp fiction. But it grips us by the neck, as Poe’s Ourang-Outang and Chandler’s Moose Malloy both do, and it forces us to not just watch the roiling filth of the cities, but to revel in it
In their novels, both Hammett and Chandler, in addition to countless other pulp writers, explored both the upper crust and the underbelly of society. Hammett moves his unnamed Continental Op through social circles that include rum-runners, duplicitous dames, and corrupt town officials. One such city can be found in “The Cleansing of Poisonville,” which was serialized in Black Mask in 1927, and was ultimately transformed into the novel Red Harvest. In his Introduction to the Hammett collection The Continental Op, Steven Marcus says that Hammett “not only continually juxtaposes and connects the ambiguously fictional worlds of art and of writing with the fraudulently fictional worlds of society; he connects them, juxtaposes them, and sees them in dizzying and baffling interaction.” Some of those juxtapositions can be seen in The Maltese Falcon (a favorite film of Dylan’s, which has provided him with countless lyrics), when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy, “I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. . . . You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you. . . . If they hang you I’ll always remember you.” The interplay of love, hatred, and the likelihood that her privileged background may get her a lighter sentence all put Spade’s—and Hammett’s—cynicism in the fore. The same types of juxtapositions are rife in Dylan’s work, and are a common source of his art. For example, in “Pay in Blood,” Dylan writes (though on Tempest he sings different lyrics),
Another political pumping out his piss
Another ragged beggar blowin’ ya a kiss
Life is short and it don’t last long
They’ll hang you in the morning and sing ya a song.
His cynicism rivals Hammett’s, with the rhyme linking the political and the beggar, and Spade’s iconic speech reduced to a jaded couplet.
Dylan also shares similarities with Raymond Chandler. In a conversation between Ian Fleming and Chandler, Bond’s creator notes, “the thriller element it seems to me in your books is in the people, the character building, and to a considerable extent in the dialogue, which of course I think is some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.” Indeed, Chandler’s characters are well built. His knight-errant detective Philip Marlowe, himself the occupant of a room so small he uses a Murphy bed, scales the heights of society, such as when he “call[s] on four million dollars” to meet the decrepit General Sternwood in The Big Sleep. The general, who retained his randiness late into his 60s, when he begat his two wild and wayward daughters, now gets his kicks by sniffing at the cigarettes and booze his visitors enjoy in his sweltering conservatory, which is filled with orchids whose “flesh is too much like the flesh of men. And their perfume has the rotten sweetness of a prostitute.” But later, in Farewell, My Lovely, instead of four million dollars, Marlowe finds himself at a “dried-out brown house with a dried-out brown lawn in front of it.” In other words, he walks in a world
in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels . . . a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of money-making, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing.
A world frighteningly like our own, where small people make big mistakes. It is a world eerily similar to the one Dylan depicts in “Early Roman Kings”:
They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers, they buy and they sell
They destroyed your city, they’ll destroy you as well
They’re lecherous and treacherous, hell bent for leather
Each of them bigger than all men put together
Sluggers and muggers wearing fancy gold rings.
In these short lines, Dylan builds those characters Fleming so admired in Chandler’s work. Though we hear none of them speak, their personalities are richly described in their self-importance: every single one of them believes he is more important than the group, and those gold rings most certainly do more than flash as they slug their hapless victims.
That gritty, sensationalist view has long been an important theme in Dylan’s work. Much has been made of his romantic depiction of outlaws and villains, which are prominent in his early work. In his earliest live performances, he sang such songs as “Moonshiner” and Dock Boggs’s “Pretty Polly,” in which Polly pleads for her life as Willie leads her through the woods to her grave. For both complete songs and inspiration for his own compositions, Dylan mined Harry Smith’s The Anthology of American Folk Music, a collection Greil Marcus goes so far as to describe as the fictional town “Smithville,” a place where the
prison population is large, and most are part of it at one time or another. While some may escape justice, they do not remain among their fellow citizens; executions take place in public. There are, after all, a lot of murders here—crimes of passion, of cynicism, of mere reflex—and also suicides. Here both murder and suicide are rituals, acts instantly transformed into legend.
Likewise, when Dylan recorded his debut album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, he included noir-ish tales like “House of the Rising Sun,” and in “Song to Woody,” he gave a nod to prisoner-turned-recording star Leadbelly.
One trope that infuses noir and Dylan’s work alike is that of the lonesome hobo, cursed like Cain to wander the earth from one rocky coast to the other. In the hands of Woody Guthrie, that type of tramping along the road takes on a romantic air. Guthrie’s “autobiography” Bound for Glory, an early influence on Dylan, describes the situation like this:
I walked on down the highway bucking the wind. It got so hard I had to really duck my head and push. Yes. I know this old flat country up here on the caprock plains. Gumbo mud. Hard crust sod. Iron grass for tough cattle and hard-hitting cowboys that work for the ranchers. These old houses that sweep with the country and look like they’re crying in the dust. I know who’s in there. I know. I’ve stuck my head in a million. Drove tractors, cleaned plows and harrows, greased discs and pulled tumbleweeds out from under the machinery. That wind is getting harder. Whoooooo!
The wandering is adventurous, a tale to be told with the cheerful glee of a raconteur. But a noir story, while presenting the same milieu of down-and-out laborers and drifters, has a mean glint in the eye, a cynical contempt for the world and everyone in it. For example, in the classic 1934 tragedy The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain’s doomed lovers Frank and Cora have the following exchange:
“We’ll ditch this Greek and blow. Just blow.”
“Anywhere. What do we care?”
“Anywhere. Anywhere. You know where that is?”
“All over. Anywhere we choose.”
“No it’s not. It’s the hash house.”
“I’m not talking about the hash house. I’m talking about the road. It’s fun, Cora. And nobody knows it better than I do. I know every twist and turn it’s got. And I know how to work it, too. Isn’t that what we want? Just to be a pair of tramps, like we really are?” 
The same rhythms, the same optimistic misery can be heard in “Down the Highway”:
Well, I’m bound to get lucky, baby
Or I’m bound to die tryin’
Yes, I’m a-bound to get lucky, baby
Lord, Lord I’m a-bound to die tryin’
Well, meet me in the middle of the ocean
And we’ll leave this ol’ highway behind…
None of Guthrie’s chipper road-earned wisdom is here, no pride in hard work or joy in the company of your fellow man or woman. Just an ongoing war against a hard-lipped fate that always crushes you in the end.
That hard-lipped fate is right there in front of you in “Scarlet Town,” from 2012’s Tempest. Dylan’s Scarlet Town shares borders with Smithville and Poisonville. Here, “the evil and the good” live “side by side.” The song is a fascinating nexus of ancient balladry, nursery rhyme, biblical excess, and tragic waste. Some versions of the ballad “Barbara Allen” (though not the version Dylan sang in the Greenwich Village coffee houses) are set in Scarlet Town, and here, as in that song, a young man named William lies dying for the love of a woman. But instead of telling the tale of too-late repentance, this song moves out of the death room to investigate other scenes of filth. Beggars crouch at the gate, love is a sin, and beauty is a crime. In Scarlet Town, all manner of perversions fester, where you fight your father’s foes “with whiskey, morphine and gin” and then dance with your “flat chested junky whore”—not an inaccurate description of the blackmailed daughter of General Sternwood, Carmen, that Philip Marlowe deals with in The Big Sleep: after rescuing her from a drugged nude photo shoot, he later kicks her out of his apartment when he finds her recreating the scene in his Murphy bed. The 1946 film of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, provides a number of lyrics to Dylan tunes over the years, as Michael Gray points out. But it also has another connection to Dylan’s output: in one scene, when the stars speak in a restaurant, the music in the background is the song, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” which he recorded for his last collection of American standards, Triplicate, in 2017.
Blood in My Eyes: Femmes Fatales in Story and Song
The land of noir is a bastion of male misery, and, like the blues, this literary genre often trades in a simple, brutish attitude toward gender roles. In these tales, men are most often the aggrieved party, brought low by the machinations of a beautiful but foul woman. It’s an attitude that reaches as far back as Eve and the “beautiful evil,” Pandora. Dylan modernizes the image with the wife in “Tin Angel,” discussed above.
Jim Thompson gives us several such “beautiful evils,” notably in A Hell of a Woman. The 1954 novel follows the much-put-upon traveling salesman Frank “Dolly” Dillon (while the names are similar, it’s unlikely that young, ambitious Robert Zimmerman looked to this book for his stage name). At the start, he’s just another employee at Pay-E-Zee Stores, where you “got used to people who hid when they saw you coming.” But then he meets the alluring Mona, pimped by her own aunt, who sets him off on a tragic spiral. When Dolly’s wife leaves him, she tells him, “I’m leaving. Now. Tonight. I don’t want anything from you. I can pawn my watch and ring—get enough to get by on until I land a job. All I want is to get away from here.” Dylan echoes that decisive line in “Crossing the Rubicon”: “I pawned my watch and I paid my debts and I crossed the Rubicon.” The similarity of diction across the decades shows Dylan’s continued participation in the tradition of pulp and balladry.
During his sojourn with the Band in West Saugerties, New York, in the late 1960s, Dylan rediscovered that vast Americana collection of balladry and turned toward recording a string of outlaw and prison songs found or inspired by the denizens of what Greil Marcus, in Invisible Republic, would later name “Smithville.” In these sessions, Dylan and the Band covered such songs as “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That Auld Triangle,” and “The Hills of Mexico.” Smithville, as Marcus defines it, is a noir town, feverish with desperation, a place where “some crimes are instantly turned into legends.” Whenever Dylan travels through its environs, he gleans images and sordid tales that he salts away for later. For example, the caged bird who witnesses the murder of a lover in “Love Henry” on World Gone Wrong, first took flight in Dick Justice’s song “Henry Lee” on Smith’s Anthology. Another legend-turned-song is “Frankie and Albert,” which Dylan recorded for 1992’s Good As I Been to You. In this semi-true story, which is also told in Mississippi John Hurt’s “Frankie” in Smith’s collection, the woman gets her revenge, insofar as the song relates the murder of Allen Britt by his wronged lover Frankie Baker. Their relationship may have been even more complicated, as some reports suggest Britt was Frankie’s pimp. In any case, it’s another miserable ending sung in the gutter of a dead end street.
Drinking from an Old Tin Cup: Jailhouse Confessions
One aspect of noir that often gets lost in the celebratory leering at vice and corruption, is that it is a fundamentally conservative genre. For all its wallowing in sin and foulness, noir plays a redemptive societal role, in that it rarely allows the misfits and criminals to win their crooked games. With a dying breath or the clang of a closing cell door, right is usually restored at the end. In the same way, many of the murder ballads and other tunes Dylan has recorded present a fated justice that strikes at the heart of those who would dare to transgress society’s moral values.
One song that illustrates this is “Delia,” recorded for World Gone Wrong. Dylan sticks close to the traditional version, in which Curtis is arrested and put on trial after murdering the gambling girl of the title. Smugly the killer addresses the judge, only to be coldly rebuffed:
Curtis said to the judge, “What might be my fine?”
Judge says, “Poor boy, you got ninety-nine.”
All the friends I ever had are gone.
In the liner notes Dylan says of the song, in his idiosyncratic typing,
Delia herself . . . doesn’t need a blood change & would never go on a shopping spree. the guy in the courthouse sounds like a pimp in primary colors . . . does this song have rectitude? you bet. toleration of the unacceptable leads to the last round-up.
What is “unacceptable,” Dylan doesn’t specify. While it’s clear that his sympathy, and the song’s, are with Delia, the fact that she herself is a “gambling girl” and is shot dead suggests that she, too, is in need of rectitude. In the end, all are punished.
On the next track of the same album, Dylan follows the convict into the Smithville jail. In his version of Frank Hutchison’s oft-covered “Stackalee,” Dylan presents the supernatural agony that comes of a senseless killing:
Stack-A-Lee turned to the jailer, he said, “Jailer, I can’t sleep.
’Round my bedside Billy Lyons began to creep.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
It’s a knife-edge walk between reveling in the criminality of associating oneself with the villain, and assuming the air of righteousness by seeing him succumb to his existential punishment.
The guilty thrill of the jail cell continues in 1997’s “Cold Irons Bound,” in which the narrator is “beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around.” We never find out what his crime was, but there is a strong sense that he has killed the woman he loved. The rest of the song is a plea to a woman who drives him “out of control” with a single look, one he “tried to love and protect,” despite the fact that “Some things last longer than you think they will / There are some kinds of things you can never kill.” The cumulative references to mud, blood, and his seeing her from his cell “twenty miles out of town,” even though she can’t see him, suggest she’s alive in his conscience but not in the real world. The punishment never ends, warning both the readers of pulp and Dylan’s listeners that to act on their prurient curiosity will bring them no good.
Peddlers and Meddlers: Recent Noir Imaginings
In the new millennium, Dylan’s work took on more and more examples of sudden violence, even in seemingly urbane love songs. Throughout “Love and Theft” (its title is taken from Eric Lott’s study of minstrelsy, but the sentiment equally applies to the idea that the album showcases the musical styles and literature Dylan plunders for inspiration), danger lurks around every turn of phrase. Among many oft-discussed allusions—some have argued thefts—on the album are lines from Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza. Lewis Carroll’s Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum are shown “throwing knives into a tree” and in possession of a “dead man’s bones.” This is not Alice’s perverse looking-glass world, but the even worse “Land of Nod,” home to the Bible’s first murderer and noir-ish wanderer, Cain, whose ironic punishment is a desperate life without death. The nonsensical partners in crime traverse a terrifying landscape of casual cruelty, where “a childish dream is a deathless need”—the very definition of a noir loser’s motivation.
The world-weary fatalism of noir continues in “Mississippi.” Here, the speaker’s loving tones belie the hardship he and his partner have endured, “all boxed in, nowhere to escape.” When Dylan says, “Nothing you can sell me, I’ll see you around,” one can imagine “Dolly” Dillon knocking on one door after another, getting the same miserable response.
Though Dylan never strays too far from the noir sentiment, it is on Together Through Life where he dives into the abyss. The album, with David Hidalgo’s accordion suggesting the norteño music of a border town, is a grim depiction of urban decay. The opening track, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” written with Robert Hunter, is spoken in the voice of a deluded pulp hero:
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne.
But his tragic flaw of grandiosity is throttled in the downbeat lines that finish each stanza, especially the closing line, “Nothin’ done and nothin’ said.” In classic noir fashion, the protagonist reaches too high, only to be thrown back to the ground.
This series of Dylan’s musical tales of “flawed and morally questionable” characters culminates in 2012’s Tempest, a noir album through and through. This album, long thought to be Dylan’s final collection of original material until this year’s release of Rough and Rowdy Ways, seethes with rage, vitriol, and violence. Even a swinging tune like “Duquesne Whistle” hides menace by way of its allusions to Poe (“Blowin’ like she’s at my chamber door”), trips through “another no-good town,” and offers the threat of a time bomb. To listen to the music and Dylan’s smooth singing on “Soon After Midnight,” you might think the track could have been slipped onto one of his collections of American standards, but its lyrics prove there is little love to be found here. It’s jarring enough to hear Dylan say in that sweet melody that he’s “been down on the killing floors.” However, the image gets nastier when you realize it’s an allusion to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” which uses the slaughterhouse to describe the singer’s relationship with a woman. By continuing the misogynistic thread of early pulp stories, the song introduces murder to what pretends to be a romantic stroll.
When Dylan surprised us all with the gift of Rough and Rowdy Ways in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Los Angeles Times called it a “savage pulp-noir masterpiece.” In fact, it knots together many separate threads of Dylan’s preoccupations, including nineteenth century poetry (“I Contain Multitudes”), the twining of music and history (“Murder Most Foul”), and the ancient world (“Mother of Muses” and “Crossing the Rubicon”). That’s not to say that the Times got it entirely wrong. The album’s second track, “False Prophet” evokes the despair of good intentions gone bad that accompanies most pulp:
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in.
As on Tempest, casual violence seeps throughout the album. For example, in “I Contain Multitudes,” he claims to carry “four pistols and two large knives.” He continues to seethe through the defiant declarations of “Crossing the Rubicon”:
I feel the bones beneath my skin and they’re tremblin’ with rage
I’ll make your wife a widow – you’ll never see old age.
There are also spurts of hardboiled cynicism. It’s easy to imagine Humphrey Bogart quipping the lines from “Key West (Philosopher Pirate),” perhaps to Lauren Bacall:
Fly around my Pretty Little Miss
I don’t love nobody – gimme a kiss.
But these are flashes of cynicism and violence amidst so many other allusions to other songs, films, historical events and figures that it’s hard to credit the whole album as a noir. Instead, the genre has become another pattern woven into the larger tapestry of Dylan’s work, black and white threads that he pulls to emphasize a detail or draw a connection between genres or historical events. Perhaps, as the Times says, it is a pulp-noir masterpiece, but only because Dylan’s overarching artistic theme is that the whole world is in the throes of what Ellroy terms “systematic corruption.” It’s a jaded view, but one borne out by verse after verse of Dylan’s output addressing society’s ills throughout his career.
He Went to Hollywood: Noir Influences on Dylan’s Music Videos
Dylan’s appearances in such films as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and his own Renaldo & Clara reveal his interest in visual media, and it is worth noting that both films involve a fascination with criminality. For instance, a complicated subplot of the later movie involves Harry Dean Stanton as the escaped con Lefkezio. However, while study of Dylan’s work in film has been considerable, his music videos have not been discussed to any great extent. Yet it is in these short films that he interacts directly with noir images, often making visual references to tropes and even specific titles. Music videos, by their very nature, are collaborative projects, and it isn’t always easy to discern Dylan’s involvement in their production, but the connections between the few he has released and classic film noir are pervasive and provide yet another lens through which to examine Dylan’s contributions to the genre.
It has been often pointed out that Dylan’s album Empire Burlesque is laden with lines quoted from a number of classic movies, notably The Maltese Falcon. Interestingly, the record’s release in 1985 coincided with the rise of music videos. Ever dubious of fads, Dylan’s entries to the MTV listings were sparse. But two videos he did make to support this album—“Tight Connection to My Heart” and “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky”—each bears strong connections to noir. A third, “Emotionally Yours,” is not so obviously influenced by noir, but some similarities lead it to be caught up in the dragnet of this discussion.
The techniques used in film noir, especially those made in the post-war era between the 1930s and 1950s, involve stark contrasts between light and dark. Shadows pervade every frame, symbolizing the evil that lurks in every darkened doorway. Paul Schrader, in “Notes on Film Noir,” points out that “[l]ight enters the dingy rooms of film noir in such odd shapes . . . that one suspects the windows were cut out with a pen knife.” Noir characters rarely see the sun, only the glare of a bare bulb in an interrogation room, or a flashing neon sign. Men dress in rumpled trench coats and fedoras tilted to hide their guilty faces. Society women appear in elaborate hats and elbow-length gloves, while their skid-row counterparts try to doll up in tattered fur collars and threadbare dresses. Bootleg whiskey mixes with blood in the gutters, and huge cars speed through the streets, desperate to outrace fate. The visual cues to virtue and vice are never subtle.
Dylan’s videos, especially from the early period marked by Empire Burlesque, approach noir in an ambivalent fashion. For example, the video for “Tight Connection to My Heart,” a song made up almost entirely of lines from old movies, pointedly avoids the harsh dichotomy of black and white, and instead is splashed with color. The setting, too, is transported from New York or Los Angeles to neon-lit Japan. But the story elements are plainly derived from the golden age of B-reels. In it, Dylan plays a man who may or may not be involved in a crime, one that left a body on the sidewalk outside of movie theater. Dragged by Japanese police into the interrogation room, he lip-syncs, “You want to talk to me, go ahead and talk,” a favorite line from The Maltese Falcon (he later used it in Hearts of Fire as well). The wardrobe designers trade fedoras and trench coats in for a trucker’s cap and a garish ‘80s shirt, but one of the two femmes fatales wears a white dress very similar to the one Jane Greer sports in her entrance at the start of Out of the Past. These scenes represent an overt attempt to drag the seediness of noir into the bright lights of Miami Vice. But it is ultimately unsuccessful, bordering on camp: Dylan winds up on a karaoke stage, trying to match the choreography of a trio of young women.
Darkness and sharp shadows make a return in the video for “Emotionally Yours,” directed by Dave Stewart. Most of the video shows Dylan playing guitar in what looks like a bar or dancehall after closing time. Despite the seedy setting and black and white film, the mood is distinctly modern, but a few elements hint at something menacing. Silhouettes of crossed girders are projected on a wall; through a discarded photo shown at the start and end, as well as flashbacks, we see images of a tempestuous relationship, another trope of noir film. Schrader argues that such complex chronologies “reinforce the feelings of hopelessness and lost time,” which certainly is appropriate to this video, as well as to the bulk of Dylan’s work. A strange figure of the woman, hands at her neck as if fighting off someone choking her, can be seen rotating beneath a spotlight. The effect is a mismatch of words and images, once again displaying Dylan’s holding the past and present in an uneasy balance.
Perhaps the most successful of the trio, in terms of incorporating noir aesthetics into a modern setting, is “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” directed by Eddie Arno and Markus Innocenti. This time, an appropriate setting—the back alleys of Los Angeles—and black and white film situate the video in a classic mode. In what looks like a performance at an illicit club, one spied on by kids through a back window, Dylan sings lines that might have been penned by Hammett:
I can’t provide for you no easy answers
Who are you that I should have to lie?
And later he adds,
You must have been protecting someone last time I called.
I’ve never asked you to set yourself up for a fall.
In his 2000 book Song and Dance Man, Gray points out film lines from other sections of the song, but in these two verses, Dylan’s own cynicism and snappy retorts are of a piece with all the hard-boiled books and films we’re looking at here. He conjures up an entire scene of someone, probably a woman torn between two men, huddled over a telephone receiver. The scenario and the clichéd set-up are just what you’d expect from a pulp novel.
Never one to sit still, after Empire Burlesque, Dylan released a few more music videos in the 1980s, though none with noir connections. But with the album Under the Red Sky (1990), Dylan returned to the form. After trying to update the genre in fluorescent ‘80s duds, his clip for “Unbelievable” used more traditional noir images: a pair of classic Mustang convertibles, bar fights, cheap motels, and a trip through the desert, where the hero is robbed by a duplicitously sexy (though not noir-ishly sultry) woman, played by Molly Ringwald. The license plate shown at the end, as the main character is picked up in a limousine chauffeured by Dylan himself, suggests that the whole thing has been one bad trip: LSD 752. The chaotic camera work and the unexplained nose-ringed pig in the back seat might seem to weaken the connection to noir, but as Oliver Harris notes, such disorientation in noir “functions . . . to implicate the film viewer in the dream within the film.” By making us question whether we have just watched an actual narrative or fantasized one concocted from noir elements we have internalized over years of film viewing, Dylan (in conjunction with the director Paris Barclay), makes us complicit in that chaos.
In contrast, his twenty-first century efforts have stuck closer to the timeless images that harken back to the shadowy camera work and scruffy losers. His 2008 video for “Dreamin’ of You” (an outtake from 1997’s Time Out of Mind) returns to the lonely desert roads hazy with heat, and the washed-out colors of sleazy, sun-baked motels. The video features Harry Dean Stanton, veteran of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and, as already noted, Renaldo & Clara (closing another link, he also starred with Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink). Here, Stanton is noir personified, wearing a shapeless fedora, white shirt, and black tie. He’s a bootlegger, too—of concert performances. The feverish shots of him driving from show to show, plotting his trips with string on wall maps, and checking set lists with mug after mug of diner coffee portray his desperation and dedication to a cause that isn’t worth the gas money. Unlike the previous videos, this one could have been shot at almost any time over the last 75 years.
Even through his later music videos, Dylan’s fascination with and reworking of familiar noir tropes continues. He uses these raw materials to project new ideas onto the screen, as he works through the themes of alienation and violence, noted by Penzler and Ellroy, and offers them as reflections not of the smoky past, but a cold, bleak present. The first of these later explorations is “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” from Together Through Life. It is clearly not “classic” noir in the sense that the narrative inverts the typical noir plot: it starts with brutality and ends with a kiss. The director, Nash Edgerton, told Pitchfork, “Usually, you get sent a song and you listen to it a bunch and then you write a treatment. But because it was Dylan, and piracy and all that, I only got to hear the song once over the phone.” All the same Edgerton’s treatment—set in a run-down motel with a blood-stained bed and restraints, a syringe and no visible life outside—must have appealed to Dylan’s cinematic sense. As we watch the man (Joel Stoffer) enter the apartment, he’s scruffy, carrying a package the contents of which never get revealed, reminiscent of many noir and hardboiled MacGuffins (including the Mickey Spillane film Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which is the glowing inspiration for 1984’s Repo Man—featuring Harry Dean Stanton—and Pulp Fiction (1994)). What follows is a whiplash series of attacks, in which the two antagonists, a man and a woman, strike, stab, and brutalize each other, culminating in the woman running him over with a car. Yet, instead of riding off and leaving him for dead, she gets out of the car, and the last shot is of her kissing him. The expectant look on the man’s face is one of hope, not tragedy, and so reverses the effect of noir.
Edgarton returned to direct three other song videos for Dylan, all of which tend to the dark side. Even “Must Be Santa” features what must be the worst Christmas party ever, with an unexplained fugitive tearing the place up. Its black and white countdown opening and the decorations in the house suggest the 1940s or 1950s, though other than that there are no connections to film noir. But Edgarton returns to the noir atmosphere of Tempest, in the video for “Duquesne Whistle.” Separate from the images in the song itself, as discussed above, the video presents two stories in fractured narrative: by night, Dylan and a crew of followers walk through gritty streets; by day, a clearly delusional man, with the gaunt face and lopsided grin of Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, struts through the same streets, stalking a woman who doesn’t hesitate to mace him. From there, the video explodes into rampaging violence: his escape from the police leads him to push over a ladder that holds a man changing the movie title on a rusting theater marquee. The pathetic post-beating fantasy he dreams while being transported in a van brings us back to the last ramblings of Frank in The Postman Always Rings Twice: “Whenever I can make it, I’m out there with Cora, with the sky above us, and the water around us, talking about how happy we’re going to be, and how it’s going to last forever.” But there is no stay of execution for Frank, and the delusional young man is tossed onto the sidewalk, stepped over by Dylan and his tough-looking crew. The message is the opposite of that in “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”: there is no loving redemption to be had for the miserable. These juxtaposed views in consecutive videos suggest Dylan’s refusal to give answers, only vignettes that force us to judge for ourselves.
The culmination of all of these videos, though, is the black and white film that accompanies the Sinatra cover, “The Night We Called It A Day.” Starring Robert Davi and Tracy Phillips, along with Dylan himself, Edgarton’s “Night” is a full-blown noir. From the title card scrawled in B-movie script to the murderous love triangle that disintegrates under chloroform, a fireplace poker, and bullets, every noir trope makes an appearance. In the opening shot, Dylan walks past a bleeding man talking to a cop and into a bar, where Phillips is dancing a burlesque. Over a drink, he shows Davi the ring he’s going to give Phillips, only to be shown a bigger one in return. But later, when Davi arrives at her apartment, he finds a gun-toting Dylan, who turns aside as Phillips brutally murders Davi. It looks like the pair will live happily ever after, until they pull guns on each other in the elevator. Flashes of light suggest shots, but we don’t know what happened. The black and white is used to excellent effect as Phillips strides out of the elevator alone, her white dress radiant. Suddenly a blood stain grows on her abdomen. Dylan escapes from the police out a back door, driving off in a hail of gunfire. “The End” appears in looping script.
As with “Dreamin’ of You,” the video is timeless. While most of the cars hail from the 1940s and 1950s, Davi’s is from the 1970s. And while Davi wears the noir uniform of black hat, black tie, and white shirt, Dylan’s patterned tie, and, later, untucked button down and black t-shirt all point to the present day. The result is a tightly woven tapestry of Dylan’s voice, the evocative strings of the music, and the iconic shadows and violence of a B-reel. In three short minutes, “Night” ties together three-quarters of a century of music, film, and cultural history by way of its images of blood, betrayal, and greed.
The sensationalism of a classic noir calls to mind the violence of our own present and shows that its tangled roots are buried deep in a soil soaked in that same betrayal, blood, and greed. Schrader discusses noir’s rise amid the disillusionment that followed the Second World War, and it’s interesting to note that Dylan turns to its themes during moments of national upheaval, such as the economic crises of the 1980s, the post-9/11 period, and the COVID pandemic and civil rights protests of 2020. Through both his musical and video output, Dylan, like the writers of pulp and the directors of film noir, lures us in with the vicarious thrill that mass entertainment promises. His depictions of a world where everything is broken fascinate and repel, forcing his audience to come to terms with their own complicity and mortality. By trafficking in familiar themes of vice and wholesale corruption, and by using images and even verbatim lines from folk and blues, from pulp literature and film noir, Dylan speaks to his audience with a common vocabulary.
But that common vocabulary is used with uncommon subtlety. As the transmitter of a larger, infinitely complicated culture, Dylan urges us to reckon with the truths that these dark stories reveal about corruption in our most trusted institutions, as well as in our own hearts. By reworking images that return to us out of the past, he involves us in that narrative and questions our future. Thus, the culmination of his work transcends the limits of cheap mass media. Instead of simply providing that vicarious thrill, he uses the elements of noir—its preoccupation with lust, greed, misogyny, and class inequality, as well as our own uncertainty—to highlight the ills of society in much the same way he did with his protest songs. These short morality tales act as a call to action, one in which we are all urged to make a plea for peace and justice.
 Penzler,”Foreword,” x.
 Ellroy, “Introduction,” xiii.
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 S. Marcus, Introduction, xxiv.
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 Chandler, Interview.
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 Chandler, Sleep, 11.
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 Chandler, “Art,” 17.
 G. Marcus, Republic, 124.
 Guthrie, Bound, 193.
 Cain, Postman, 13.
 The novel also features the following passage, which has the same refrain as the Shel Silverstein song Dylan sings to Fiona in Hearts of Fire: “We just got to sell him a story, that’s all. You were in here, and the lights popped, and you heard him slip and fall, and he didn’t answer when you spoke to him. Then you called me, that’s all. Not matter what he says, you got to stick to it. If he saw anything, it was just his imagination, that’s all” (Cain 19).
 Gray, Encyclopedia, 226.
 Thompson, Woman, 4.
 Thompson, Woman, 30.
 G. Marcus, Republic, 135.
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Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep. New York: Quality, 1995.
———. Farewell, My Lovely. New York: Quality, 1995.
———. “The Simple Art of Murder.” The Simple Art of Murder. New York: Vintage. 1988.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Clinton, MA: Airmont, 1966.
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Dylan, Bob. “About the Songs (What They’re About).” Liner notes to World Gone Wrong. New York: Columbia, 1993.
———. “Halloween.” 2006. Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour archive.
———. “Women’s Names.” 2007. Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour archive.
Ellroy, James. “Introduction.” The Best American Noir of the Century. Eds. James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
Fleming, Ian. Goldfinger. New York: Jove, 1980.
Gray, Michael. Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan. London: Continuum, 2000.
———. The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, New York: Continuum, 2006.
Guthrie, Woody. Bound for Glory. New York: Plume, 1983.
Hammett, Dashiell. “The Cleansing of Poisonville.” The Big Book of the Continental Op. Eds. Richard Laymand and Julie M. Rivett. New York: Vintage, 2017.
———. The Maltese Falcon. New York: Vintage, 1992.
Harris, Oliver. “Film Noir Fascination: Outside History, but Historically so.” Cinema Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, Autumn, 2003. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Dec. 2020.
Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.
Marcus, Steven. Introduction. The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett. New York: Vintage, 1974.
Penzler, Otto. Foreword. The Best American Noir of the Century. Eds. James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Pocket, 1956.
———. “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Pocket, 1956.
———. “The Purloined Letter.” Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Pocket, 1956.
Schrader, Paul. “Notes on Film Noir.” Film Comment, vol. 8, no. 1, (SPRING 1972), pp. 8-13. JSTOR, Accessed: 1 Dec. 2020.
Thompson, Jim. A Hell of a Woman. New York: Mulholland, 2014.
Wilentz, Sean and Greil Marcus, ed. The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad. New York: Norton, 2005.
Wood, Mikael. “Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ is a savage pulp-noir Masterpiece.” Los Angeles Times.
Dylan, Bob. “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” 1964. Track 2 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” 2009. Track 1 on Together Through Life. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” 1963. Track 1 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Bob Dylan’s Blues.” 1963. Track 5 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Cold Irons Bound.” 1997. Track 8 on Time Out of Mind. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Crossing the Rubicon.” 2020. Track 8 on Rough and Rowdy Ways. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “Delia.” 1993. Track 6 on World Gone Wrong. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” 1963. Track 7 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Down the Highway.” 1963. Track 4 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Duquesne Whistle.” 2012. Track 1 on Tempest. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “Early Roman Kings.” 2012. Track 7 on Tempest. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “False Prophet.” 2020. Track 2 on Rough and Rowdy Ways. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “Girl From the North Country.” 1963. Track 2 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “High Water (For Charlie Patton).” 2001. Track 7 on “Love and Theft.” Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance.” 1963. Track 12 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “I Contain Multitudes.” 2020. Track 1 on Rough and Rowdy Ways. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “John Wesley Harding.” 1967. Track 1 on John Wesley Harding. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” 1965. Track 8 on Highway 61 Revisited. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Key West (Philosopher Pirate).” 2020. Track 9 on Rough and Rowdy Ways. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” 1964. Track 9 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Love and Theft.” 2001. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Mississippi.” 2001. Track 2 on “Love and Theft.” Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Moonlight.” 2001. Track 8 on “Love and Theft.” Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “My Own Version of You.” 2020. Track 3 on Rough and Rowdy Ways. Sony. Compact disc.
———. “Pay in Blood.” 2012. Track 5 on Tempest. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Scarlet Town.” 2012. Track 6 on Tempest. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Soon after Midnight.” 2012. Track 2 on Tempest. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love).” 1985. Track 1 on Empire Burlesque. Columbia. Compact disc.
———. “Tin Angel.” 2012. Track 8 on Tempest. Columbia. Compact disc.
______. “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.” 2001. Track 1 on “Love and Theft.” Columbia. Compact disc.
______. “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky.” 1985. Track 8 on Empire Burlesque. Columbia. Compact disc.
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Hutchison, Frank. “Stackalee.” 1952. Track 5 on Disc 1B of The Anthology of American Folk Music. Smithsonian Folkways. Compact disc.
Justice, Dick. “Henry Lee.” 1952. Track 1 on Disc 1A of The Anthology of American Folk Music. Smithsonian Folkways. Compact disc.
Mississippi John Hurt. “Frankie.” 1952. Track 7 on Disc 1B of The Anthology of American Folk Music. Smithsonian Folkways. Compact disc.