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Bob Dylan. The Philosophy of Modern Song. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022. 352pp.

REVIEW BY Jonathan Hodgers, Trinity College, Dublin


Dylan’s long-awaited Philosophy of Modern Song defies easy categorization. It’s sixtysix mini-essays on sixty-six songs. Pictures account for much of the content. Despite the title, it is not always a straightforward work of philosophy. If anything, it’s an annotated playlist dotted with philosophical reflections. However, the term playlist doesn’t do the book justice given how elaborate (or tangential) the annotations are. It’s also unclear how essential some of the songs are to the essays. They’re apt to work as jumping-off points for exploring a given subject matter and are not there as simple recommendations.


The book’s unusual presentation finds parallels in the content. There’s no introduction or conclusion, omitting an explanation of the book’s raison d’être. In the interview conducted by Jeff Slate for the Wall Street Journal on the topic of the book, Dylan doesn’t address the book’s inspiration or how he picked the songs.[1] While the content can range widely, the essays follow a template of sorts. He will paraphrase the song’s plot and character dynamics, offer portraits of singers, describe particular performances, and reflect on musicological details or production qualities. He might also extemporize on the song’s themes. Different combinations thereof are regular. He juxtaposes the essays with images. Dylan calls them “running mates to the text.”[2] Sometimes, their connection is oblique. Other times, the images reflect the essays’ topics (the verbal/visual interplay is delightfully basic at times – actual eagles for the Eagles, for instance). The template helps keep the chapters fresh by balancing consistency within variation (not unlike aspects of the songs he praises). It’s not an especially formalist text, which may partly be the point. He heavily emphasizes music’s emotive impact. However, songwriting’s more technical aspects do occasionally come under the microscope.


The writing itself has a distinct style. The tone is erudite but not alienating. It bears comparison to the World Gone Wrong liner notes, but adapts a cleaner, more prosaic approach fit for broader public consumption. At times, it can be blustery or gushing (the Perry Como entry: “[he] could out-sing anybody. His performance is just downright incredible. There is nothing small you can say about it. The orchestration alone can knock you off your feet.”)[3] It can be prolix and prosaic, as with the “‘My Generation” entry: “They don’t like you because you pull out all the stops and go for broke. You put your heart and soul into everything and shoot the works.”[4] It’s vernacular, willfully leaning into cliché. He’s apparently having fun with the clichés too; his stitching them together has its own comedy value (“It’s just a hop skip and jump to cloud nine.”)[5] What they lack in inventiveness or precision, they make up for in tone. It’s the way one might pitch a song or singer to a friend – it’s not all terse, calculated soundbites but draws from common stock locutions that convey unpremeditated enthusiasm. Comma splices, tautologies, and repetitions add to the effect. (These techniques seem to work better when spoken aloud, as attested to by the couple of passages Dylan recorded for the audiobook.) He’ll also link clichés and round them off with a more unusual turn of phrase (“You’re tickled pink and walking on air, and there’s no end to space.”)[6]The blend of the familiar and the individual may be the point in some way. This tendency extends to the content. The combination of esoterica and unusual locutions with more conventional, encyclopaedic information gives the writing its richness (or, as he told Jeff Slate, the “pulling old elements together and making something new”).[7]


Despite the essays mostly adhering to a similar structural outline, there are qualitative and quantitative differences between them. Some songs inspire more fleshed-out ideas and insightful commentary than others. It’s curious what songs defeat him. He can’t seem to do much with the two Little Richard songs (“Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”) but is clearly taken with “Old Violin” – or specifically, a special live performance enriched by Johnny Paycheck’s presence – which inspires some of the book’s best writing. He highlights both physical gestures and vocal touches that capture the bottled lightening of the performance, conferring upon it a fated quality. Perhaps his commentary succeeds here owing to its audio-visual reference point; his writing magnifies objective features rather than offering subjective impressions. As vivid as Dylan’s more subjective paraphrases can be, his readings sometimes seem off. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” doesn’t work well. Dylan rather perversely sidesteps the obvious romantic dynamic and substitutes it for a less convincing business arrangement. The “Come On-A My House” essay aims to give the song a sinister touch, but it’s just not there, at least not in the Rosemary Clooney rendition. Mostly though, his writing offers evocative vignettes that tease out the song’s depths and elucidate the musicians’ contributions in perceptive ways.


Dylan appears to use these songs to declare allegiances with certain genres quite separate from actually liking the representative song he’s chosen to write about. Something about these songs moved him to write about them, but that’s not to say they’re strictly commendable. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe he finds anything of genuine interest (such as with “Come On-A My House” – in keeping with the food references, he calls it a “little trifle.”)[8] However, it’s not so much his sincerity that matters (“I’m no more sincere than you” from Eat the Document springs to mind), more whether he sells these songs as having the qualities and values he ascribes to them. People’s tolerance levels will differ here. It’s unlikely anyone ever thought of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” the way Dylan does, but he certainly presents an interesting case.


Gradations of rock ’n’ roll, blues, country, and Tin Pan Alley material spur most of the essays. Dylan omits much of the traditional material he made his name covering and adapting in the 1960s (“Jesse James” is the only representative). Perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn’t care for pop (loosely defined). In reference to Johnnie Ray, Dylan says “his feelings were too direct-hotwired from his brain for a mere pop record.”[9] The term “mere” also appears in the “My Prayer” essay [10] He never makes clear what pop is (certainly, some of the songs he includes were emphatically popular and chart-friendly), yet he’s far from alone in using it as a catch-all term for songs considered inferior. Simon Frith identifies pop as a “residual” category, or “what’s left when all the other forms of popular music are stripped away.” Among other things, “It’s music produced commercially, for profit, as a matter of enterprise not art.”[11] Dylan’s idea of it seems similar.


The way Dylan uses pop exemplifies how he uses contrasts in general to illustrate good-versus-bad performance practices and attitudes. Part of Dylan’s modus operandi is to make antagonists of certain musicians and styles against which good songs and musicians must win out. In the “Your Cheatin’ Heart” essay, Joe Satriani (representing instrumental rock) stands in for guitar pyrotechnics without substance or respect for the song. Satriani is a virtuoso player but can of course play tastefully and judiciously. Satriani defended himself (“I think the great Hank Williams and I could have sorted things out and made some great music together”),[12] but these references have less to do with personal slights than venerating and denigrating types of songs and styles through loose metonymy. Satriani’s not alone either; Dylan does the same with Springsteen and the Beatles. Springsteen’s characteristic sound clouds Costello’s “Pump it Up,” for instance, while the Beatles’ faux-naivete and adolescent appeal contrast poorly with “London Calling.” The entire Chess stable (among them, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Howlin’ Wolf) takes a hit next to Little Walter, who “might have been the only one with real substance.”[13] These performers and styles play oppositional parts, indicating predilections that Dylan portrays as lesser next to the songs, styles, and musicians he promotes. Such artists are collateral damage in Dylan’s dispensing praise.


This praise is where we often find the most philosophical material. While they don’t occupy the bulk of the book, there are philosophical precepts insofar as Dylan draws general principles from specific songs. Many qualities that he esteems are aesthetic evergreens. Lewis Rowell provides a summary in the context of Ancient Greek music philosophy: “simple is better than complex, natural is better than artificial, [and] moderation in all things.”[14] The “Without a Song” essay touches on these facets in reference to Perry Como: “He was a Cadillac before the tail fins; a Colt .45, not a Glock; steak and potatoes, not California cuisine … No artifice, no forcing one syllable to spread itself thin across many notes.” Regarding “Take Me from This Garden of Evil,” Dylan says: “Nothing artificial about this song, nothing manufactured or contrived about it. Nothing cosmetic or plastic here.” He also writes that “Key to the Highway” is “Unadorned, with no histrionics – controlled, nuanced and true.”[15] Given his apparent interest in Greek myth and literature, it’s perhaps telling that Dylan’s criteria have an overall classical inclination. In the “Doesn’t Hurt Anymore” essay, he offers a tell-tale sign: “He’s no rapper. More like an ancient Greek poet; you know exactly what he’s saying and who he’s saying it to.”[16]


Other entries praise judiciousness, balance, and brevity. In the “Your Cheatin’ Heart” essay, he tells us that “The fiddle and steel guitar phrases are a great part of the melody. Each phrase goes hand in hand with the voice. This … takes simpatico players and is done with very simple notes of a chord, played with the exact correct intensity… Phrases like this are worth more than all the technical licks in the world.”[17] Alongside this dig at perceived immoderation and showiness, one can detect a distrust of the glossy professional and respect for the street-schooled amateur. Aristotle would recognize Dylan’s attitude. In referring to music’s role in education, he avers that “pupils … not [be] made to attempt the extraordinary and extravagant feats of execution which have recently been introduced into competitions … Performances should be carried only to the point at which students begin to be able to appreciate good melodies and rhythms.”[18]


À la Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, Dylan also praises the permanent and lasting. What counts is what’s durable. For “Ball of Confusion,” he writes: “The reality of this song is that it’s just as true now as the day it was recorded.”[19] It also crops up in the “Black Magic Woman” chapter; those too in thrall to musical and literary rules “run the danger of never transcending craft to create anything truly lasting.”[20] He’s more explicit in the Wall Street Journal interview: “A great song [is] timeless and ageless.”21 This mindset even extends to his pastimes. He tells Jeff Slate that boxing is “functional and detached from trends.”[22]


As familiar as some of his judgments are from historical literature on music, he brings a host of newer parameters into his critique. Some are recognizable from popular music aesthetics in the rock era and in part stem from standards he himself helped to set. Broadly, we can see Dylan align with what Keir Keightley would see as Romantic authenticity, gravitating towards: “tradition and continuity with the past; roots; sense of community; populism; belief in a core or essential rock sound; folk, blues, country, rock’n’roll styles; gradual stylistic change; sincerity, directness; ‘liveness’; ‘natural’ sounds; [and] hiding musical technology.”[23] Dylan touches on these qualities in his interview with Jeff Slate: “[The songs] were straightforward, and my relationship to them at first was external, then became personal and intense. The songs were simple, easy to understand, and they’d come to you in a direct way.”[24] While his allegiances roughly lie with these Romantic precepts, Dylan does not always fit into them neatly. Individual songs capture his attention based on different criteria (what Keightley would see as modernist authenticity, indicated by a fondness for experimentation and progress). Novelty for its own sake doesn’t impress Dylan, but innovative, trailblazing songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “My Generation” are not overlooked.


Relatedly, mavericks operating within, outside, or against the mainstream garner his sympathy. The criteria are expressed neatly in the “Poison Love” entry when Dylan refers to Johnnie & Jack: “They deserve to be in all the halls of fame, because they are innovators – innovators on the highest level – and don’t jump through hoops for anybody.”[25] In this context, unpretentious journeymen also fare well; as already noted, Dylan writes admiringly of Perry Como, but Bobby Darin too earns his praise. Believability counts for a great deal. We’re told that “When [Como] stood and sang, he owned the song and he shared it and we believed every single word. What more could you want from an artist?”[26] Indeed, believing the singer (over and above adherence to technical norms or conventionally pretty vocals) is part of Dylan’s influence – practically a testament to his own achievements. This leads us to a peculiar quality of the text: its autobiographical quality.


At times, his takes on songs and performers resonate with Dylan’s history. One can see parallels between the people he writes about and Dylan’s own life, as if he were explaining himself through analogous individuals. A reflection on Nuta Kotlyarenko in the “There Stands the Glass” essay offers tantalizing parallels with Dylan. Dylan’s version of Kotlyarenko’s biography practically remixes details from his own: Ukrainian Jewish ancestry; “trying his hand at boxing and acting”; moving from Minnesota to New York; and reinventing oneself.[27] Dylan essentially talks about himself at times; musing on Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” he tells us that “Some people create new lives to hide their past. Bobby knew that sometimes the past was nothing more than an illusion and you might just as well keep making stuff up.”[28] Even the name doesn’t need to be changed. He also writes about Johnny Paycheck’s name change in ways that clearly resonate with his own re-branding from Zimmerman to Dylan. In telling us about laudable songwriting, he additionally highlights other writers’ approaches that contextualise his own. In the “Ruby, Are You Mad?” essay, he tells us how “the song morphed and grew … It was still the same song but the tiny grace notes and elasticity kept it alive, shook the dust from its boots. Of course, some people cried foul and those people should’ve stayed home.” Also, in reference to Dion, he says that “Most recently, he has realized one of his early dreams and become some kind of elder legend, a bluesman from another Delta.”[29] One can read a multitude of Dylan’s own experiences into these comments.


While Dylan broadly cleaves to Romantic authenticity as his yardstick, he is still apt to admire songs for contrasting reasons. He regularly praises the flexible and mutable. He appears to favour what Stephen Davies terms ontologically “thin” pieces. Thinner works facilitate more interpretation. Greater latitude is granted to the performer (within certain stylistic constraints).[30] “Thicker” works (for example, a significant amount of classical music) require greater fidelity to specifics, where new interpretations have much in common with earlier iterations. He appears to gravitate to both songs’ and artists’ adaptability: “Bobby Darin could sound like anybody and sing any style”; “[Little Walter] is an amazingly flexible singer”; and “The malleability of [‘Blue Moon’] frees it from being too associated with any single version and allows it to belong to everyone.”[31] He also touches on this in the Wall Street Journal interview: ‘A great song … can be played with a full orchestra score or by a strolling minstrel… A great song mutates, makes quantum leaps … It crosses genres … and can be played in …multiple styles.”[32]


He appears to trust less those “thick” songs too in thrall to arrangements. In the “Blue Moon” essay, he avers that “Some songs, like … ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ … are as dependent on their arrangement as the music or lyrics for their identity. Not so ‘Blue Moon.’ ‘Blue Moon’ is a universal song that can appeal to anybody at any time.”[33] While I’m not sure this is meant pejoratively, one still senses a hint of distaste in context.[34] That being said, Dylan will promote the arrangement as the magic ingredient in a song. He tells us that for “It’s All in The Game,” “the arrangement is key.”[35] This is to say he’s not especially prescriptive. Qualities that get in the way in one song are precisely what another song thrives on.


Dylan also occasionally highlights songwriting techniques; for instance, he appreciates paradox. He unearths unspoken undertows that deepen the song’s meaning. As Cleanth Brooks illuminated in The Well-Wrought Urn (1947), the guise of simplicity or the direct attack (Brooks uses Wordsworth as an example) belies paradoxical situations that give ostensibly straightforward material extra resonance. Dylan astutely draws from The Who’s “My Generation” an anxiety on Townsend’s part that he will soon be the one the younger generation wishes would fade away. That awareness cannot be traced to any specific point in the song or line of the lyrics. Yet, the implicit fear can be intuited through a latent defensiveness. Dylan finds an analogous undertow to “Detroit City.”


Dylan wishes to preserve the capacity for people’s imagination to complete the song rather than have external imagery unduly influence their experience. He considers the background to “I’m A Fool to Want You” to be unhelpful trivia when “It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important.”[36] In the “Ball of Confusion” essay, he tells us “The song is like an old radio show, where you could just imagine what you’re listening to. And it made for a stronger experience.”[37] In the “Old Violin” essay, he references how the story behind “Save the Last Dance for Me” provides too many specifics that interfere with how the song resonates with an individual. He criticizes music videos for the same reason (“we are locked into someone else’s messaging of the lyrics.”)[38] He prizes imagination when it comes to songwriting too; in the Wall Street Journal piece, he attests that “Creative ability is about pulling old elements together and making something new, and I don’t believe silicon chips and passwords know anything about those elements, or where they are. You have to have a vivid imagination.”[39] Relatedly, one can detect hostility to anything too systematized or scientific. In the “Black Magic Woman” essay, he mentions that “What happens with words and music is more akin to alchemy … People can keep trying to turn music into a science, but in science one and one will always be two. Music … tells us time and again that one plus one, in the best circumstances, equals three.”[40] At times, he sounds like another philosopher with a distaste for a scientific approach to music: Jean Jacques Rousseau (from Rousseau’s “On the Principle of Melody”: “Let us … not think that the empire Music has over our passions is ever explained by proportions and numbers”).[41]


Dylan also has techniques for how he approaches his essays. The more informative sections can give way to speculations on alternative histories. He finds musing on these what-ifs edifying; it’s not at all incongruous with No Direction Home’s “I want a dog that’s going to collect and clean my bath!” (2005) or, more recently, his concoctions in “My Own Version of You” from Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). In writing about pop music history, Gilbert Rodman points out that “one of the most difficult tricks in doing historical work is recapturing the sense of uncertainty that existed at some prior moment about what would happen next.”[42] Inevitability applied ex post facto has a way of drying up and ossifying the telling of history; instead, the trick is to imbue old facts with a sense of surprise and discovery by taking away that retrospective inevitability and restoring a feeling of uncertainty as to how history might unfold. In this manner, Dylan likes to upend inevitabilities by highlighting alternatives: “You have to wonder, what if Sam had sent Elvis over to Luther’s house instead of to Scotty Moore’s? Scotty and Bill would then have been backing up Johnny Cash, and Luther and Marshall Grant would have been playing with Elvis.”[43] More what-ifs include his speculations on Ricky Nelson’s lost acting opportunities in the “Poor Little Fool” essay. He also mentions alternative stories within the songs themselves, as with “Pancho and Lefty” (“In another life Pancho would’ve been in the bullring and Lefty on the Ryman country music stage.”)[44]


To close: there’s no shortage of work to be done linking The Philosophy of Modern Song up with Dylan’s previous pronouncements on musical aesthetics, but also the wider firmament of musical philosophy in general (at times, it seems as if Dylan has set up his essays to be purposely anti-Adorno – in praising “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy,” he attests that “it follows no line, and one part can easily be replaced by another part.”)[45] And Dylan is engaged in philosophy here, insofar as he’s doing what Sharpe views as part of analytical philosophy: “making us reflect upon unconsidered presuppositions; [which] may lead us to reflect on our lives and our values and cause us either to value things differently or perhaps more directly to alter our conduct.”[46] Dylan throwing his weight behind these criteria counts, in other words, if, by doing so, he steers songwriters and critics towards them and away from others. From his observations, Dylan infers broader principles, suggests evaluative standards, and posits aesthetic verities. Quite apart from promoting any individual work, the book also venerates the medium of song and its ability to enrich our emotional lives through the deep, personal connections we form with their worldviews and sensibilities.


[1] Jeff Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A about “The Philosophy of Modern Song”’, The Official Bob Dylan Site, 20 December 2022, https://www.bobdylan.com/news/bob-dylan-interviewed-by-

[2] Slate.

[3] Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022), 11.

[4] Dylan, 41.

[5] Dylan, 154.

[6] Dylan, 153.

[7] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[8] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 283.

[9] Dylan, 101.

[10] Dylan, 184.

[11] Simon Frith, ‘Pop Music’, in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, ed. Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 94–95.

[12] David Browne, ‘“Jesus, Bob”: How Some Musicians Feel About Being Dissed by Dylan in “Philosophy of Modern Song”’, Rolling Stone, 16 November 2022, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/bob-dylan-philosophy-of-modern-song-book-backlash-1234630949/.

[13] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 7–10, 159–61, 203.

[14] Lewis Eugene Rowell, Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), 39.

[15] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 11, 17, 202.

[16] Dylan, 198.

[17] Dylan, 165.

[18] Aristotle, Politics, trans. Ernest Barker, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 312.

[19] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 79.

[20] Dylan, 275.

[21] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[22] Slate.

[23] Keir Keightley, ‘Reconsidering Rock’, in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, ed. Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 137.

[24] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[25] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 82.

[26] Dylan, 13.

[27] Dylan, 23.

[28] Dylan, 87.

[29] Dylan, 144, 334.

[30] Stephen Davies, ‘Rock versus Classical Music’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism vol. 57, no. 2 (1999): 199, https://doi.org/10.2307/432312.

[31] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 87, 201, 229.

[32] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[33] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 229.

[34] The distaste is more apparent when one looks at Dylan’s other references to the Beatles of late, where he has been apt to view them in a jaundiced light. While I’m sure interpretations differ, I can’t help but hear the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” reference in “Murder Most Foul” as Dylan looking askance at the vaguely disingenuous, infantilising title (“Hush lil children, you’ll soon understand / The Beatles are coming they’re gonna hold your hand”). In the “London Calling” essay, he namechecks the song again, portraying the Beatles and their world as quaint and twee next to the real London as captured by the Clash. Once again, what’s faddish is superseded by the real and true.

[35] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 245.

[36] Dylan, 9.

[37] Dylan, 79.

[38] Dylan, 151.

[39] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[40] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 275.

[41] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to Music, ed. and trans. John T. Scott, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 7 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998), 269–70.

[42] Gilbert B. Rodman, ‘Histories’, in Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, ed. Bruce Horner and Thomas Swiss (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999), 44.

[43] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 17.

[44] Dylan, 59.

[45] Adorno, conversely, criticised this characteristic of popular music, where musical elements could be shifted around without affecting the whole (“Every detail is substitutable; it serves its function only as a cog in a machine”). See Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music, ed. Richard D. Leppert, trans. Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 440.

[46] R. A. Sharpe, Philosophy of Music: An Introduction (Chesham: Acumen, 2004), 9.

Works cited

Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Edited by Richard D. Leppert,

translated by Susan H. Gillespie, Berkeley, CA: University of

California Press, 2002.

Aristotle. Politics. Translated by Ernest Barker. Oxford World’s

Classics, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Browne, David. ‘“Jesus, Bob”: How Some Musicians Feel About Being Dissed

by Dylan in “Philosophy of Modern Song”’. Rolling Stone, 16

November 2022, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-


Davies, Stephen. “Rock versus Classical Music.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art

Criticism vol. 57, no. 2, 1999, pp. 193–204. https://doi.org/10.2307/432312.

Dylan, Bob, dir. Eat the Document. 1972.

———. The Philosophy of Modern Song, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022.

———. Rough And Rowdy Ways, Columbia – 19439780982, 2020, compact disc.

———. World Gone Wrong, Columbia – COL 474857 2, 1993, compact disc.

Frith, Simon. “Pop Music.” The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, edited 

by Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to

Music, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 93–108

Keightley, Keir. “Reconsidering Rock.” The Cambridge Companion to Pop and

Rock, eds. Frith, Straw, and Street. 109–42.

Rodman, Gilbert B. “Histories.” Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, edited

by Bruce Horner and Thomas Swiss, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999. 35–45.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to

Music. Edited and translated by John T. Scott, The Collected Writings of

Rousseau, vol. 7, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.

Rowell, Lewis Eugene. Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of

Music, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.

Scorsese, Martin, dir. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, 2 discs, Hollywood:

Paramount, 2005. DVD.

Sharpe, R. A. Philosophy of Music: An Introduction, Chesham: Acumen, 2004.

Slate, Jeff. “Bob Dylan Q&A about ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’” The

Official Bob Dylan Site, 20 December 2022,

https://www.bobdylan.com/news/bob-dylan- interviewed-by-wall-street-journals-jeff-slate/.


Dylan Review Vol. 4.1, Spring/Summer 2022 – BOB DYLAN LYRICS, COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Ain’t Talkin’. Copyright © 2006 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Dark Eyes. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Jokerman. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

License to Kill. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Summer Days. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Ye Shall Be Changed. © 1979 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.


Dylan Review Vol. 4.1, Spring/Summer 2022 – CONTRIBUTORS

Mitch Blank is a music archaeologist and consultant archivist at the Bob Dylan Center, Tulsa Oklahoma. He is regarded as one of the pre-eminent collectors of Dylan memorabilia and artifacts, and is a longtime resident of Greenwich Village, New York City.


Ronald D. Cohen is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, Northwest. He has received numerous awards including a Grammy nomination for The Best of Broadside liner notes in 2001. His books include Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940–1970 (University of Massachusetts, 2002), Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of Congress Letters, 1935–1945 (2014) and Selling Folk Music: An Illustrated History (2017), both published by University Press of Mississippi.


Barry J. Faulk is a Professor of English at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. His recent work includes “A Matter of Electricity: William Burroughs and Rock Music” in the American Book Review (2020) and an essay on Burroughs, David Bowie, and Bob Dylan in Lit-Rock: Literary Capital in Popular Music, edited by Ryan Hibbett and forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press later this year.


Anne-Marie Mai is Professor of Literature and a chair of the Danish Institute for Advanced Study at The University of Southern Denmark. She nominated Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he won in 2016. She has published Bob Dylan the Poet (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2018), edited the anthology New Approaches to Bob Dylan (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2019), and contributed to The World of Bob Dylan (ed. Sean Latham, Cambridge University Press, 2021).


D. Quentin Miller is Professor and chair of English at Suffolk University in Boston where he teaches courses on contemporary American literature, including one on Dylan and the Beat generation. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, most recently Understanding John Edgar Wideman (UP of South Carolina, 2018), James Baldwin in Context (Cambridge UP, 2019), and The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2020). Forthcoming books include The Routledge Introduction to the American Novel and a new edition of the Bedford Introduction to Literature.


Walter Raubicheck is a Professor of English at Pace University in New York, where he teaches American Literature, film, and college composition. He is the co-author of Scripting Hitchcock (2011) and co-editor of Hitchcock’s Rereleased Films (1991), both with Walter Srebnick. He also edited Hitchcock and the Cold War (2019). He has published essays on British crime fiction authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton, as well as essays on American authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, and Dashiell Hammett.


Bob Russell is a retired IT Manager. He is an admirer of traditional country and bluegrass music, and a longtime listener to the music of Bob Dylan.


David R. Shumway is Professor of English, and Literary and Cultural Studies, and the founding Director of the Humanities Center at Carnegie Mellon University. His most recent book is Rock Star: The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen (2014), and he has published numerous articles on popular music. Some of his other books include Michel Foucault (1989), Modern Love: Romance, Intimacy, and the Marriage Crisis (2003), and John Sayles (2012). He is currently editing The World of Leonard Cohen to be published by Cambridge University Press.


Rebecca Slaman is a freelance writer and editor. She has a BA from Fordham University in English and Classics. Her writing specializes in fan communities on social media, particularly Twitter. She has been cited as a Bob Dylan expert in speaking engagements at University of Tulsa and Florida International University.


Randy Turley is a retired Missouri teacher and attorney who now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Secondary Education at the University of Arizona and a Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He has been listening to Bob Dylan since 1966.


Karl Gustel Wärnberg is a PhD student in Philosophy at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He holds an MA in Intellectual History from Uppsala University, Sweden



SUBMITTED BY Graley Herren


I have an update/correction to make to my article, “Young Goodman Dylan: Chronicles at the Crossroads,” which appeared in Volume 2.1 (Summer 2020) of your journal. On pages 82-83, I cite a passage from Chronicles in which Dylan quotes from Archibald MacLeish’s play Scratch – or misquotes, as I claim in the article. Here is precisely what I wrote:


But then Dylan inserts an ellipsis and continues on with the quotation: “…powerful nations suddenly, without occasion, without apparent cause…decay. Their children turn against them. Their women lose their sense of being women. Their families disintegrate” (Chronicles 124). Remarkably, none of this second half of the quotation appears in the play Scratch. My research so far has uncovered no source. I frankly don’t know where Dylan got this quotation. It smacks of the apocalyptic rhetoric of Hal Lindsey, but the passage may be entirely fabricated. In any case, it doesn’t come from Scratch.


The mystery has been solved by the Bob Dylan Center. I was fortunate enough to tour the magnificent new facility on June 3, 2022, during my trip to Tulsa for the excellent “Dylan and The Beats” conference, sponsored by the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. While perusing one of the display cases, I read with great interest a typed letter sent by MacLeish to Dylan. At the time he wrote the message, the elder playwright still held out hope that his collaboration with the young songwriter might come to fruition. In fact, MacLeish even offers some possible lines for the song “Father of Night,” adding the caveat: “Does that say anything to you? If it’s of any use, take it—rearrange it as you please: it’s yours.” Of course, Dylan would eventually pull out of the Scratch collaboration, using his original compositions instead as part of the album New Morning.


On the first page of the letter, in an effort to nudge Dylan in a darker direction with his songs, MacLeish quotes a lengthy passage from the working draft of Scratch, and it does indeed include, verbatim, the passage that I referred to above. This passage does not appear in the final published script, so Dylan must have been quoting from an earlier draft he retained from that period, or perhaps even from the very letter on display at the Dylan Center.


Either way, it is now clear where the text in question comes from, and it is equally clear that my speculation about it being fabricated was wrong. I would appreciate it if the editors would publish this letter and belatedly set the record straight.


My thanks to the curators of the Dylan Center for sharing this artifact with the public. These are precisely the sorts of revelations and clarifications we can hope to benefit from in the future as Dylan scholars.



The Dylan Review spoke to writer and avid Dylan researcher Scott Warmuth in spring 2022. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Dylan Review: You’ve called Dylan an “outlaw appropriation artist,” especially in his late era. What does that mean?

Scott Warmuth: There’s the notion of being an outlaw, and I think that’s always been a part of what Dylan’s approach to art is in terms of rule breaking. You know, “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” The romantic notion of the outlaw. When I was using that term, I was thinking about the approaches Dylan has used in his writing, whether it’s lyrics, or prose, his memoir, Chronicles, Volume One, or the film script Masked and Anonymous, and especially the paintings, a lot of them – fifty-plus easily – based on images from films. And the notion of the appropriation artist: a constructive way to put it into context is to see who Dylan’s contemporaries are for that. Let’s talk about Joni Mitchell, or Leonard Cohen, or Warren Zevon. But I think especially since Dylan’s gotten more into visual work, that Richard Prince is another touch point. They’ve collaborated in different ways. Prince wrote a foreword for The Asia Series (of Dylan’s paintings). He quotes Dylan endlessly, online and in his writing, and he’s talked about going to Dylan’s studio and it didn’t look like any art studio he’d ever seen. So how does someone who’s accused of similar things that Dylan’s been accused of respond? There’s a book that’s just Richard’s deposition where he’s asked on the stand by a hostile interrogator about his artistic processes, and it’s a wonderful read. Richard Prince refers to this experience as “Deposition Row.”

I think Bob Dylan is laying the notion that he’s thinking of appropriation art as an outlaw component. He talks about a party at Camila’s in the early 60s in Chronicles, the people that he meets there. It’s Cisco Houston, and an artist named Robin Whitlaw. And as they go back and forth he uses some dialogue from Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Later on, Whitlaw broke into someone’s house and stole some artwork and then was acquitted, because she said that was her artistic process. As it turns out, Robin Whitlaw doesn’t exist. She’s a character invented by art critic and writer Ralph Rugoff, an imagined outlaw appropriation artist who got away with her appropriation crimes. Dylan appropriates her, puts her in his book, which is like saying, “I met Zorro,” you know, “Godzilla and I had a conversation.” It’s not a real person. And I don’t know how that slipped past, how nobody called that out at the time. He’s planting that notion that he’s aligning himself with an imagined outlaw appropriation artist.


DR: Your specialty in the Dylan world is finding the source texts of Dylan’s writings, his lyrics, his prose writings, and his paintings. But how does his work from 1997 on compare to the borrowing he did earlier in his career? Are there distinctions to be made?

SW: There’s a much more fine-tuned intentionality with Time Out of Mind moving forward. Certainly you can find things that are similar, little bits from Jack Kerouac in “Desolation Row,” where specific images pop up. In some of the 80s songs there’s a lot of film dialogue, or lines from Star Trek, but I don’t see that as being the same. With Time Out of Mind, and especially “Love and Theft”, it becomes much more intentional. He’s tying together two different lines that have similar context, if you know the source material, and placing them together. He’s pairing high culture and low culture, thinking about how these things go together. Or creating a subtext by using material from other sources that you don’t see in some of those 80s songs with film dialogue, especially in Chronicles. There’s other things going on beneath the surface, if you know what those components are. So I think it’s a two-step approach. Part of it is recognizing what those pieces are. Can you identify them and capture their components? They don’t necessarily have to have a meaning, or have to make sense, but very often you can build a case: “Well, there’s too many of these for this to be unintentional,” and “what is this telling us?” And in that ability to have two or three conversations at the same time: the one that’s on the surface level with the song, and the multiple threads going on behind the scenes that you wouldn’t know about unless you had a laundry list of source materials. How do they appear in the different contexts? And how does he make them bounce off each other? I think that’s where some of the sparks come in, some of the alchemy comes in.


DR: In terms of finding those connections, the source texts, is there a threshold of similarity that it takes for you to draw the connection?

SW: Some are easy to spot. The likelihood goes up when you already know that, well, this is a writer Dylan likes a lot. And then, for instance, in Chronicles, it’s probably Jack London, who’s used the most. Then there’s lots of Ernest Hemingway, or Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, and on and on. Sometimes there are multiple uses. You get one hit, maybe via Google Books, and read the paragraph before, the paragraph after, the pages before, the pages after, the entire Hemingway short story. And then you might notice other bits turning up. It’s the same phrase, or it’s on the page that has another phrase that’s so long and so distinct, that it has to be from this Hemingway short story, and that raises the likelihood of finding another one there. There’s some that you could argue, “Well, it’s just happenstance, there’s only so many letters and words in the English language.” I’ve heard plenty of that. But I think some of those arguments fall flat when there are just so many examples. There’s this intentionality going on. The example I like to use, because I think it’s one of the clearest, is in Chronicles. He’s writing about recording Oh Mercy in New Orleans, and he goes to the movie theater to see Homeboy. And he talks about how every time Mickey Rourke appeared on the screen, the movie went to the moon. And on the same page, he’s using a peculiar passage that turns up in The First Men in the Moon, from H.G. Wells. It’s like he’s aware.

Everyone’s going to have their own threshold of what’s going to pass the sniff test. I’ve got a “maybe” file, and I try not to spitball in public. If I’m going to present something it’s, “Here’s what I’m seeing, here are all the moving parts.” And if you can find there’s something he might be doing with those moving parts, I think that’s where it really gets interesting.


DR: You’ll read the short story, or read the novel, or watch the film Dylan got the line from, or listen to the recording. One could argue you’re consuming more of the media that Bob Dylan is consuming than anyone. So what can you say about Bob Dylan’s reading and listening habits from going through that practice?

SW: You know, I go to anybody’s house, I want to see what’s in your record collection and I want to see what’s on your bookshelf. That’s just the way that I’m wired. As a reader, Dylan is very broad. He seems to have interests that range from 20th-century literature to Homer or Chaucer to one-offs that are peculiar. There are a couple lines from a book called The Encyclopedia of Desks, a description of a desk he uses to describe Ray Gooch’s desk in Chronicles, and it’s too many things for it to not be this particular desk, and so I’m wondering, “How do you end up with The Encyclopedia of Desks?” I have a Pinterest page I’ve been building for years called “A Bob Dylan Bookshelf” that has over 100 different titles. There’s biographical stuff; jazz bios; Mezz Mezzrow’s Really the Blues; and Beneath the Underdog, the Charles Mingus memoir. There’s a book by Lewis MacAdams called Birth Of The Cool that he uses a couple of little bits from in Chronicles. It’s a book that mentions him, and he uses books by people he knows sometimes. A book he uses a number of times in Chronicles is American Rhapsody, that Joe Eszterhas wrote about the Clinton-era scandals. And, of course, they worked together on Hearts of Fire. He’s Bob Dylan’s neighbor. Joe Eszterhas writes about Dylan’s dogs making a mess on his Malibu front lawn, and in American Rhapsody, there’s a passage that says “Dylan our Elvis.” You know, Dylan can’t be his own Elvis, so how does he respond to that? And then he’s also bouncing off these ideas. Like, what does Joe say about this? And how does Eszterhas do that? Or he’ll combine voices where it’s a little bit of Hemingway mixed with a little bit of this or that. Sometimes there’s a big loud voice in a passage and there’s a smaller one hiding underneath. It’s harder to see, unless you really go in and dig it apart phrase by phrase and get lucky.


DR: In terms of the still images from films that Dylan uses as source texts for his paintings, how does that creative process compare to his lyric and prose writing process? How is Dylan doing something similar or different with the paintings from the text works?

SW: There is some overlap. I don’t know that they’re exact. With the ones where he’s got drawings that accompany handwritten lyrics, sometimes they’re much more obvious images. There’s a drawing of a sheriff’s badge for “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Here’s a drawing of Napoleon, who’s mentioned in the song. Sometimes they’re much more direct in those.

I think it’s a visual language that he’s going for, and that he’s incorporating literary ideas into some of those paintings. There’s one batch of paintings that really doesn’t get represented at all in Retrospectrum, the big retrospective they did in China, and then they did it again at the Frost Museum in Florida, which is a sprawling exhibit. There’s hundreds of pieces, but nothing from Revisionist Art, which are these peculiar magazine cover paintings, but they look like photographic images. Some are revised magazine covers or imagined magazine covers, but with real photographs of real people. They’re filled with text, and I think there’s more to go on with the explanation of the text within those. There’s just so many of them. That material needs to be looked at more closely, because some of the text is just gags and jokes or non sequiturs, or commentary on magazine culture. Dylan being from a magazine generation where magazines are important. I’ve heard Sean Latham talk about that, the notion of Dylan as someone who magazines are important to. And I think that plays a role in why Revisionist Art should be looked at that way. I think he’s making commentary with some of those. He’s got a whole series of paintings of Times Square in the 70s from a range of different films people know, like Taxi Driver, as well as from films that aren’t as well known, genre films like Fleshpot on 42nd Street or Massage Parlor Hookers, which wouldn’t be films that your average person would would know or go to. So what is going on there? And is he doing other things within those paintings? I think the answer is yes.

I’ve got a list of close to fifty different films. These range from film noir to 70s films, action movies, home movies, it’s all across the board: foreign films of different sorts from Asia and from Europe. And the notion of Dylan as someone who has been interested in film forever, it’s interesting to see what those choices are. Also there’s plenty of that type of work that we’d never get to see done for private audiences for high ticket prices that never hit a gallery. We won’t get to see them until they turn up in the secondary market when these collectors decide to sell or they die and their family sells. And that might not be for decades.


DR: Your own work has not been without controversy. What do you say to someone who might say that your work, perhaps, is tarnishing Dylan’s legacy?

SW: What you need to do is take a look at the body of work over the last 25 years. It’s undeniable how this use of appropriation, of recrafting, of stitching bits together from other sources, in a deliberate way to create subtext, I think, is an avenue that deserves exploration.

If you’re just having a surface discussion, it’s easy to go for big, clunky ideas. I’m not really all that interested in plagiarism. If I was – if I wanted to out Bob Dylan as a plagiarist – I wouldn’t waste my time. I wouldn’t spend time with things I wasn’t interested in. Sometimes when I see things I’ve written get picked up in larger media, it’s boiled down to this lowest common denominator that is perhaps a little simplistic. And I can see how, if that’s all you saw, that may not appeal to you. Plenty of people are emotionally invested in many of those songs, because they touch us in certain ways. That’s why he’s so popular, the way this material works. And if you’ve been with that for a long, long time, and suddenly you’re seeing something different, I could see that as a threat, potentially. Or the notion that I want Bob Dylan to be a self-contained genius with this stuff just pouring out of him. That break can be dissonant for some folks. I wish I had enough imagination to create these things and invent them and make them up. I’m just noticing the things that are there, cataloging them, and then saying, “Hey, take a look at this.” And “Compare this, it might mean something to some of the other things going on here.” I think that’s a legitimate discussion. To boil it down to a plagiarism article or a gotcha game is not all that interesting. I don’t think it does service to the work. I think there are a vast amount of things going on in Dylan’s work we haven’t even started to discuss, and these starting points can open the doors.

So I try to slough off a fair amount of that criticism, because I know what my tone sounds like, I know what my intent is. I’m a fan of this work. Not everybody wants to go through Chronicles phrase by phrase, but if you do, it’s a rewarding exercise. And there’s a lot going on there. Same with “Love and Theft”, and some of those records, you can enjoy the music without knowing any of those components, or that writing. They all work that way. But they work on these other levels as well. And I think there’s still plenty going on we haven’t even spotted.

I’ve seen where someone was dismissive early on saying, “No way,” or “I believe this one, but this one? No no no no, no way.” It’s like steering an ocean liner. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “You know what, I found something just like you were talking about, take a look at this.” They got on board, it just took a decade.

If you think about critical writing and thought on Bob Dylan, you’ve got Michael Gray who did a lot of groundbreaking work and I really respect the stuff he’s done. But there’s people digging the same holes again and again, and I think if you start digging different holes, there’s different things there and you can have different discussions, or at least open up thoughts and people’s ideas. A lot of that just takes time. A lot of this research that we’re talking about I did over a decade ago, mapped out and wrote about in different places, wrote about on my blog, got picked up in different places. But now it’s a decade later, there’s a whole new group of Dylan fans. How do you touch those folks and see a different generation who hasn’t been listening to Bob Dylan since the first album came out, or since 1965, where they may have different perspectives or different approaches?

So I’ve been trying to revisit some of that stuff, break it out into a million different pieces. Twitter is great for that: “Hey, take a quick look at this.” Or Instagram: “Let’s take a snapshot of this piece, compare, contrast, look here, do you like that? There’s more.” So you can fill in some of those pieces. Some might click, and someone may go, “Let me get the complete works of Jack London, go through page by page, and highlight the passages that Dylan uses, dog ear those pages and make a concordance for those pieces.” It’s there if people want to do it.


DR: I was looking at an early essay of yours…

SW: The one that’s on the New Haven Review?

DR: Yes, which is titled “Bob Charlatan.” And that word “charlatan” has a bit of a negative connotation. Would you use that same word today?

SW: There’s a book, I think it’s Time Out of Mind by Ian Bell. The late Ian Bell writes about that essay, and he was concerned with the title. And I don’t know that his statements all ring true, but he writes, “you must assume the title was his.” And actually, I would have done that title a different way, but you’re working with editors, it’s just the nature of working with folks. But my initial title had that flipped: “Charlatan Bob.”

Thinking of Another Side of Bob Dylan, but many different sides of Bob Dylan, I’d written a piece called “Sideshow Bob,” but about Dylan’s use of writing from a book of sideshow photography that turns up in the script for Masked and Anonymous. Some of the Jeff Bridges scenes use it a bunch, and I broke that all out, and Dylan uses others sideshow books, and you’ve got the Simpsons reference there too, so I couldn’t resist Sideshow Bob, the Bob that’s interested in sideshow. I like the Bob Dylan who’s interested in rockabilly: Rockabilly Bob, he likes Warren Smith, and he likes Sun Records, and he goes to hang out with Billy Lee Riley. And he invited rockabilly artist Glen Glenn, who just passed away recently, to join him and play a show in Los Angeles in the 90s. So I like Rockabilly Bob, and I can relate to Sideshow Bob, and that title (“Bob Charlatan”) was meant as a challenge to the reader. It’s a little antagonistic, and some of that is on purpose. You want to have a title that’s got something going on with it. But I would’ve had Charlatan Bob as just another one of those Bobs: Sideshow Bob, Rockabilly Bob, Charlatan Bob.

For some, that title alone, they wouldn’t go past that. They tossed it away, and they wouldn’t dive into it. That’s fine. That was part of the intent: to be a challenge. The core of why I chose that title is there’s a passage in the essay about Dylan using bits from a book that’s a bit like Machiavelli’s The Prince, by Robert Greene called The 48 Laws of Power. And Dylan uses a whole series of different elements from that book. But there’s this one section, where he’s talking about music theory, and things going on in threes. It’s very… it’s oblique. You can’t walk away from it going, “Okay, I’m going to apply these lessons and I’ll really be on my way to Bob Dylan.” It turns out he’s using these components from one of the lessons on the science of charlatanism, or how to start a cult in five easy steps, which is a wonderfully strange thing to find. And it turns out, Dylan’s messing with the audience while also applying those lessons. To me, that was a wonderful discovery.


DR: To bring it back to the present day, the tenor of the conversation surrounding Dylan’s appropriations has changed and evolved, thanks in part to your own work. People have a better understanding of his late-era borrowings. So how have you altered your own approach to finding the connections and to getting the information out there to people?

SW: It certainly has changed over time. I initially got drawn into all of this with “Love and Theft” in 2001. I still remember putting it into the CD player for the first time and just being knocked out by what a fantastic record it is, and then seeing the components and learning more about how musically it’s built, because a lot of those songs have got an antecedent. “Summer Days” is a Big Joe Turner song called “Rebecca.” They’re very similar. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” has “Uncle John’s Bongos,” the Johnnie and Jack song. So I just started mapping out the musical connections, and then seeing where people were writing about the lyrical bits. That bit from The Great Gatsby is easy to spot, then a few others bubbled up. And then Dylan’s use of material from the oral history of a Japanese gangster turned up, so I was fascinated with all of that. As early as 2004, I was doing a radio presentation about Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” and its musical resources. I had served as music director at a radio station on Long Island called WUSB, the largest non-commercial radio station on Long Island. And in 2004, they were doing a 12-hour Dylan marathon. I’d been living in Albuquerque for a long time at that point, but I sent the CD to one of my friends there, and we did about an hour on the air talking about “Love and Theft” specifically, and how some of those pieces were constructed.

Now the resources have certainly changed from when I started working through “Love and Theft”. Google Books has played a huge role in the ability to search for phrases, and to go through them, it just speeds that up so much. I grew up in an analog world, I’m really comfortable with a card catalog. I know how to thread a microfilm machine and get what I want in the newspaper. I love to go to a library and sit and do research. Now you can just do that faster. And that’s gotten easier over time.

One thing I think is, once you find he’s using a certain resource again and again, to get a hard copy of it, and to actually sit and read it slowly. And then just wait for those parts. Sometimes I might read something a couple different times, or go back to something years later and notice, “Oh, how could I miss that?” Or that you’re likely to have the edition that Dylan is reading, because the lines he’s using are at the top of the page, the bottom of the page, the chapter ends with a paragraph halfway through the page, and your eye is going to be drawn to that. You can get a notion for how Dylan’s eyes scan a page. Sometimes he starts on one page and then borrows across the page, so they’re totally different paragraphs, but you can see the highlighter goes across. Training your eye to see what might jump out to Bob Dylan. And if you do that for years, you can get better, and the resources have gotten better.

I can have a hard copy of a book that I know I want to look through, or say the Masked and Anonymous script printed out in front of me, but if I’ve got a digital copy of the book that I want to work with, it’s searchable. I can go through and search through areas that I know are hotspots. And then I’ll run every single phrase through my Kindle. So some of it is speeded up, you don’t have to sit in front of a computer. Now I can sit on my couch with a book and a tablet and just do it because it’s like fishing, you know, just let me cast a line with this phrase. And let me cast it again. Let me cast a line with another phrase and do that hundreds, thousands of times. A lot of people might not have the patience to do that, but you know, even a bad day fishing is still a good day, and I like to listen to music and read books. What am I doing? I’m reading books, I’m reading magazines, and then when you find ones like, “Oh, I know he’s read this.” And then you can start to piece together, What else might be going on there? How closely did he read this? Are these ideas he was reading about when he was writing this component? It changes how you think about that piece.

Over time, it’s gotten easier. For instance, we talked about the films that he’s using as sources for his paintings. Some of those I was able to find because there’s text in the painting, and I can search for the text, and here it is, let me watch the rest of the film. Oh, there’s another image that he used. You just get lucky that way. Some of them I recognize because I’ve seen the movie. And it’s Urban Cowboy, it’s The Lords of Flatbush, I know what that movie is. But he likely has a subscription to the Criterion Channel, and there’s a fast forward option where it gives you a screen grab every 10 seconds, and you can scroll through an hour-and-a-half movie in 15 minutes and rule it in or rule it out, if you’ve got an eye that’s focused. Sometimes you have to be really focused. Someone on Twitter had suggested The French Connection was a movie that Dylan was likely doing paintings on, and I’d watched The French Connection a couple of days earlier with that notion in mind, knowing he’s using gritty movies from the New York area from the 1970s, and I didn’t spot it. And I watched it again and the image jumped out at me. It was a quick shot, only a few seconds long, but I was able to spot it. Sometimes you get lucky.


DR: What motivates you to keep doing these deep dives into Dylan, to devote so much of your time and energy and life to this quest?

SW: It’s fun. I’m a huge music fan, worked as a disc jockey for years, have a huge music collection. Bob Dylan’s work was certainly always a part of that since I was a little kid. And his work is so interesting, it’s moving and it touches you in different ways. With “Love and Theft” and Modern Times, and Chronicles and Masked and Anonymous, you can start to piece it together. It’s like a sweater that’s unraveling, you tug that thread and just keep pulling. It’s got payoffs, too, when you find, “Oh, I never would’ve thought of that, that way.” Or, how does Bob Dylan read an Ernest Hemingway short story? What’s gonna jump out at him? Why would he pick this story? Or just to get an idea of the creative process. How do you write a Bob Dylan song? Certainly there’s got to be a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of different songs, but the material will tell you that if you take some of that apart and see what those moving parts are. I like to take apart my toys and see why they work that way. And I think that’s part of it. It’s something I do for fun.

One of the things that I was really astounded to find out was that this process I’m really interested in began in earnest with Time Out of Mind. I love Time Out of Mind – so many great songs there. It’s a perfect record if you want to drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and then back later in the day, because you get “Highlands” for the drive home and the sun setting. It’s something I’ve done dozens of times, but I hadn’t thought of it in this other way. And there was this time when Edward Cook and I were going through Chronicles, and just trading notes back and forth. And he had found a passage in Chronicles, it’s unmistakable, where Dylan is riffing off of some ideas about being on the road that Henry Rollins is writing about in a book called Black Coffee Blues. And he had found these parallels that were undeniable. As soon as I started looking, I was like, Ed, you’re on the right track.

Ed graduated high school the year I was born, so we’re from different generations. I’d seen Henry Rollins with the Rollins Band in the 80s. So I got a copy of Black Coffee Blues. I’m reading it, and then a few pages after the passage that Ed pointed out, Rollins uses the terms “dreamless sleep” and “mind polluting words,” within like two or three lines. That’s it. Oh, that changes everything. Now I’ve got a different path. And I’ve got to go and read all of these Henry Rollins books and see what’s there. This iceberg just poked its head up, and there’s a lot more below the surface. I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t take a look to see what was there. And then to be able to see it’s in “Mississippi.” It’s all over these songs on Time Out of Mind. It’s showing up in “Love and Theft” in different ways that I wouldn’t have seen, and how is Dylan commenting on this? And that’s just so rewarding to see he’s reading this.

The Rollins books really impact the tone of Time Out of Mind, which is somber, it’s dark in a lot of ways. And those particular Rollins books are very dour. He’s dealing with depression, with the murder of his best friend and the horror of that and also the notion of, “I’m on the road forever.” What’s it like to be on the road? Okay, Dylan’s been on the road for decades. Which parts might interest him? In the piece Ed found, Rollins is actually talking about listening to Roy Orbison on the radio. If you’re Bob Dylan reading about someone talking about listening to Orbison on the radio, while you’re on the road, when you actually knew Roy Orbison, and you were in a band with him, this guy who’s also obsessed with Sun Records, how do those things rub together? Questions like that would keep me coming back.

This is an artist who’s talking to us in different ways. What does he have to say with this hidden method? Less so now, but certainly in 2001, people weren’t really talking like this, and he continues to do it in Rough and Rowdy Ways. We’ll see what he does in Philosophy of Modern Song. I’m kind of wired that way. I want to read books and listen to music for life. So this is a way to do that. It’s a way to engage with things. I wouldn’t have had a chance to talk with John Cohen and walk him through Dylan’s use of material that had been recorded by the New Lost City Ramblers on “Love and Theft”. We had a long discussion about it, and he asked me, “Why do you do this?” And one of the things I said to him was, it puts me in a position to read things I might not have read otherwise.

And who else would you want to recommend books to you besides the guy who’s written all this great stuff. What does he read? How does he read it? It just enriches my life and keeps me active, keeps me from being stagnant and listening to all the same records I listened to when I was sixteen.


DR: Did you expect your work to have to gain as much traction as it has when you started doing this research?

SW: I’m happy that it has. Most of the time, people are appreciating it and maybe building upon it, so that I find rewarding. I joke that I love being in an index of a book if Andy Warhol is also in the book, because it’ll be Andy Warhol and then my name. I’m in the books next to Andy Warhol because I was doing this. Nothing makes me happier.

I love footnotes, indexes, reference materials. One thing I really like is when people come on board and find things that I wouldn’t have thought of, or they get lucky when I didn’t. It saves me the legwork of having a crack open so many different pieces. I find that rewarding, but there’s still a way to go, because there’s so much of it going on. I’ve got like 100 different books I know he’s using material from and tons of records. Things still come up. I find it thrilling when someone takes a look at something I’ve written, goes back to those materials and spots things I didn’t spot. And I know they’re right, and they let me know.

There’s a fellow from Canada who’s been doing some of that. He went through some of the Rollins books and he showed a line out of “Can’t Wait” that I didn’t spot. It’s opposite a page Dylan used something else from and I missed it. And I’m thinking, How did I miss it? I’d done a video on YouTube about Dylan’s use of material from a specific box set on the Bear Family label, all of these Nashville country records from the late 40s to the mid-50s that are particularly obscure. He uses line after line after line after line. One of my favorite bits is that passage in “Summer Days,” “Well I’m drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac car” that stitches together lines from four songs on that boxset, with internal pieces he’s hiding in there and playing with. The same fellow listened to that boxset and found a song I had missed, by Smiley Burnette called “Swamp Woman Blues,” which has lines in its final verse about “doing the double shuffle” and “throwing sawdust on the floor.” There’s no question he’s listening to this, I just hadn’t heard it because there are 160 songs and I put it on repeat in my car and just didn’t catch it. It gives me more to work with. There’s all these different moving parts and potentially meanings behind them that we haven’t spotted yet.

There’s still pieces where I’m going, there’s something going on there but I don’t know what it is. And some I’m still coming to terms with that I want to write about where he’s using spiritual materials and prayer type materials that aren’t typically my wheelhouse, things I wouldn’t read or comment on. You know, people insult me in all sorts of different ways. Nobody likes that. But you have to have a complete lack of critical thinking skills to look at my work and say, “he’s an idiot,” or “he’s stupid,” or “he’s crazy.” I’m just saying, hey, take a look at this, contrast, compare. There’s enough here and here’s what else might be going on. That’s always where I’m coming from. Some of the responses used to be so negative and so ugly. Now it’s kind of flipped, and I’ve got people coming to me saying, “Yeah, I saw that. And how about this piece?” Or, “You know, I didn’t believe you about that New Orleans travel guide ten years ago, but now I do. And I found another travel guide, take a look and see what you might see here.” So you know, especially with the launch of the Bob Dylan Archive, being able to go through and look, and Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s changed, I think, how some people look at some of that work. And there’s always new groups of listeners coming up that have different approaches, which is refreshing. Hopefully it will continue.


DR: What do you see as the next horizon of Dylan scholarship, for you and for the field?

SW: I think about mapping out that midden field. There are hundreds, thousands of pieces, little pieces, of text and music, and not ending up like someone who’s got one of those conspiracy theory maps with all the strings drawn through it, but there’s certainly some golden threads that pull through. So I’d love to see a collection of pieces on those golden threads: here’s the usage of other material, here are subsets, here’s how it works across different pieces. I mentioned the annotated Lolita, which is fantastic. I love a good annotated book. There’s the annotated Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a few that are like that. I’d love to see the annotated Chronicles, though I don’t know that we’ll ever see that. There is the Italian version that Alessandro Carrera translated. He also translated lyrics into Italian where he has footnotes meant for an Italian audience, you know, the worldwide piece. So how do you make this intelligible for a different audience?

I’d love to see annotated components, collections of music and art, like all the songs, or a whole lot of the songs incorporated into “Love and Theft” because it’s a range of interesting and odd things and they still come up. To say, here’s the palette Dylan’s working from, and to see what those pieces are. I’d love to see a gathering place for all of those different pieces, and I’ve tried to do some of that in ways that are digestible, that’ll give entry points for people who may be interested, where they can grab onto something. The use of Twitter or Instagram, where we can break things down into little pieces, YouTube videos where I’ve tried to telescope things down. In a couple of minutes, you can get a whole lot of ideas. And if you want, you can spend a couple of hours or weeks or months or years unpacking some of those. You can make use of Pinterest as well.

I did something called A Tempest Commonplace, the notion of a commonplace book. Bob Dylan talks about “the box,” it’s got all those pieces and scraps and he puts them together. Larry Charles has talked about it, Joni Mitchell has talked about it. So creating a virtual version of material that went into that box. A clearinghouse of all of that detail. Bob Dylan as outlaw appropriation artist, Bob Dylan as rockabilly fan, Bob Dylan as a fan of American popular music, Bob Dylan as a guy who read Ernest Hemingway and feels comfortable taking the best bits out of it, and then combining them with other voices and creating third or fourth voices. To see what that strategy is, and how is he going there. There’s still more to do. I’ve unearthed a lot, and I certainly haven’t worked alone. People come up with things I wouldn’t have thought of, often, and I’d love to see more of that. I think there’s more scholarship now with the access to the Archives because if you haven’t listened to a specific boxset 100 times until it’s internalized, you won’t be able to recognize those pieces. Some of them are far too obscure.

There’s a draft of “Bye and Bye” that appears in later versions of the lyrics book that has verses that aren’t included in the recording. And there’s that Bear Family box set of Nashville records that I talked about. I took a look at that, and the lines were glowing on the page: That’s this line, that’s that line, this is another line from that song he used over here. You can’t know that, you wouldn’t be able to recognize it. Some of the bits are too obscure, unless you had this specialized knowledge. And what’s the payoff? Down the road, I can look at a draft of “Bye and Bye” and spot things you wouldn’t be able to spot otherwise. It’s too obscure and too peculiar and too hidden. So trying to do more of that, and ultimately to get back to Tulsa, dive in and see what else is there.



BY Walter Raubicheck, Pace University


Infidels (1983) remains one of Bob Dylan’s strongest post-60s albums. The album was Dylan’s first since the “Born Again” trio from his explicitly Christian period. Artistically, fans and critics considered the album as an advance over its predecessor, Shot of Love (1981), though they still scrutinized the album for evidence that Dylan was either still evangelizing or else had returned to making secular music. Fairly quickly a third thesis about the record arose due to the number of references to the Hebrew Scriptures and because “Neighborhood Bully” was clearly a song about Israel: Dylan had abandoned Christianity and returned to Judaism. With the passage of time it became clear that, on Infidels and beyond, Dylan had not renounced his Christian identity at all but had integrated many of the apocalyptic elements within Judaism into his worldview. Infidels is particularly remarkable for its opening track, “Jokerman,” which uses biblical imagery along with Dylan’s own brand of symbolic language. Dylan also, in “Jokerman,” addresses the persona that he adopted at the height of his mid-60s fame, making the song unique in Dylan’s canon.


Dylan has not often performed the song in the past two decades, but he did so earlier on several memorable occasions: on the David Letterman show on March 22, 1984, not long after Infidels was released, and at Woodstock 94 as part of a summer tour during which “Jokerman” served as the opening number. Meanwhile an earlier version of the song, with a number of alternative lyrics, appears on the recent release The Bootleg Series Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980-1985.


The very ambivalence that the imagery exhibits towards its subject has made this song subject to “almost endless interpretations” (Williamson 195). Terry Gans, in his authoritative account of the recording of Infidels, Surviving in a Ruthless World (Dylan’s original title for the album), says “the song practically sits up and begs to be taken as autobiographical” before acknowledging that the Jokerman could also be Christ or the Antichrist (80). Is it about his return to Judaism? Clinton Heylin calls it “the self-portrait of a gnostic” (556). Daniel Mark Epstein observes that “[t]he singer addresses a character central to his iconography, the Joker, the trickster who creates illusion and is himself a victim of his own trickery.…One might say that the song [is] deconstructing the myth of the hero; the joker is a figure for all men and gods, embodying good and evil, darkness and light” (270). Seth Rogovoy, in his study of the Jewish influence on Dylan’s work, after commenting on the difficulty of giving the song “a unified, coherent reading,” suggests that the figure strongly resembles the biblical King David:


Dylan overtly refers to David in the lines ‘Michelangelo indeed could’ve carved out your features,’ and various other phrases suit David – and Dylan – to a t. ‘Shedding off one more layer of skin / Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within,’ he sings, with great insight into both his and David’s ever-changing personality and evasive maneuvers in their (mostly failed attempts) to avoid temptation in the form of the yetzer hara, the evil urge (237).


In “Jokerman” the composer/poet assesses the moral attitudes of the Bob Dylan who created the masterpieces of 1965-1966, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde. Looked at from this perspective, the imagery of “Jokerman” is patterned and consistent, not ambiguous or contradictory. The key line is the last one of the first verse: “Freedom just around the corner for you / But with the truth so far off, what good would it do?” These lines can be seen as a devout Christian’s challenge to his younger self, whose most famous songs celebrated various kinds of freedoms, particularly from society’s expectations and commandments. But the Dylan of 1983 proposes that these freedoms are ineffectual if they are not backed up by the Truth – which for Dylan is now the biblical heritage that all people in the western world do have access to. In other words, freedom untethered from the truth of religion is ultimately unproductive, even fraudulent. As Christian thought has always insisted, truth assures authenticity; freedom and truth are meant to be synthesized, not regarded as a dichotomy. So much for existentialism – one of the –isms often applied to Dylan in the 60s, the most popular brand of which boasted that freedom in and of itself is the guarantor of an authentic life. “Jokerman” insists that freedom without truth leads to moral indifference (“Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame”) and an obliviousness to evil (“You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah/ But what do you care? Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister.”) Satan, the prince of this world in the biblical view, has free reign in such a world of ethical relativism (“He’ll put the priest in his pocket, put the blade to the heat/ Take the motherless children of the street and place them at the feet of a harlot.”)


The mid-60s Dylan, the one that still has its hold on the popular conception of “Dylan,” is the Beat poet who don’t look back, the anarchist who wants another cigarette, the finger-pointer who would expel Mr. Jones from the room. The refrain “Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune” recalls John Keats’s famous “Ode” and links the Jokerman to the British Romantic tradition that produced the earlier poet, a clear indication that Dylan himself regarded his mid-60s persona as a Romantic poet, just as the Beats conceived of themselves as the inheritors of the Whitmanic tradition. But the Dylan of the 80s, unlike his Jokerman self, does look back, and he sees his earlier Romantic attitude towards life and art as constricted.


By 1983 there was little of the Beat poet remaining in Dylan: That figure had given way to the biblical prophet. Infidels, and “Jokerman” in particular, initiates and contains all the themes that Dylan will explore over the next eight years, through Under the Red Sky (1990): The world as it stands is subject to the power of Satanic forces, and thus ongoing strife and war are inevitable; redemption will come only with the arrival of the Messiah. (The cover photo of Under the Red Sky beautifully conveys the artist’s position in his unredeemed world: Dylan is crouching in a wasteland observing the aridity of the desert landscape.) What distinctly marks the speaker’s description of the Jokerman is that the images are alternately positive and negative in their depiction of his behavior and attitudes. His artistic function in society is admirable (“Standing on the waters casting your bread”) but spiritually bankrupt (“While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing.”) Carrying a satanic snake in both fists, the Jokerman is doomed to a futile existence: Both “fools” and “angels” dread their futures, but the Jokerman is without one. It’s “only a matter of time ‘til night comes steppin’ in” the speaker tells us, but the Jokerman, for all his charm and power, is evidently too preoccupied with the “nightingale tune” to come to this awareness.


Yet the chorus constantly reminds us that his earlier self, despite his spiritual sterility, does have the essence of a true poet. He dances to the “nightingale tune” as the bird flies into the heavens by moonlight, a traditional symbol of beauty, like both Keats’s nightingale and Shelley’s “Skylark.” He also does manage to keep “one step ahead of the persecutor within,” presumably because he is familiar with the laws and the rituals of Judaism contained in the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and because through experience he has learned how to survive in the jungle and on the sea. Yet he has had no other teachers, so he has not learned about the Messianic truth.


Several images in the song refer to the influence of 60s Dylan on his followers. He’s a “man of the mountains” who can “walk on the clouds”; he’s a “manipulator of crowds” and a “dream twister.” The speaker is aware of the reverence with which the pre-conversion Dylan was treated: “Michelangelo indeed could’ve carved out your features.” But the speaker also knows that morally the Jokerman has always been insensitive to evil: he knows what the prince in scarlet wants, but he doesn’t “show any response.”


With the release of Springtime in New York, we now have access to an alternate set of lyrics for “Jokerman,” some of them remarkable indeed, and all supporting the Messianic theme. Once again they present an ambivalent view of the title character as he vacillates between virtue and vice. On the one hand he lets “the wicked walk right into a trap,” but on the other hand “You give away all the good things that fall in your lap.” And then there is the contradiction between the Jokerman’s world fame and the emptiness in his personal life: “You’re a king among nations, you’re a stranger at home.” The song consistently implies that this state of contradiction will persist if the Jokerman goes on living with freedom but without truth.


Perhaps the most interesting lyrical change concerns the list of weapons of destruction. In the Infidels version, these weapons are waiting “behind every curtain.” In the Springtime version they are unable to drown out the sermon of the preacherman: a sermon about the “deaf and the dumb/ And a world to come that’s already been pre-determined.” “The World to Come” (HaOlam HaBa) is the Judaic term for the paradise God intends to establish with the coming of the Messiah. But before that paradise exists, and until the Messiah arrives, Satan will ensure that violence and war rule the day, culminating in the battle of Armageddon. One of scripture’s recurring symbols for evil is the wolf (i.e., “in sheep’s clothing”), and in unused lyrics for the song that Gans highlights, the wolf figures prominently: “a friend to the wolf”; “the secrets of the wolf”; the wolf will “divide your house”; and the woman in the final verse gives birth to a “wolf” today (81). In “the shadowy world” that “Jokerman” envisions, the wolf reigns, though after the coming of the Messiah, the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah) in the kingdom that the Messiah will establish.


The Dylan of the 80s, though, never ceased to be a poet as well as a prophet. Beginning with two songs he cut for the Shot of Love album but did not release at the time – “Angelina” and “Caribbean Wind” – Dylan began to move beyond biblical paraphrase to incorporate his own distinct lyrical gift. “Jokerman” continues this trend. “Resting in the fields, far from the turbulent space/ Half asleep near the stars with a small dog licking your face” shows Dylan has retained his ability to convey an indelible mood – here the mood of respite from turmoil – with just a few wellchosen images. And his list of violent perpetrators and weapons is reminiscent of his streams of language such as those in “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: Here we have “Well the rifleman’s stalking the sick and the lame/ Preacherman seeks the same, who’ll get there first is uncertain/ Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks/ Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain.” Of course, the idea he is implying is not that we need peace but that we will never have peace until the end of this world and the start of the new one, the Messianic age, his continual message between 1983 and 1990. As Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1984, a few months after the release of Infidels, when asked if he hoped for peace in the world: “There’s not going to be any peace…It’s just gonna be a false peace. You can reload your rifle, and that moment you’re reloading it, that’s peace. It may last for a few years.” In other words, until Armageddon (which in the same interview Dylan expects to arrive in a few hundred years), there will be “Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain.”


The other songs on Infidels convey similar messages about the state of the world. “Sweetheart Like You” describes it as “a dump like this,” and claims that to be here “you have to have done some evil deed.” “Neighborhood Bully” decries the violent hostility permanently directed towards Israel, the original Promised Land. “License to Kill” blames the human egotism (especially of the male variety) that forgets about God in the urge to violence and destruction: “Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool/ And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled” (what an amazing couplet!). “Man of Peace” continues the theme that there will BE no peace in this age of the world since it is Satan who often lies behind the mask of the peacemaker. “Union Sundown” decries the oppression caused by globalist economics and the failure of the United States to combat it. (In the same Rolling Stone interview Dylan describes globalism, with its refusal to value local identities, as a symptom of the end according to the Book of Revelation). “I and I” again reasserts the need to acknowledge God as the unseen but all-powerful ruler of the universe, while “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” describes the world as lacking any refuge from evil: “You know, the streets are filled with vipers/ Who’ve lost all ray of hope/ You know it ain’t even safe no more/ In the palace of the Pope,” referencing the then recent attack on John Paul II, the pope Dylan would perform for fourteen years later in 1997. Infidels presents a consistent vision of what human life is like once faith in God and the world to come have disappeared from the modern human consciousness.


“Jokerman,” then, is a key song in the Dylan canon because, if one regards its message as autobiographical, it marks the first time that Dylan the artist directly reflects on his own image, influence, and world view during the first decade of his career, the one when he exerted his greatest influence on the culture. It also signals the beginning of a new phase of his songwriting, one that departs from the explicitly evangelical Christianity of the so-called Born Again period – one partially derived from his fascination with Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth as well as his studies in 1979 at the Christian Vineyard Fellowship and instead stresses a theme that Christianity shares with Judaism, one he labeled “the Messianic complex” in a 1985 interview: the current world in which Satan has free reign will be followed by the period of the rule of the Antichrist, finally leading to the coming of the Messiah, after which the dead will rise and Satan will be destroyed. Both traditional Judaism and Christianity believe the scriptures (Isiah, Daniel, Paul) that insist upon the resurrection of bodies, to be reunited with their souls when the Messiah returns. Thus Dylan sings that he hears “another drum / beating for the dead that rise” in “Dark Eyes” and “In a twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet blows / The dead will arise and burst out of your cloths / And ye shall be changed” in the song of that title. Though both religions, following Plato, have in their popular sermons and hymns stressed the immortality of the soul, the Talmudic traditions of Judaism and the Pauline traditions of Christianity are characterized by the idea that body and soul were intended by God to be reunited in the world to come, a transformed earth, though they are separated in this age by physical death. And before the end times the souls of the righteous dead do exist in a paradise corresponding to the popular conception of heaven. Dylan’s songs show that once again he found common ground between the two religions in their eschatological beliefs.


When Dylan studied with the Lubavitch community in Brooklyn in the early 80s, he presumably came to a deeper understanding of the union of Christianity and Judaism regarding the end times. So it was not that he abandoned Christianity for Judaism; rather, he had come to see that the two religions share the same vision about the meaning and goal of human life. Infidels is the record most deeply informed by this vision. Personally he had not abandoned Christianity, as some believed at the time, as his many Christian references in his later songs attest to. Dylan had used numerous Christian allusions throughout his songwriting career, but now prophetically he saw his religious beliefs within a larger, Messianic vision in which Judaism and Christianity both participate – as “Jokerman” and the entire Infidels album emphasize. Confident in his faith, he can now see that to “dance beneath the diamond sky” – or as he puts it in “Jokerman,” to “dance to the nightingale tune” – might be sufficient for poetic inspiration, but such a dance needs the music of the Lord to lead also to personal salvation.


Works Cited

Dylan, Bob. Interview, Rolling Stone, June 1984.

Dylan, Bob. Interview, Spin, December 1985.

Epstein, Daniel Mark. The Ballad of Bob Dylan. Harper, 2011.

Gans, Terry. Surviving in a Ruthless World. Red Planet, 2020.

Heylin, Clinton. Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. William Morrow, 2001.

Lindsay, Hal, with Carole C. Carlson. The Late Great Planet Earth. Zondervan, 1970.

Rogovoy, Seth. Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet. Scribner, 2009.

Williamson, Nigel. The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan, 2nd edition. Penguin, 2006.



During the VIP opening weekend of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Dylan Review received several reports from Mitch Blank, music archeologist and consulting archivist to the Bob Dylan Archive. The following was dictated by Mitch and captured by the Dylan Review. The reports have been edited for length and clarity.


Thursday, May 5th, 2022

Tonight was the VIP grand opening reception and dinner at the OK Pop. There was about 500 people there. At my table was someone who works for the Mayor’s office, Bill Pagel, Jeff Friedman and his wife, and a lot of other characters.


Two VIP badges with Mitch's name on them

Mitch’s VIP badges from the opening weekend of the Bob Dylan Center


There were a lot of speeches. Steve Jenkins, Director of the Bob Dylan Center, spoke and then Steve Higgins, Managing Director of the American Song Archives, gave an inspiring talk and thanked all the people who made this all happen. We also heard from Claire Dunn, who represented photographer Jerry Schatzberg. She thanked everyone and talked about Schatzberg’s legacy. Then we heard from Lewis Hyde – author of The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World. We also heard from a man named Jeroen van der Meer – Senior Director of Marketing Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment. He previewed the 2022 remake of “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It was an unexpected revamp of the original music video. Not since “Series of Dreams” have I seen so much post production work to create this new version, probably for a more modern world. It was well received, but nobody went nuts. Before you knew it, we went across the street to Cain’s Ballroom where Mavis Staples took the stage. 


Cain’s is a famous venue where every country singer in the world has played over the years. Even Bob Dylan played there once. After three years of not experiencing live music, or very little live music, the opportunity to have music vibrate through your body, but in this case not just music, but Mavis Staples’s music, was a life changing event. Could’ve been better than a massage. Mavis Staples’ band was exceptionally brilliant. We all sang along to “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. She had us singing and she looked like she was having a great time. As an audience we were on. We needed her, and she delivered 100 per cent. She also sang “I’ll Take You There” and “The Weight.” Again, we all sang along. Mavis owns that stage. I haven’t sung in three or four years, and I haven’t had music in my presence. It’s an amazing thing. Afterwards there was a late night concert with Jeff Slate and Jesse Aycock at the LowDown, but Bill and I didn’t go to that. I was up late talking to newspaper people from all over the world.


Friday, May 6th, 2022

At 10am there were scheduled tours of the Bob Dylan Center and of the Woody Guthrie Center. My real reservation is on Saturday and Sunday, but because we’re VIPs we’re able to go anywhere we want. I’ve been to the center about three or four times at this point. The front of the building is beautiful because there’s a painting of a Jerry Schatzberg photo. When you enter, the first thing you see is one of Bob Dylan’s gates, and then as you proceed you enter the gift shop – nice and well organized. I ran into a million people here – Ratso, Sean Wilentz, writers from all over the world. Local people spoke to us, people were filming, and I even did an interview with a paper from Spain called El Pais.


Then you enter into the first floor of the exhibit of which there’s all kinds of photography and eye candy – there’s so much diversity. You work through it chronologically. There’s much in the collection throughout that Bill and I and other hardcore maniacs had never seen before. There are a bunch of wonderful things, a lot of stimulating and unbelievable footage from a variety of places, including of Bob Dylan at Albert Grossman’s house. Then you turn around and there’s a glass case of Bob Dylan’s leather jacket that he wore at Newport and Forest Hills in 1965, and next to it my program that I donated to the Center from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. It’s nice to see them together again. The whole center is all quality, well done, eye candy, delight. There’s also an interactive element that uncovers the stories of some of the exhibit items. 


Mitch standing next to Bob Dylan's leather jacket

Mitch standing next to Dylan’s leather jacket. Image provided by Bill Pagel.

A close up of the program from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

A close up of the program from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Image provided by Bill Pagel.


After visiting the Dylan Center, Bill and I went to the Woody Guthrie Center with Barry Ollman, and Kate Blalack, Senior Archivist at the American Song Archives, showed us some wonderful things in the Woody Guthrie Archive. At 10.30am there was a scheduled tour of what they call Greenwood Rising, a museum dedicated to the Tulsa Race Massacre, but I unfortunately did not get a chance to do that tour. At noon there was lunch with George Kaiser Family Foundation officers and they spoke about the work they are doing for the population concerning poverty, women’s health, and justice. There were about eight or nine short talks. George Kaiser spoke for a while and it was very inspiring and educational. He really opened our eyes to the wonderful work that the Kaiser family foundation has undertaken. After it ended, a lot of people went back to the Dylan Center. I bought a couple of shirts. We hung out there for a while and talked to another million people. Larry “Ratso” Sloman hung out with us. As usual, Ratso was dressed as a fashion victim, wearing pajama bottoms and a weird shirt. I also spoke to Patti Smith for a while, as well as Lenny Kaye and other Woodstock/Bob related characters from all walks of life.


Two general admission concert tickets, both yellow and white. The top ticket is for a Patti Smith concert and the bottom one is for Elvis Costello and the Imposters

Tickets to the Patti Smith and Elvis Costello concerts.


At the concert, Patti was deliriously happy to be there and you could tell. That band probably never had a greater audience or vibe because we all love Dylan. She started out with “Wicked Messenger” and did her other songs. She’s an artist. She was brilliant, forceful, animated, and it was a great concert. Everybody was smiling and singing along. She also did “Boots of Spanish Leather.” There was a lot of interaction between Patti and the crowd. It’s the first time she was back in Tulsa since 1978, so we’re talking 40 years or something. They loved it, they had a great time. The band was also great. Her son, Jackson, is an amazing guitarist. The concert was packed to the gills; there was no seating. In front of the stage, inches away, there were two rows of seats that said “reserved.” Before the concert started we were told by security we had to move. We told the security guard “we don’t need no stinkin badges.” And the guy said “I’m just here from security.” We’re given celebrity status here; I’m not used to this. Here I have hundreds of people coming up to me a day saying “Oh, I wanted to meet you.” I’ve just been going with the flow.


Saturday, May 7th, 2022

I spoke today with the head of The Tulsa World, the biggest paper here. There will be a big article tomorrow. I also spoke with the head of PBS in Tulsa for a long time. At around 4pm we took a cab to the home of Edith and Glenn Wilson in a beautiful neighborhood – I was very impressed. A lot of benefactors were. I got an opportunity to speak with Steve Jenkins who is now the director of the Center and I was very glad that we talked because I sensed that this gentleman has some kind of vision – I can smell some visions. He’s a smart guy. I also spoke to people associated with the Kaiser Family Foundation. There were a lot of people who donated money. Everybody I spoke to today and the people who do what I do met only nice people. The people are really friendly and they’re coming from all over, mostly from Tulsa. You meet writers, and I even had an opportunity to speak to the guy who’s in charge of the Heavens Door liquor company. I’ve had very interesting conversations, some inspirational, with a variety of people. 


You talk with people from auction houses who are trying to get something from you that they can make money on. Other people want to talk to you about books they’re writing. You got people who show up who you don’t even know who they are. I told the same guy the same joke three times. We also met Elvis Costello because we were in part of the archive with some of the official people and Elvis got a private tour. Bill spoke to him for a bit, and then we had a sighting of Taj Mahal, who is a great American Blues artist. He was here with another dignitary that we know, the famous photographer Lisa Law. Her notoriety goes back to the days of the Woodstock festival in the 60s. She took many photos of Bob and turned hippies on to muesli. I saw people I haven’t seen in 30 years. There’s a lot of hugging and a lot of smiling. I also got people to sign baseballs.


Four baseballs with signatures and doodles

A few of Mitch’s signed baseballs.


Tonight there was an Elvis Costello and the Imposters concert. It was mind bogglingly great. Elvis did “I Threw it all Away” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” The crowd was very enthusiastic. Everyone who performed was grinning like idiots. It was fun for everyone, including the musicians.


Sunday, May 8th, 2022

Today being Sunday there were no regular activities planned except the center being open for people with passes. There’s also something called Mayfair, a downtown festival with hundreds of food booths, so everywhere you go there are people everywhere. It’s like herding cats. We went to the Guthrie Center again today. I ran into a woman who’s a representative of the Duluth Armory. They want me to do a Zoom thing with them on Tuesday. Tuesday is also the opening – the ribbon cutting ceremony and then it’ll open to the public. And for me the exciting part is it opening to the public. I want to observe, what are younger people attracted to? I want to see peoples’ reactions and see what sparks them. And if I see people that are the kind of people who are entry level collectors or archivists, I’d love to have a quick conversation with them and tell them what not to do and save them a lot of time in the future.


Weirdly for me, there’s an awful lot of people who identify me and come over to me. They want to meet me, they want to talk to me. This is like a fantasy world. It’s like walking into some other planet. Everyone has a story about Bob Dylan. Lots of great stories. One of Bob’s former bodyguards, Baron, is here. He’s meeting people he used to tell to stop filming. He’s telling stories. There’s a lot of laughing going on.


Tuesday, May 10th, 2022

Today was the opening. I got up super early. We had to be at the ribbon cutting at 8.30am in the morning. I got there at about 8am. I was not a ribbon cutter, but we have photos of people cutting the ribbon, and probably a photo of Bill stealing a pair of scissors. During the ceremony people gave speeches and all of them said inspiring things. Do I remember any of it? No. Steve Jenkins, Director of the Bob Dylan Center, greeted everyone. He’s a great person to have in that position. Then Ken Levitt, Executive Director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation spoke. There was also a program of kids performing – Sistema Tulsa – doing a version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was very nice. Then Tulsa Mayor, G. T. Bynum spoke. After this Joy Harjo, the 23rd Poet Laureate of the US, recited a poem. While I don’t remember what she said, it was brilliant and beautiful. It was really touching. Next, Hannibal B. Johnson – author and historian – spoke for a bit. Then I’m standing next to a guy who’s shining in the light, white cowboy hat, tan, tells me he worked for Phillips 66 oil company and his nephew is playing with two other guys. They performed “I Shall Be Released” in Cherokee. I thought that was phenomenal. After this they cut the ribbon and the doors were open. 


When you arrive you go through a door with Bob Dylan’s face on it and then on the left and right is one of Dylan’s gates. The first day you had to book your entrance by hour so it wasn’t crowded, which was good because the photographers and filmmakers needed people calmly coming in. All day I was involved with the two camera guys, Jeremy Lambertson and Elvis Ripley, Steve Ripley’s son. They had a room set up at the Woody Guthrie Center where they would get quick interviews with people. You talk to all kinds of people. You stand behind people looking at something that belongs to you, or you know they don’t know what they’re looking at. All the people we talked to got excited that me and Bill were there to talk to them. I was interviewed by someone from PBS Tulsa. Then I had to interview Lisa Law.


The official program for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Bob Dylan Center

A program from the ribbon-cutting ceremony.


Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

On Wednesday Bill and I went back to the museum. Bill took photos of every manuscript that we felt was important. We took good photos of the exhibits. We even took a photo of a letter that Hendrix wrote to Dylan. There’s three floors, so you have to take breaks. There’s so much eye candy.


Sixty years ago or so, when we all started this crazy disease and we all eventually met each other, what we were doing (specifically people who taped concerts) was considered criminal and they’d have security guards take your machine and kick you out. Sixty years ago we were criminals and now they’re calling us asking if we have things for the music. People ask me “why are you donating your collection,” and my response is – “if you don’t molt, you can’t grow new feathers.”


I want to see young people and kids here to get them excited; this is something they should learn more about. Tell them stories and make memories to get them excited. To me that’s the whole point of this – to grow the understanding of how art can expand into action and healing. I’m here because I understand that it’s important to fan the flames. I’m hoping to do that with some young people, especially young collectors. It’s important to not be a bull in a china shop. I want to identify those people and have them meet some of the people who have been doing this. I like walking around seeing people looking at things on the walls and you see that they’re engaged and you can tell them a couple of things they wouldn’t figure out about a photo. Yes it’s ego, and it’s probably punchable, but that’s what we do.



Bob Dylan and the Stanley Brothers

ARTICLE BY Bob Russell


On the road one night in the late 1940s, Carter Stanley, his brother Ralph, and their band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, were traveling back from a performance in North Carolina to Bristol, Tennessee. Carter, the main songwriter of the group, had turned on the car’s dome light to allow him to put together a new song idea en route. As Carter subsequently related to musician/folklorist Mike Seeger, Ralph complained strongly that the illumination was making his job of driving more difficult. At the end of the journey, however, Carter unveiled to the band his newly-born creation, “The White Dove,” destined to become a classic, one that poignantly hit the familiar bluegrass themes of devotion and family. As Carter put it to Seeger, Ralph “hasn’t fussed any more” about the unwanted light. On March 1, 1949, the Stanley Brothers recorded the song at the in-demand Castle Studio in Nashville’s Tulane Hotel, releasing it with “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet” on April 4, 1949.


Fast forward 48 years to a small club, the Roxy, in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 2, 1997. To open his second electric set, Bob Dylan and band (in the tenth year of his Never Ending Tour) premiered the Stanleys’ “The White Dove,” a heartfelt rendition with a stately musical background (the soundcheck earlier in the day, perhaps more naturally, had run through an acoustic version). Bob went on to play the song live a total of ten times in all, with the final performance on April 3, 2000, in Cedar Rapids, this time acoustic. A listen to the recordings of these renditions leaves no doubt of the deep respect that Dylan has for this song and the Stanley Brothers.


This is one example of Bob Dylan’s familiarity with and admiration for the Stanley Brothers, a group considered, along with Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, true legends of first-generation bluegrass. What other indications are there of Dylan’s longtime interest in the Stanleys and what clues can we find about its origin and influence?


Stanley Origins and Style

Carter and Ralph Stanley, born in Dickenson County, Virginia, in the mid-1920s, played together locally in the early 1940s before forming their classic band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, in 1946. This historic group lasted twenty years, up to the death of Carter due to liver failure in 1966. After a period of indecision, Ralph put together his own band and went out solo, continuing the Stanley tradition for another fifty amazing years. Musicians such as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Larry Sparks passed through Ralph’s band, carrying forward the classic sound and then moving on to find their own voices.


As musicians following the same general path laid out first in the 1940s by Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys (his sidemen being Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts), the Stanley Brothers are usually classified as a traditional bluegrass band. The attributes of this genre include instrumentation (guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and bass, for example, but no electrics allowed), tempo (at times but not always brisk, with the intangible quality of “drive”), and subject matter (equal measures of Saturday night revelry and Sunday morning reverence).


While Monroe and his band created a landmark American original style out of the Southern country string band tradition, and Flatt & Scruggs turned an acrimonious departure from Bill into twenty years of success mixing bluegrass and folk songs, a somewhat different path let the Stanley Brothers stake out their own turf in that traditional trinity of bluegrass greats. What differentiated them from the other pioneers of the day was the derivation of their music from old-time mountain traditions. “Old-time mountain style, that’s what I like to call it,” Ralph stated in later years. “When I think of bluegrass, I think of Bill Monroe.” Mountain music springs from British Isles tunes, especially ballads, as modified over the years in the Appalachian Mountains, mixed with African traditions brought to America by slaves, especially those traditions related to banjos and singing style. The Stanley sound was firmly within Anglo/African musical traditions, and Ralph in his solo career took them further, incorporating the older clawhammer banjo style in addition to the three-finger style that Earl Scruggs had popularized. He also performed powerful a cappella numbers, such as the mournful dirge “O Death” for the award-winning film O Brother, Where Art Thou?


The Stanley Brothers toured tirelessly through the 1950s, covering almost exclusively the bluegrass hotbed of the American South. Bob Dylan would have had few or no opportunities to see them in concert as a young man, but would likely have been exposed to their music on the radio in Minnesota or later on Izzy Young’s Folklore Center records in New York City. Shortly after Dylan’s arrival in New York, the Stanleys performed at two concerts there sponsored by Friends of Old Time Music, a group which included early Dylan friend Mike Seeger. Although there’s no evidence Dylan attended the concerts, one can imagine the Stanleys as another ingredient in the musical stew being formed in the young man’s mind, maybe one of his first exposures to traditional mountain music (and thus indirectly to the ancient traditions of the British Isles). In 1966, Dylan told an interviewer, “I listen to the old ballads … I could give you descriptive detail of what they do to me, but some people would probably think my imagination had gone mad.” The songs of the Stanleys included such dark, pre-twentieth century ballads as “Pretty Polly,” “Little Maggie,” and “Poor Ellen Smith.” These were mixed with gospel numbers (e.g., “I’ll Fly Away”), instrumentals (Ralph’s own banjo tune “Hard Times”), folk songs (“Handsome Molly”), and, most importantly, their original songs, most from the prolific pen of Carter Stanley. What all of these musical types shared were the hallmarks of American mountain music: the ancient tone (scales) of the old music; close harmony, notably the high, lonesome sound of brother Ralph’s tenor; and spirited, if perhaps not virtuoso, “ragged but right” technique on the traditional acoustic instruments. Dylan’s later discovery of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music must have been a reinforcement of his earlier exposure to the musical legacy of the mountains and traditional folk.


The Stanley Brothers and solo Ralph Stanley have a large catalog of albums which can still be easily found. As good a place as any to start delving into their work is The Stanley Brothers – The Early Starday King Years 1958-1961, which includes versions of most tracks referred to here.


Man of Constant Sorrow

Bob Dylan’s debut, eponymous album on Columbia was released in 1962, featuring only two original tracks. To fill in the album, Dylan turned to his musical influences, covering, among others, Roy Acuff, Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the Stanley Brothers.


“Man of Constant Sorrow” was written around 1914 by Dick Burnett, a blind Kentucky songwriter and fiddler. Although performed by several artists in the following years, the song became known when recorded and released by the Stanley Brothers in 1950-51, with Ralph on the lead vocal. It was then re-recorded (as was common for the group) in 1959, this time with an awkward call-and-refrain added in the chorus. Their recordings and subsequent performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 led to several renditions by early-1960s folk artists. Bob Dylan’s version of the lyrics owed something to Joan Baez and others, and certainly the solo guitar/harmonica accompaniment could not reproduce that of a full string band. The vocals, though, take us right to the hills, with the 20-year-old attempting to emulate the world-weary bearing of an aging mountaineer musician (just as other cuts took on the persona of a soon-to-die Black bluesman). The way Dylan hangs on to the first syllable of each verse (like Caruso, per Bob) mirrored the Stanley recording, but with an even slower tempo to emphasize the mournful tone. The mountain music theme recurs in another song on that album, the Appalachian ballad of New Orleans prostitution “House of the Rising Sun,” as well as on “Freight Train Blues,” this time based on a Roy Acuff song.


Did Dylan match the ancient tones of the mountain, or of his various musical heroes honored on the debut album? He soon admitted, “I ain’t that good yet. I don’t carry myself yet the way that (they) have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.”


“Man of Constant Sorrow” had a renaissance in 2000 with the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and subsequent “Down From the Mountain” concert tour, featuring Ralph Stanley and involving such Dylan collaborators as T-Bone Burnett, Emmylou Harris, Norman Blake, and Bob Neuwirth.


Rank Stranger

In May 1988, on the eve of the kick-off of the Never Ending Tour, Bob Dylan released the puzzling, frustrating album Down In the Groove. Cobbled together over four years of recording sessions using a host of musicians and sources, the release met with negative reviews and reception, with subsequent years bringing no substantial re-evaluation.


Mixed with this odd collection of insubstantial additions to the Dylan body of work was one very moving song, especially to aficionados of traditional American music. “Rank Strangers to Me” is a ballad as closely identified with the Stanley Brothers as anything they ever recorded (under the name “Rank Stranger”). The brothers recorded their popular version of this Albert E. Brumley, Sr. composition in 1960 in Jacksonville, Florida. In two spare verses and a chorus, the ballad touches on loss, isolation, longing, and death.


“I wandered again to my home in the mountains, where in youth’s early dawn I was happy and free,” begins the tale, but this would be no joyful reunion with family and friends, as the plaintive vocal (either Stanley or Dylan) makes clear. No familiar faces greet the protagonist, no recognition, no acknowledgement. The only ones in sight are utter strangers to the singer. If the young Dylan had begun in “Bob Dylan’s Dream” and “Restless Farewell” to feel growing regret at the loss of youth and early friends, this song advances that narrative to a later time when separation is total: “They knew not my name and I knew not their faces.”


Was there a positive note in Dylan’s “Rank Strangers to Me?” The sad lyric takes a hopeful turn in the second verse, with the prospect of a heavenly reunion, “Where no one will be a stranger to me.” Yet the mournful tone of Dylan’s vocal belies any immediate optimism, just as Carter Stanley’s lead did years before. The sparse instrumentation of the 1988 version recalled the Stanley version, while Bob’s distinctive voice put his own stamp on the track. A Dylan album composed completely of such older songs would wait until 1992, but in the meantime, “Rank Strangers to Me” would feature in 26 Never Ending Tour performances, always focused and powerful. Listen to the early (1988) Never Ending Tour version in Bristol, Connecticut, for an in-performance example, with fine guitar interplay between Dylan and G.E. Smith and a wailing vocal on the final chorus getting reaction from the crowd.


The Never Ending Tour

Echoes of the Stanley Brothers would be heard through Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. The aforementioned Stanley classics “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “White Dove,” and “Rank Strangers to Me” appeared at intervals through the tour from 1988 through the 2000s. For a time around the year 2000, Dylan opened many shows with a cover of older country, blues, and folk songs, representing artists such as Elizabeth Cotten and the country duo Johnnie and Jack. Usually, this opener was viewed by reviewers and fans as a warm-up, almost a throw-away to be played while audio levels were adjusted and the audience settled into seats. A closer look at the selections themselves and their performances, however, suggests that these were carefully chosen as choice representatives of the rootsy American musical tradition that Dylan had grown up loving.


Among the chestnuts used as concert openers were no fewer than four from the repertoire of the Stanley Brothers and/or solo Ralph Stanley (“I Am the Man, Thomas”; “Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go”; “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”; and “Roving Gambler”). “I Am the Man, Thomas,” credited to Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks, is a gospel number telling the biblical story of the disciple (Doubting) Thomas and his meeting with a risen Jesus. Dylan was no longer performing many of his own songs from his born-again series of three albums, but he could still bring fire to this song and lyrics that would have been comfortable on Saved: “They crowned my head with thorns, Thomas, I am the Man, They nailed me to the cross, Thomas, I am the Man.”


In total, this song was performed fifty-nine times from 1999 to 2002. “‘The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs’” Dylan told Newsweek’s David Gates in 1997. “I Am the Man, Thomas” is illustrative; in less than three minutes, Dylan uses the song’s lyrics to describe pain, faith, and doubt, not didactically or intrusively, but in a simple and direct manner. The listener does not need to evaluate the singer’s own belief in the story or make a leap of faith to a theological conclusion. What the singer conveys is a heartfelt story, made real for the duration of the song.


Later in some Never Ending Tour sets was another Stanley Brothers song, “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” a classic country theme of a “three-time loser” being led by guards to his prison execution, “all for the love of another man’s wife.” Listen, for instance, to the performance in Vienna, Virginia on August 23, 1997, and hear the extended, mournful way that Dylan expresses sadness and regret for the mistakes of a fictional life; country icons such as George Jones and Willie Nelson would be proud to call this performance their own. Bucky Baxter and Larry Campbell add characteristically atmospheric support. “Stone Walls and Steel Bars” was performed thirty-seven times in five years.


While only performed live once by Dylan, the traditional Appalachian song “Little Maggie” was one of the folk/country tracks on his 1992 solo acoustic album Good As I Been to You. The tune had been a signature piece for the Stanley Brothers, recorded first in the late 1940s, again in 1960, at the same session as “Rank Stranger,” and later rerecorded by a solo Ralph Stanley. Dylan’s released version was properly mournful and slower than the Stanley version, serving the lyrical vision of Maggie as “Drinkin’ down her troubles, over courtin’ some other man.”


The lone live version, from March 18, 1992, in Perth, Australia is an example of a fine song not served well by its new arrangement. The tune was now brisk, and Bucky Baxter, in his very first concert of the Never Ending Tour, did his best to spice it up with pedal steel licks; drummer Ian Wallace’s plodding beat, however, dragged it all down, and after five minutes, it ended. Another arrangement could have made it worth hearing, but this Maggie was never retried over the years.


One related note should be made on Dylan’s creative recasting of lyric phrases in the case of one song credited to Ralph Stanley and Chubby Anthony in 1959 and recorded by the Stanleys in July of that year. Consider the first verse of that song, “Highway of Regret”:


Ain’t talking, just walking
Down that highway of regret
Heart’s burning, still yearning
For the best girl this poor boy’s ever met.


Next see the first chorus of Dylan’s “Ain’t Talkin’,” the concluding song on the 2006 album Modern Times:


Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through this weary world of woe
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
No one on earth would ever know.


Dylan has taken a simple but heartrending tale of romance gone bad and weaved it into his own complex and mysterious meditation on life, death, religion, and whatever else the listener may draw from it. Notice also that the earlier Stanley Brothers song’s title is not wasted: the phrase “Highway of Regret” appeared in the distinctly non-bluegrass 1997 song “Make You Feel My Love.”


Another musical point should be noted about the Never Ending Tour. Over time, and until later years, Bob Dylan’s lead guitar playing became a prominent part of the band’s sound, both acoustic and electric. Some looked at this as a mixed bag, apt to be alternately shaky or exquisite (see/listen to Bob’s guitar solo in a 1993 “Forever Young” on David Letterman for the latter). There were a few pioneer country singers who could ably pick lead breaks, a practice which likely influenced Bob’s playing within his band. Floyd Tillman, Cowboy Copas, and early Dylan hero Hank Snow were prime examples that would have been in Dylan’s consciousness by the 1950s.


In the bluegrass field, the Stanley Brothers were innovators in the use of lead guitar, an instrument normally relegated to rhythm status in the genre, working with the bass to drive the songs in the absence of frowned-upon drums. Syd Nathan of King Records had suggested that the group deemphasize the fiddle and use guitars more prominently, as the Delmore Brothers had successfully done on the same label. As the band’s sound developed, musicians Bill Napier, Curley Lambert, and Ralph Mayo at various times played lead guitar, complementing Carter Stanley’s solid rhythm (the latter played with thumb and fingerpicks, a la Lester Flatt). The guitarist most associated with the group, though, was George Shuffler from North Carolina. Shuffler could lend color with a walking bass or rip through a rapid-fire lead break. Most distinctive of the Shuffler style was the crosspicking guitar style he developed, playing across a series of strings to create a rippling, shimmering sound reminiscent of banjo rolls. Dylan would have heard this lead picking in an acoustic setting from Stanley records; this and the other early country music examples would have fired his imagination about what he could add onstage instrumentally beyond rhythm strumming.


Lonesome River

In late 1997, Bob Dylan traveled to Nashville to record with Ralph Stanley, one track out of more than 30 cut for Clinch Mountain Country, a double CD with Ralph Stanley and various guest artists. The song recorded, “The Lonesome River,” was originally cut by the Stanley Brothers on November 3, 1950, as a trio vocal with Carter Stanley handling lead duty. With Dylan, the tale of lost love was recast as a duo, Dylan on lead and Ralph Stanley lending his chilling high tenor on the choruses. The first verse, sung by Dylan, sets the scene:


I sit here alone on the banks of the river
The lonesome wind blows the water rolls high
I hear a voice calling out there in the darkness
I sit here alone too lonesome to cry.


Dylan and Stanley join together on the mournful chorus in the authentic traditional bluegrass style which was a hallmark of the Stanley sound. A seminal influence now was a colleague and collaborator, and Dylan had contributed in an authentic but personal style. Ralph Stanley’s wife Jimmi called “The Lonesome River,” the best track on the project, no doubt heartfelt, but also an effective marketing quote. Dylan himself stated simply, if perhaps exaggeratedly, “This is the highlight of my career.”



Bob Dylan has been influenced by many and, of course, went on to be one of the greatest influencers in popular music. Much has been said and written about his early interest in Woody Guthrie and other folk pioneers; in Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Jimmie Rodgers among other early country music heroes; and in the many bluesmen who influenced Dylan’s debut album and beyond.


Alongside these Dylan-influential musical genres, we must add bluegrass, an authentic American category born out of the blues and early string band music, and nurtured since the 1940s by a series of musicians, both the giants of the field and countless grass-roots bands preserving the old traditions and taking the music forward. While other bluegrass pickers and singers would have entered Dylan’s consciousness and sparked his imagination, few have had the substantial and lasting impact of the two brothers from Virginia, Carter and Ralph Stanley.


Works Cited

Björner, Olof. The Yearly Chronicles.


Cantwell, Robert. Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound. Urbana, IL: Da

Capo, 1984.

Dawidoff, Nicholas. In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music. New York, NY:

Vintage, 1997.

Dylan, Bob. Chronicles: Volume One. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Interview with Mike Seeger in March 1966, quoted by Gary Reid in liner notes to The Early Starday/King

Years, 1958-1961, Starday/King Records, 2003.

Reid, Gary B. The Music of the Stanley Brothers. Urbana, IL: Illinois, 2015.



BY Randy Turley

I’m in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,
Where the oak and blackjack trees kiss the playful prairie breeze,
Where the Bob Dylan Center casts its dancing spell my way.

I am tangled up in Bob

As the snippets of songs, albums and photos, and
The mumbling voice of the reluctantly interviewed poet
Loose me across the swamp of time—propel me through my life—

I am fourteen,

I am a high-schooler lost in my room,
A love-crazed man,
A law student,
A rotten doctor commie rat,
A divorcee,
A teacher,
A father,
A human being,

Simultaneously confused and comforted by nasally sonics
That impart more meaning than the naked words and tune,
That dredge the cryptic, mystic lyrics which convey more than they say.
I am in Oklahoma where the words hit heavy on the border line
Where the music and a tapestry of rhyme define my life, my soul, my time

I am at Bob Dylan’s Center
. . . and he is at mine