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.

Alessandro Portelli, Hard Rain: Bob Dylan, Oral Cultures, and the Meaning of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2022.

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

Literary canon formation is a curious thing, and Dylan’s Nobel Prize has certainly put the cat among the pigeons on that score. There’s no question about Dylan’s commanding presence in the rock ‘n roll “canon,” if that’s an appropriate word: the canonical rock ‘n roll artists can be corralled in the second half of the 20th century. Rock ‘n roll is no longer the most popular musical form, if it’s still being made at all, and we already know the primary names of the rock canon. Apart from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its portmanteau approach to inflating the canon by heralding little-known musical influences, no expansion is realistically possible. Rock ‘n roll is now a static form, its history set in concrete, and expanding the rock canon would be like expanding, for example, the canon of Romantic poets. We might find an interesting rocker or early influence whose discovery enriches our understanding and challenges biases, but the definition of the period would remain intact.


Nor is there any question about Dylan’s centrality to the last years of the Second Folk Movement, which can be dated to the late fifties. In an odd (and well-rehearsed) paradox, Dylan probably did as much as anyone to kill off the Folk Movement while remaining, at least to those outside the world of Dylan-watchers, the consummate 60s folksinger. The name Bob Dylan still means “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” even if the original cultural context of those songs is long lost – whether they can be revived with cultural force is yet to be determined. And although Sara Danius suggested Blonde on Blonde as a place to start Dylan appreciation, and resist as we might this reductive equation of Dylan with his acoustic-era songs, it must be admitted that, in Stockholm on that fateful night, Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” from the acoustic Freewheelin’ album. This is the Bob Dylan even Bob Dylan himself and Patti Smith seem to recognize as his “face value.”


But Dylan didn’t win the Nobel Prize for acoustic folk, folk rock, rock, or any other kind of music (the Swedes don’t give a medal for music). Lest we forget, Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This genre-bending acknowledgment, regardless of how much we admire the Nobel Committee’s bravery, means that we must think of Dylan as part of the literary canon. He isn’t simply the most significant songwriter of his generation, nor even, to quote Richard Thomas, “the supreme artist of the English language of my time.”[1] Dylan is now a sanctioned figure in the American literary canon.


Or is he? The newest Norton Anthology of American Literature (10th Edition) doesn’t include any Dylan songs (with or without music). Not that this college tome represents the last word in canonicity.[2] But the absence of Dylan’s name, amid the welter of much less well-known authors, none of whom has won the Nobel, inevitably undermines Dylan’s new literary status. To exclude the 2016 American laureate is tantamount to denying the literariness of his work—and defying the Swedish imprimatur. It’s a puzzling omission and a missed opportunity to expand and diversify the literary canon with a homegrown interdisciplinary art form. Is this evidence of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, or simply a case of something happening here, and they don’t know what it is?[3]


Either way, the cat’s among the pigeons. Dylan’s indefinable literary status highlights the conundrum of canon formation. In my view, the Norton omission is an editorial blunder, though it might not be in the short run. But in the longer run, questions about inclusion, exclusion, and interdisciplinary diversity will fill our heads until they fall to the floor.


Redefining the concept of “Literature” with a capital “L” is fundamental to Dylan’s bid for canonicity. Henry Louis Gates addressed a similar redefinition when he edited The Norton Anthology of African American Literature in the 1990s, announcing what was for the time “an innovation in anthology production.” Gates explained that “Because of the strong oral and vernacular base of so much of our literature, we shall include a cassette tape along with our anthology. This means that each period will include both the printed and spoken text of oral and musical selections of black vernacular culture: sermons, blues, spirituals, R&B, poets reading their own ‘dialect’ poems, speeches, and other performances.”[4] According to Gates, “The canon that we define will be ‘our’ canon, one possible set of selections among several possible sets of selections.” And he concludes, “Scholars make canons.”


While I’m skeptical about this last statement, I like Gates’s knitting together of printed text and oral performance to form the “vernacular base” of literature.[5] Dylan himself hints at the same sort of knitting-together in his Nobel lecture. As Richard Thomas points out, Dylan offers “a fascinating description of how he gained mastery of the ‘vernacular’ of the early folk artists by singing the songs: ‘You internalize it. You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details.’” Dylan’s lecture provides a kind of road map of personalized canon formation. Thomas summarizes it this way: “Just as he becomes Odysseus later in the lecture – ‘You too have had the drugs dropped in your wine’ – so too here he has entered into the folk songs and ballads which he has hardwired and whose world he inhabits. This is what it means to live inside the world of literature and song.”[6]


Notable by their absence are the scholarly canon-makers. Dylan’s reflections demonstrate how an artist internalizes prior works and reimagines them in his own songs, and, as Thomas highlights, Dylan’s attention to the vernacular is invaluable. Gates and his co-editors expansively define “vernacular literature” to embody popular and highly influential Black musical forms. Yet, try as we might, it’s difficult to think of Robert Johnson or Billie Holliday or Duke Ellington as literary figures. Dylan, too, has a credibility problem in terms of literary status, his lyrical genius and Nobel Prize notwithstanding. Academic curricula and public impressions make it abundantly clear that – though hope springs eternal – the redefinition of “literature” is still a work in progress. Perhaps that’s as it should be – perhaps the precise definition of literature should always be in statu nascendi: in a dynamic state of coming into being. In any case, as is also abundantly clear, no canon can be determined by fiat.


Not that Dylan’s serious audience ever worried much about that. We were convinced his survival outside the conventional canon was guaranteed because we had a card up our sleeves: the irresistibility of the songs themselves. The songs would straddle canonical limits and live on in (relative) perpetuity. As Milton said about Shakespeare in 1632, before the onslaught of Bardolatry:


What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?[7]


Why should Shakespeare need a marble tomb to preserve his memory? Why should his “relics” be buried under a pyramid? Such preservation efforts are pointless: Milton apostrophizes Shakespeare, asserting “Thou…hast built thyself a livelong monument” with “easy numbers” and “the leaves of thy unvalued book.”


As has Dylan, with his 600-plus songs and his numberless recordings making up his “unvalued book.” And surely Dylan’s “easy numbers,” so riveting and transformative over the years, will be enough to build a “livelong monument.” Surely our bard, our vates, has written and played and sung himself into the canon.


But which canon? Formulated how? Sustained in what medium?


I repeat the refrain: canon formation is a curious thing. For example—if I can digress from literature – Ted Gioia recently wrote in The Atlantic that, mirabile dictu, old music was far outselling new music:


Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music – especially that endangered species known as the working musician – should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.


He records his surprise when a young cashier is singing “Message in a Bottle,” and then again at a diner, “where the entire staff was under 30 but every song was more than 40 years old.”[8]


Gioia marvels that “Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.” As fascinating as this phenomenon is, however, Gioia doesn’t address the converse situation, the elephant in the room regarding canonicity. It’s one thing to call attention to the unique historical situation where new tracks become hits “while generating so little cultural impact.” But there’s no reason to suppose that, conversely, the old songs now representing 70 percent of the US music market are generating any impact on contemporary culture. The old songs lack present identity: they’re interchangeable, it seems, a kind of musical wallpaper. Gioia asks his server in the diner, perhaps with cultural impact in the back of his mind, “‘Why are you playing this old music?’ She looked at me in surprise before answering: ‘Oh, I like these songs.’”


The banality of the server’s answer says it all: there’s no cultural connection to New Wave and the Police, just as singing along with “Norwegian Wood” would bring no thrill of contraband, no shared code – i.e., illegal marijauna. Would even the searing accusations of Neil Young’s “Ohio” be detected and understood? Fewer Dylan songs seem to stream through the restaurants and supermarkets, but if they did, how much cultural frisson could we expect from inadvertent listeners to “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” or even “Masters of War.” The excitement, or incitement, of 60s, 70s, and 80s songs has been absorbed into the sponge of streaming culture.


Some of us have been resisting this kind of absorption for a long time, trying to keep the context alive. We’ve been teaching Dylan courses, and Dylan in courses, throughout our careers. But for my part, I can’t say confidently that my Dylan courses have become part of the curriculum. They certainly don’t have the prestige or regularity of standard department seminars on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Woolf, or Morrison, and Dylan isn’t assigned alongside other 20th-century poets in survey courses. This absence is understandable, perhaps, since Dylan’s official elevation to literary ranks is recent and teaching him has, until now, been a niche vocation. Not to mention that bringing Dylan into the literary classroom has always presented a technical issue, while expecting literature students to know something about folk music and the blues is often a bridge too far. Nevertheless, like many another Dylanista, I keep my hand on that plow and hold on, continuing to translate Dylan into the literary classroom.


But this alone won’t make Dylan part of the literary canon. Pace Gates, scholars don’t make the canon and professors can’t shoehorn him in. The best we can do as scholars is to facilitate future canon-makers. The best we can do is hope that, by interpolating Dylan into our teaching and research, we can inspire future poets, novelists, playwrights (and maybe poet-musicians) to respond to Dylan’s work, thus giving them the chance to internalize Dylan, to “master” him as part of the vernacular. Dylan’s canonical status is in their hands.


I’d like to be sanguine about this process. I’d like to think the founding of the spectacular Bob Dylan Archive in 2017 will have a trickle-down effect. But the song it is long and there’s more to be sung.


Allow me to close with an anecdote, a personal tale of erosion. Not so long ago in my university courses I would occasionally quote lines like “The pumps don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles” or “there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off,” or, perhaps (with reference to upcoming grades), “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” I quoted Dylan—as one might quote “To be, or not to be”—to illustrate a point, serendipitously, in Paradise Lost, say, or to link a passage in Mary Wroth to the ”sound of the street.” The Dylan lines would resonate familiarly with the class, bringing a smile of recognition (and, ideally, an LED of connection). But gradually, and then abruptly, the recognition disappeared. It seemed to me to be a precipitous erosion, a mudslide. Like Hemingway’s going bankrupt: gradually, and then all at once. And while I’d like to believe Ted Gioia’s statistics about old music, I haven’t seen much evidence of it. As things stand now, alas, I get more resonance in class from straight Milton quotes than from Dylan: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” draws nods and smiles; “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” produces blank faces.


Canonicity always has an element of unpredictability – waiting for the right configuration of admirers to come along, for the times to be ready for the specific kind of innovation a writer offers. John Donne is one example of this. Known and admired in his lifetime, he never published his poetry, which only appeared in a posthumous volume. His reputation waned and by the 18th century he’d become all but invisible: Samuel Johnson didn’t even include Donne in The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets.[9] It took Herbert Grierson’s 1912 Oxford edition of Donne and T.S. Eliot’s book review of that edition to set Donne into the firmament. This is a good example of how scholars and poet/critics depend on each other. Anna Laetitia Barbauld offers another, perhaps more significant example. Celebrated in her day for her poetry and novels, she had a measurable influence on Romantic poets around the time of the French Revolution. But she was forgotten until the late 20th century, when her importance required a re-historicizing of the Romantic context and a reassessment of the Romantic canon, if not of canonicity itself.


It might be that a genuine classic like Milton reasserts himself, even if he temporarily goes out of fashion, while someone like Dylan hasn’t yet had that advantage. Time is a critical factor. Milton has had centuries to acquire his status, whether through other poets’ imitation or simply through habitual anthologizing. But Milton is a rarity. In other cases, there are lapses, as happened with Emily Dickinson or even Whitman, who was revered by a coterie after his death but needed William Carlos Williams and the Beats to acquire the canonicity he now enjoys. Melville became instantly famous with his first novel, yet when he died the New York Times misspelled his name. Critics always recognized how crucial he was to the American literary canon – Lewis Mumford’s 1929 book about him was a major effort to reestablish his importance in the public mind, as was F. O. Matthiessen’s 1941 American Renaissance. But it took John Huston’s 1956 film (script by Ray Bradbury), with Gregory Peck stumping around as Ahab, to affix Melville’s name in the cultural consciousness.


Despite the Nobel Committee’s top-down decision, Dylan’s time hasn’t yet come, at least not the way it has for others. As my own experience in class shows, in terms of Dylan’s cultural recognizability, we’re still in the cycle of ups and downs other many major cultural figures have survived. Maybe Dylan will never have the same status Milton does now, but meanwhile we’re doing all we can to ensure that the current upswing in Dylan’s reputation continues. And though we realize that scholars alone don’t make canons, the Dylan Review is our contribution – one of many from California to the New York island – to the current (and future) moment.




[1] Richard F. Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 322.

[2] None of the other anthologies I checked included Dylan, although I’ve seen his songs in the past. Notably, Edward Hirsch’s fairly selective The Heart of American Poetry (Library of America, 2022) includes Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues [Take two]” but no Dylan.

[3] As an example of what I mean – a literary friend of mine read this last phrase and didn’t
recognize the reference.

[4] Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Canon-Formation, Literary History, and the Afro-American Tradition: From the Seen to the Told,” in Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature, edited by David H. Richter (Boston: Bedford), 180. The cassette tapes have evolved into CDs and password-protected digital content accompanying each copy of the book.

[5] Though beside the point here, I’m more inclined to agree with Harold Bloom, the bête noire of the canon debate. Bloom used to tell his students, “Critics and scholars don’t make the canon. Poets do.” He expanded on this idea in many books, as for instance in The Western Canon: “Poems, stories, novels, plays come into being as a response to prior poems, stories, novels, and plays, and that response depends on acts of reading and interpretation by the later writers, acts that are identical with the new works.” See The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), 9. This is a many-sided, complex debate, beyond the purview of this column. Cf., inter alia, John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Literary Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).

[6] Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters, 312-313; 314.

[7] John Milton, The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose, edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 34.

[8] Ted Gioia, Is Old Music Killing New Music? The Atlantic, January 23, 2022; date accessed: June 17, 2022.

[9] Johnson’s Lives, though indicative of a celebrated critic’s selection, is by no means definitive. He leaves out Ben Jonson too, while including the notorious John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. And, predictably, there are no women at all in Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779-81).