Open Thread 12-15-16: Lyrics, Poetry and Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

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Are lyrics literature? Bob Dylan asked himself that question in his acceptance speech and decided he didn't care. Nor do I. But lyrics are surely an art form. Here's my favorite Dylan.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you
Though I know that evenings empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you
Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun
It's not aimed at anyone
It's just a escaping on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facing
And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time
It's just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn't pay it any mind
It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you
And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory of fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you

Ha! The Byrds edited it just a bit

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning, I'll come followin' you
Take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship
All my senses have been stripped
And my hands can't feel to grip and my toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning, I'll come followin' you

I remember asking my older sister, way back when, what this all meant. She laughed. I think of that Louis Armstrong quote "if you don't know, I can't tell you".

Get a load of this bull--- in the wikipedia article about the song..

Author Wilfred Mellers has noted that although the song is in the key of D major, it is harmonized as if it were in a Lydian G major, giving the song a tonal ambiguity that enhances the dreamy quality of the melody. Unusually, rather than beginning with the first verse, the song begins with an iteration of the chorus.

It reminds me of other sets of lyrics, not necessarily the same subject...but then again, maybe so. Here's a bit of John Sebastian's "Six O'Clock".

Guess I'll go back home and just wait until dawn
Yes, I had to learn going back where we were wouldn't help at all
And I wish my head had been working right
We'd have gone for coffee and talked all night
And now I'm back alone, bein' twisted up tight
Six o'clock, six o'clock

or this thing

I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
No, no, no.
I'm so tired, I don't know what to do
I'm so tired, my mind is set on you
I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do
You'd say I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane
You know I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind.
I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get.

etc.

I happen to love the lyrics of the 20s and 30s. They're so well crafted! Here's a snippet from a tune I referenced a couple of weeks ago

Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a bright summer day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Now that's some writin'!

or this one...

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can't see anyone but you

Are the stars out tonight
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you dear

The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you

I don't know if we're in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue

You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all dissappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

oo-ee! Hey, speaking of "oo-ee!"....well, never mind. I was going to talk about The Purple People Eater. I'll save that for another day.

In any case, your honor, I believe I've proved my point that lyrics are art, that literature is the art of language and therefore Bob Dylan did, of course, deserve that prize. As does Chuck Berry. In fact, they might be too good for it!

I just realized that you don't see many girls getting named Nadine these days.

As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat,
I thought I saw my future bride walking up the street,
I shouted to the driver hey conductor, you must slow down
I think I see her please let me off this bus

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling you got something else to do

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin' toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushin' through the crowd to get to where she's at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

Downtown searching for 'er, looking all around
Saw her getting in a yellow cab heading up town
I caught a loaded taxi, paid up everybody's tab
Flipped a twenty dollar bill, told him 'catch that yellow cab

She move around like a wave of summer breeze,
Go, driver, go go, catch 'er for me please
Moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier
Leaning out the taxi window trying to make her hear

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling are up to something new

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Comments

joe shikspack's picture

thanks for including chuck berry, who in my view is probably rock and roll's greatest lyricist. a nobel literature prize would not be out of order for him or (posthumously) langston hughes, who also wrote lyrics among other things.

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Bisbonian's picture

what a great line.

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"I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” —Malcolm X

Lookout's picture

wrote so many good ones. I don't know that I have a favorite. I enjoy singing several of his pieces...just off the top of my head those include -
All along the watch tower
Don't think twice
The Times they are a changin'
I shall be released
Lay down your weary tune
and I'll stop there but could keep going.

Bob is both an excellent and prolific poet. He has inspired me and at least a generation...

inspire.jpg

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I'd never gotten all the original lyrics before (he is usually hard to understand), and they do hold up under close inspection. So yes, I'd call it literature.

I heard someone recently talking about attending one of Dylan's concerts. He was saying that he's a genius, but often hard to understand, and on top of that he tends to change the melodies of his songs unpredictably, so you aren't always sure which song he's singing. Funny.

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gulfgal98's picture

who happens to put his poetry to music.

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"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West

"There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare." Sun Tzu

en mi humilde opinion

Lyrics

Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play the [a] guitar just like a ringing a bell

Go go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Johnny B. Goode

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineers would see him sitting in the shade
Strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made
[The]People passing by they would stop and say
Oh my [but]that little country boy could play

Go go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Go Johnny go
Go
Johnny B. Goode

His mother told him "Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Johnny B. Goode tonight."

Go go
Go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go
Johnny B. Goode
Written by Chuck Berry • Copyright © BMG Rights Management

Edit: After posting I gave a listen and seemed to find a few deviations from Berry's performance, which I give in [ ].
Also the verbs which close second verse seem to me an incoherent mix of tenses as punctuated. The people are commenting in the present and "could" seems out of time. But he clearly says "could play" and not " can play".
A possible fix is:

[The]People passing by they would stop and say
"Oh my!", [but]that little country boy could play.

The peoples' comment is the exclamatory "Oh my! " which was very common in the South at that time. "but that little country boy could play." is then Berry finishing his description of Goode in the past tense. It was also common to begin with "But" in this way as an intensifier- "But he was a real bad man."

Very speculative interpretation, I know.
But left as presented here, the line appears to be a puzzling flaw in an otherwise beautifully - crafted lyric.
Up there with anything Lennon - McCartney wrote, in my opinion.

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Bisbonian's picture

I would walk into my English class each morning, and there would be a snippet of a Dylan lyric on the chalkboard. My English teacher was way ahead of the curve.

I just emailed her some lyrics this morning, in return.

Long before that, though, I saw a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie, where they each sang "I Only Have Eyes for You" to the female lead, at different points in the movie. I love that song.

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"I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” —Malcolm X

reflectionsv37's picture

of Dylan even more than I did 40 years ago. His insightful music and lyric seem to span generations, as relevant today as the day he first wrote them. There isn't much of anything he did, that I don't enjoy and I'm sure I spend more time listening to him these days than I did 40 years ago. He's timeless. Everyone, even the youngsters today, know and appreciate his work.

Another artist and prolific songwriter that will likely join the ranks of Dylan and others mentioned here is Jimmy Buffet. His songs are sung by old and young, but he's a decade or more behind Dylan and the others. As time passes, I'm sure future generations will see his unique style and genre a classic that will stand the test of time. And then again, maybe I'm just an old sailor who spent too much time changing latitudes, searching for cheeseburgers in paradise and getting wasted in Margaritaville!

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“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
George W. Bush

Citizen Of Earth's picture

Five months prior to the end of Jerry's long strange trip.

Mark Jones interpretation of the lyrics


"...the scenario of the existential man struggling to understand his purpose in life, and eventually realizes there’s more to it, a greater spiritual, metaphysical power than just the mundane physical"
http://marknjones.com/visions_of_visions_of_johanna.pdf
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Donnie The #ShitHole Douchebag. Fake Friend to the Working Class. Real Asshole.

Citizen Of Earth's picture

I was standing outside his tour bus with my crappy little camera. When he got off the bus he was briskly walking to the back door and I yelled "Hey Bob let me get your picture." I thought he might just turn around, but he walked back 30 feet to stand directly in front of me, smiled and tipped his hat. It was a pretty cool moment.

Edit: BTW, the pic below is not the picture. But that was the hat he wore at the time. Smile

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Donnie The #ShitHole Douchebag. Fake Friend to the Working Class. Real Asshole.

more anonymous sources

U.S. intelligence officials now believe with "a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.

Putin's objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a "vendetta" against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to "split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore," the official said.

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Citizen Of Earth's picture

and they only have themselves to blame, freakin bunch of proven serial liars.

Just read this piece today. There was a conference in Nov with a focus on using social media to spread propaganda and influence the masses. It was well attended by govt and military agencies.
https://motherboard.vice.com/read/your-government-wants-to-militarize-so...

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Donnie The #ShitHole Douchebag. Fake Friend to the Working Class. Real Asshole.

shaharazade's picture

is bat shit crazy on many levels. 'Conclusion's' from the spooks from hell have suddenly become credible and factual. 'Believe it, it happened' say 'progressive' Democrat's and even Bernie supporting Green's I know. This and the 'fake' news insanity reek of Psych-ops. What this madness should do is open people's eyes as to how far gone and overtly our government has become a dark side 'security state' and how criminalized our electoral system has become. The enforcers, the spooks and military, are part and parcel of the farce of our anti-democratic, corrupt, criminal, political and electoral system. I'm surprised there is room under anyone's bed for Putin as that space is jam packed with 'terrist's who are going to kill yer family'. Oh yeah those terrorist now work for our transnational national interest's and are called rebels who we arm to the teeth when they terrorize our villain de'jour. Putin is the new Goldstien/ Osama Bin Laden.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Operations_(United_States)
Psychological operations (PSYOP) are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals

A good couple of good articles on this subject.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/14/questions-for-the-electors-on-rus...

Here's one that's from US intelligence vets. Former spooks.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/12/15/us-intel-vets-dispute-russi...

US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims
As the hysteria about Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election grows, a key mystery is why U.S. intelligence would rely on “circumstantial evidence” when it has the capability for hard evidence, say U.S. intelligence veterans
by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

"....In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience – with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security – to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit – given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is – without fear or favor.

We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here’s the difference between leaking and hacking:

Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.

Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.

All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient. "

“overwhelming circumstantial evidence” Now that is some overwhelming double speak.

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this piece of journalistic speculation being none other than CIA front man Ken Dilanian, who was exposed by Ken Silverstein at The Inercept

Email exchanges between CIA public affairs officers and Ken Dilanian, now an Associated Press intelligence reporter who previously covered the CIA for the Times, show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication. In at least one instance, the CIA’s reaction appears to have led to significant changes in the story that was eventually published in the Times.
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native

Great thread! I mostly grew up in Woodstock and have vivid memories of Dylan playing the piano in the Depresso while I scribbled in little notebooks. We are the same age within a month and exchanged a few of those competitive glances of recognition in which peers acknowledge each other's spirit or force. I love how he had the integrity and drive to keep learning and changing, rare qualities when the world is waiting to pay you to repeat yourself. I wrote a short novel, "Every Story is a Love Story," set in Woodstock during those pre-concert years. I think it is my favorite of the novels I published. In it, Willow, makes an impassioned case for "Desolation Row" being an American masterpiece. Which it is.
Thanks, Shaz

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dkmich's picture

Are lyrics literature? Yes, I think so. Some songs say as much as any book.

I particularly like John Lennon's Imagine. Speaks to what the world could be.

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No Hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin' for today
Aaa haa

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Livin' life in peace
Yoo hoo

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharin' all the world
Yoo hoo

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Given what is going on in Aleppo and the millions living in hunger and poverty, this song makes me wonder what the fuck is the matter with us.

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"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

*donate to c99 *like us on Facebook *follow us on Twitter

to marry the vernacular vocabulary and infectious rhythms of of popular music with serious existential questions and themes derived from classical literature. Putting Leadbelly, Chuck Berry, Carl Sandburg, St. Augustine, and Rimbaud together... along with Allan Ginzberg and Aretha Franklin, plenty of weed, wine, and a dose of peyote... and then giving the mix a vigorous, amplified shake... produced a kind of raw, explosive magic that ignited the consciousness, and often spoke to the collective unconscious of an entire generation. And he has never stopped experimenting, exploring, re-inventing what it is that music means to him.

As wonderful as many great American lyricists have been, none have encompassed as much poetic territory, with as much boldness and penetrating insight, as Bob Dylan. It's not even close.

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native

Shahryar's picture

There's a collection of his lyrics, published as "Finishing the Hat", that has a ton of stuff on the details of writing, including his opinions on and comments about other lyricists. It's a fantastic textbook that I often go back to.

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OLinda's picture

comments thread. Thank you, Shahryar.

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- - - -
If you don't like the Mafia, why don't you join it and change it from the inside?

enhydra lutris's picture

many decades now I have thought that Dylan should be the poet laureate of the US. It turns out that I simply aimed a bit too low. Of course, it is poetry, meanwhile, a lot of verse that one hears chanted to music, most definitely isn't. Of course, a drum loop isn't relly music either, but let us not go there this fine morning.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Granma's picture

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enhydra lutris's picture

Desolation Row
Bob Dylan
They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy, "It takes one to know one, " she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning. "You Belong to Me I Believe"
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend, you'd better leave"
And the only sound that's left after the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden, the stars are beginning to hide
The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing, he's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row

Ophelia, she's 'neath the window for her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic she wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion, her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk
Now he looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette
And he when off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients, they're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser, she's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read, "Have Mercy on His Soul"
They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains, they're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera in a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls, "Get outta here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row"

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting, "Which side are you on?!"
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can't read too good, don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

Songwriters: Bob Dylan
Desolation Row lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

mimi's picture

thanks for this heart-warming spiritual Open Thread. Nicest comment thread I have read in a long time. I know what I am missing. I lost a record of Chuck Berry with the song Johnny be Good, which I listened to in the 1968/9 years in Germany, when I was a young student. I am cleaning out the attick of the home I grew up in and found that my sister not only saved the baby clothes of my son and her daughter, but also some records I cherished. We decided to still keep them. It's a journey and lots of memories makes this a much harder walk through past times than we both thought.

Bygone. Thank God there is music.

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Shahryar's picture

one of these days I'll write about the four different types of music, according to the really old timers, the people of the so-called dark ages through the beginnings of the renaissance. I hope you like that one. It IS spiritual!

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mimi's picture

and am happily looking forward to read you again. I need spirituality. I missed so much out in that respect in my life and the question marks in my mind grow day by day. Looking for answers in the deep waters and all I see are turtles. Jeez ...

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Lookout's picture

from the 80's

there's also an American masters by Martin Scorsese called No Direction Home on pbs.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

shaharazade's picture

Bob Dylan is a poet and he knows it. Shah and I saw him about 4 years ago here in Portland and he was fabulous. He did some old and some new songs. I tried to think of which of his song lyrics I liked the best and it was impossible. He's an artist. Each album he released was thrilling. Today my two favorite albums of his are Blond on Blond and Bringing It All Back Home. Tomorrow or any other day who knows which of his songs will drift into my head and be my favorite.

Here's his Nobel acceptance speech.

I really love the lyrics of bob dylan's115 Dream. It always makes me laugh..... Can't find Bob Dylan's version so Taj Mahal's will have to do. 'and I just said good luck'.

Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson. Van Dyke Parks is another lyricist I like a lot.

Surfs Up..

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