Freitag, 21. Oktober 2016

#MyDailyDylan (8): Dylan, Schopenhauer & the Vice President

Poetry does not have to be grandiloquent. Only wanna-be-poets use  pompous, overblown words without necessity. Poetry can be laconic and still be great.
Some people (including Dylan) might think that Dylan’s song Clothes Lines Saga is just a parody of Ode to Billy Joe, an almost forgotten song about someone who jumped of a bridge. But, to quote Roland Barthes/Nietzsche, the author is dead, in other words: who cares, what the author thinks, it’s all about the text and the reader (Freud would agree).
According to the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer one should use ordinary or common words to say extraordinary things.  Here is a Schopenhauer-ian verse from Dylan’s Clothes Line Saga. Everybody is out in the garden, to check if the clothes on the line are dry. The dogs are barking (standard blues element), nothing special happens until a neighbor is passing by:

 “Have you heard the news?” he said, with a grin
“The Vice-President’s gone mad!”
“Where?” “Downtown.” “When?” “Last night”
“Hmm, say, that’s too bad!”
“Well, there’s nothin’ we can do about it,” said the neighbor
“It’s just somethin’ we’re gonna have to forget”

B. Dylan, Clothes Line Saga (The Basement Tapes)

Sonntag, 16. Oktober 2016

#MyDailyDylan (7): The naked president(s) of the US

Let's follow Susan Sontag's advice and listen to the live recording of It's Alright Ma (I'm only bleeding) on Before the Flood (Bob Dylan and The Band, 1974) instead of reading or writing more (or less) smart interpretations about Dylan's lyrics or the Trump/Clinton - Vaudeville Show. Forget about songfacts and wikipedia for a couple of minutes: It's Erotics before Hermeneutics, stupid! (S.Sontag). Take your time and listen to Dylan singing (and the audience responding to):

"even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked."

B. DylanIt's Alright Ma (I'm only bleeding), Before the Flood (live)

Did you watch Trump vs. Clinton on TV? Dylans lyrics age well, most of them get better and better with age. How about the presidents (and the present candidates)? Of course "to stand naked" is a metaphor, - on the other hand, who knows? Don't unleash your imagination right now, it might spoil your day.
On the other hand: it's all right, Ma! It's life and life only. (B. Dylan)

#MyDailyDylan (6): How to use Fidel Castro's weird beard in a poem

Dylan's Motorpsycho Nightmare is a tongue in cheek nightmare. Dylan at this best, telling us about the adventures of a drifter, who "pounded on a farmhouse, looking for a place to stay". 

Following the hobo-cliché, Dylan's first person narrator was (and had to be) "mighty mighty tired" because he had "gone a a long long way."So far, so good, so traditional.
The farmer answers the door and immediately sticks a gun into the intruder's guts. (nice alliteration: gun & guts, scary and gory reality). Being afraid that the drifter might be a psycho or criminal, the farmer
"cocked his rifle
and began to shout
>You're the travelling salesman
That I have heard about<".

Since the drifter pretends to be a "doctor" and a "clean-cut kid" who's "been to college too" (once again: the poetic power of alliterations), the farmer finally offers him a "bed underneath the stove." Of course there are strings attached:

"Just one condition
And you  go to sleep right now
that you don't touch my daughter 
And in the morning milk the cow!"
Notice: it is "go to sleep", not "go to bed". You don't have to be a Freudian to  know what is bound to happen: the drifter will try to seduce the farmer's daughter, or vice versa. Stuck between a rock (the farmer) and a hard place (because of the farmer's daughter) the drifter, who is a clean-cut kid after all, has to find a way out:

"Well, I couldn’t leave 
Unless the old man chased me out
’Cause I’d already promised
That I’d milk his cows

I had to say something 

To strike him very weird
So I yelled out
>I like Fidel Castro and his beard!<”

Castro's beard really does the magic. The farmer, the psycho in this nightmare, loses it, attacks the drifter and tries to shoot the "unpatriotic rotten doctor commie rat", who crashes head over heels through the window at 100 miles an hour and beats it

#MyDailyDylan (5): Fuehrer or Faker? Amnesty or Amnesia?

In a poem every word counts. And poetry (as any use of signs) is always about the text & the context. Joe Perry, guitar player of Aerosmith fame, covered Dylans Man of Peace for the album Chimes of Freedom: the songs of Bob Dylan honouring 5o Years of Amnesty international. 

Perry, supposedly a huge Dylan fan, sings: 

Look out your window, baby, 
there’s a scene you’d like to catch
The band is playing “Dixie,” 
a man got his hand outstretched 
Could be a Faker (!?) 
Could be the local priest 
You know sometimes Satan 
comes as a man of peace.

What a refrain! In Dylan's words "The wolf in sheep's clothing" becomes "Satan disguised as a man of peace". These words create images images of the "Satans" in our past, present and future. Didn't Satan always come as a man of peace before he started another war? (Masters of War).
There is only one really weak word in these lines. According to Perry the man, who got his hand outstretched, could be "a faker"? A faker, a Quaker, a baker, a - what!? A faker with his hands outstretched like a priest to welcome the flock of sheep?

If you listen to Bob Dylan himself, you'll find out, that the weakness is only on Perry's not on Dylan's side. Dylan uses the right(!) word (text) that fits perfectly in the context (satan with his hand outstretched): "Might be the FUEHER, might be the local priest". This sets off a firework of haunting images: Hitler, the Nazi salute, the collaboration of the Catholic Church with fascism. 

I wonder who is responsible for Perry's version. Why doesn't he sing FUEHER? Could be a slip of tongue, could be ignorance, could be political correctness, could be Amnesty, could be amnesia. The answer my friend...

To end on a lighter note: Let's watch Chaplin's The Great Dictator tonight.

Dylan and the Grateful Dead, Man of Peace

Joe Perry, Man of Peace

Joe Perry, The story behind man of peace

Joe Perry,

#MyDailyDylan (4): Everybody must get stoned

The last couple of days literary critics stoned him (again): In The New York times Anna North tries to explain "Why Bob Dylan Shouldn't Have Gotten a Nobel". Her argument in short: Dylan's gain, the literature's loss. I beg to differ. Dylan himself could answer by dedicating Rainy Day Women in his next show to Anna North. In this song he is joyfully playing with the double meaning of "stoned"; in linguistics & semiotics lingo "stoned" is a homonym and homograph, - one of the favourite toys of poets.

"Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home 
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave 
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave 
But I would not feel so all alone 
Everybody must get stoned"
Bob Dylan, Rainy Day Women #12&35.

In the late 60ies kids listened to this song "stoned", of course, and chanted the refrain like a hymn: Everybody must get stoned! Now, the kids of the sixties are over sixty. If we listen to the song now, with the clash of cultures, the global news, the religious wars, it is more disturbing than ever. 

Once again (like: "darkness at the break of noon", "postcards of the hanging") Dylan's lyrics are ageing frighteningly well. Every time I see the news on TV about people getting stoned to death for using drugs (getting stoned) or for religious or political reasons (! - of course reason is not the right word here), I think: what happened to "Everybody must get stoned?".

#MyDailyDylan (3): Why it is smart to buy a postcard of a hanging.

Before the birth of the - semiotically boring - prison system punishment was usually meant to mirror the crime: let's cut off the tongue of this liar, chop off the hands of the thieves, so everybody knows....(Well, everybody knows the dice are loaded..., L. Cohen).
Before the advent of mass media public capital punishment was staged in the capitals of the civilised (!)  world as a spectacular entertainment for the masses including school classes. Burning witches, heretics, etc. at a stake was meant to send a clear message to the people: "OBEY, or else...!"

Merchants were selling postcards of the hangings, the crucifixions, the quartering and the burnings and the spectators were supposed to watch in shock and awe these memorabilia. Not buying a postcard could be interpreted as a lèse majesty. A subject refusing to buy a postcard of the hanging could be the next suspect subject/object of torture: "You did't buy a postcard, you bastard, don't you love your government? Whose side are you on?" - or, to quote from Desolation Row 
"Praise be to Neros's Neptun, the Titanic sails at dawn, 
Everybody's shouting "Which side are you on?"

Dylan's confusing and fascinating poem Desolation Row starts with "They're selling postcards of the hanging" but - since Dylan is not a provocative scholar like Foucault but a provocative poet, - he continues: "They're painting passports brown".  Opposites attract and/or collide: while the authorities are selling postcards of the hanging, the anarchists are painting passports brown. What would you rather do?

Freitag, 14. Oktober 2016

#MyDailyDylan (2): The break of noon

Just had breakfast at the break of dawn = the first meal in the morning after a night of fasting; "breaking" the fast. We expect the break of day, the break of dawn, broken relationships, broken English...we understand these metaphors without problems.
Tom Wait's *Well, the moon is broken / And the sky is cracked* is frightening and archaic but not too surprising. *there is a crack, a crack, in everything, that's how the light gets in* (L. Cohen, Rumi, the psychoanalyst V. Tausk).
"Ain't no use jiving
Ain't no use joking
Everything is broken".
(Dylan, Everything is broken, Album: Oh Mercy).

A cracked or broken moon can easily be imagined, painted, photoshopped and is - at least for me - less disturbing on a poetic level than the unexpected "break of noon" in Dylans "It's Alright, Ma", one of his most powerful songs.  One could write a book about every line of these lyrics, and this is only the beginning:

"Darkness at the break of noon
shadows even a silver spoon.
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know to soon
there is no sense in trying."

There is no sense in trying? Let's try anyway. What a powerful poetic nightmare. When Dylan sings "It's alright, Ma, I'm only bleeding?" we think: "I don't think so! You're not only bleeding, we are not only bleeding - everything is broken!"
Maybe Dylan has read Arthur Koestler's kafkaesk novel Sonnenfinsternis (Darkness at Noon), in which the hero becomes a victim of the Stalinist show trials: "To understand you know to soon - there is no  sense in trying" / "Everything is broken".

To end on a lighter note: I'd rather have frogs inside my socks! (cf. #MyDailyDylan 1).

Donnerstag, 13. Oktober 2016

#MyDailyDylan (1): Ever had frogs inside your socks?

Imagine, you wake up in the morning - at your girlfriend's - and "there's frogs inside your socks!" Frogs! No *snakes inside your pants* (too Freudian, too scary, dangerous) no *spiders in your shoes* (too boring for a poem because that happens all the time) but *frogs inside your socks!*
Dylan finds the perfect match of poetic image (cute little frogs), surrealism and creepy, crawly, slimy. Don't get me wrong, frogs are nice, I like them and the sounds the are making, - reminds me of early Santana recordings. But I definitely do not want frogs in my socks.
Image you put on your socks and shoes without noticing the frogs, - the'll be knocking on heaven's door.  On a phonetic level the *frogs* inside the *socks* (nice rhyme, dirty enough to be good) lead Dylan to the second line which is on a completely different level of absurdity: *You'r mama, she's hiding inside the ice box*.  No we know, something is really wrong at his girlfriend's.
*Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, do you have to ask?*
Bob Dylan, On the Road Again
Bringing t all back Home (1965)

MyDailyDylan (0) Introduction.

In his own word's: I'm a poet, I know it (Dylan, Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964).
Nobody influenced my brain as much as Bob Dylan. He was my one and only English teacher: English as a foreign language. I'll never forget *The light I never knowed*  Now, 45 years later, he is still in my head: whatever I am trying to think, express, say, - his poetry comes to my mind. The only poetry I really like.
Dylan's oeuvre is a long and winding (Thank you, Lennon/McCartney) EARWORM. For the next couple of days (at least: *Seven days*), weeks, months, years (How many years can a ....) this semiotic blog will focus on the signifiers & signified, the denotations & connotations, the sounds & structure of Dylan's poetry. MyDailyDylan #1 will be on: Frogs inside my socks!