Announced today, I am delighted to see Dylan’s lyrics given the literary recognition they deserve, and by extrapolation, an appreciation of the poetry of many others’ lyrics.
There’s storytelling too, and whilst I could have selected a more obvious example of this from Dylan, I have chosen Sara because it is probably my favourite song of his:
I laid on a dune I looked at the sky
When the children were babies and played on the beach
You came up behind me, I saw you go by
You were always so close and still within reach.
Whatever made you want to change your mind
So easy to look at, so hard to define.
I can still see them playing with their pails in the sand
They run to the water their buckets to fill
I can still see the shells falling out of their hands
As they follow each other back up the hill.
Sweet virgin angel, sweet love of my life
Radiant jewel, mystical wife.
Sleeping in the woods by a fire in the night
Drinking white rum in a Portugal bar
Them playing leapfrog and hearing about Snow White
You in the marketplace in Savanna-la-Mar.
It’s all so clear, I could never forget
Loving you is the one thing I’ll never regret.
I can still hear the sounds of those Methodist bells
I’d taken the cure and had just gotten through
Staying up for day in the Chelsea Hotel
Writing “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” for you.
Wherever we travel we’re never apart
Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart.
How did I meet you ? I don’t know
A messenger sent me in a tropical storm
You were there in the winter, moonlight on the snow
And on Lily Pond Lane when the weather was warm.
Scorpio Sphinx in a calico dress
You must forgive me my unworthiness.
Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp
And a piece of an old ship that lies on the shore
You always responded when I needed your help
You gimme a map and a key to your door.
Glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow
Don’t ever leave me, don’t ever go.
It will over the coming days be interesting to read of undoubtedly both the pleasure in or rejection of Dylan and lyrics receiving this accolade. I simply reflect on how it was precisely this kind of emerging song lyric as well as modern poetry of the 60s that fired my interest in literature in general, and poetry specifically. Lyrics that became increasingly surreal and in reality meaningless which played a part in breaking down the barriers inherent in literary convention/expectation because they were so popular and widely heard.
Seeing Ginsberg in the iconic film of Dylan’s Don’t Look Back and the song Subterranean Homesick Blues is only one example of the merging of poetry and lyric writing, though I wasn’t as a teenager at this time that much of a student of Dylan. I grew up on the lyrics of the Beatles and Hendrix and a range of ‘psychedelic’ bands and their songs, but also the poetry of Penguin’s The Mersey Sound, The New American Poetry and the 1969 collection Children of Albion – Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain, this latter I mention with enthusiasm as I have just replaced my previously lost original with a secondhand copy and have been reading these past few days.
So I say again I am delighted with this recognition of Bob Dylan as a songwriter with the citation for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.
I’ll finish on this one as it is more in the poetic than narrative style, though it is obvious Dylan’s recognition is for a body of work rather than singular songs:
It’s Alright, Ma
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon, there is no sense in trying
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying
Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more person crying
So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing
As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all, except hatred
Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred
Our preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked
An’ all the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it
Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on all around you
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Do what they do just to be
Nothing more than something they invest in
While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize and say, “God bless him”
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole that he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him
Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False goals, I scuff at pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say, “Okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?”
And if my thought dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only
Sara and It’s Alright, Ma lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.