Monday, November 17, 2014

Bob Dylan as Storyteller

Photo by Ken Regan, Fall 1975
Rolling Thunder Revue

The song "Isis," the second track on Dylan's album Desire, was co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, as was also the case with "One More Cup of Coffee," a song I recently blogged on. You can listen to the song here, and follow with these lyrics, to which I've added punctuation:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May,
But I could not hold on to her very long,
So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.

I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.

A man in the corner approached me for a match.
I knew right away he was not ordinary.
He said, "Are you looking for something easy to catch?"
I said, "I got no money." He said, "That ain't necessary."

We set out that night for the cold in the North.
I gave him my blanket, and he gave me his word.
I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "We'll be back by the fourth."
I said, "That's the best news that I've ever heard."

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold,
I was thinking about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons through the devilish cold,
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.

How she told me that one day we'd meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed,
If I only could hang on and just be her friend.
I still can't remember all the best things she said.

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice.
He said, "There's a body I'm trying to find.
If I carry it out, it'll bring a good price."
It was then that I knew what he had on his mind.

The wind, it was howling, and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night, and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn't contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothing - I felt I'd been had.
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly,
When I took up his offer, I must've been mad.

I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover.
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise,
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed.
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead.

She said, "Where ya been?" I said, "No place special."
She said, "You look different." I said, "Well, I guess."
She said, "You been gone." I said, "That's only natural."
She said, "You gonna stay?" I said, "If you want me to, yes."

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain.
There it is, the entire song, a great story sung by a great storyteller! But why do I call this song a story? Because things happen in a sequence that fulfills our expectations, expectations set up with the first line: "I married Isis on the fifth day of May." You see? Something happened. We hear the line and wonder, "What's next?" Dylan tells us: "But I could not hold on to her very long." What happened then. Dylan continues to tell us . . .

Very different than "One More Cup of Coffee," which offers a portrait of a lady: "Your breath is sweet / Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky / Your back is straight your hair is smooth / On the pillow where you lie." Nothing's happening in this scene. Nothing much happens in the entire song. In that song, we're between stories, maybe, but we'll never know what those stories are.

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

Labels: , ,


At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff--Pete here--Amen to this one, definitely in my top-few of all Bob, thanks for permitting a quick read of it. There are elements of it that remind me of another that I've come to love more recently, "Angelina" (not to be confused with "Farewell Angelina--or, maybe it IS to be confused!). Some stunning images in that one, too. It's on the Bootleg Series disk(s) that also has the magnificent "Catfish" and "Blind Willie McTell" on it, too. The list of his greats is almost inexhaustible.--

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I will find more to say soon . . .

Jeffery Hodges

@ @ @


Post a Comment

<< Home