Car(s)

When it comes to cars, where is your Dylan?  In the backseat smoking a cigarette?

Behind the wheel?

(Photo by Brad Elterman)

Outside near a car?

Or where he makes things happen inside cars?

Well, whatever one, buckle up and start your engines, because this blog is taking a ride down all the twisting turning roads in all of Bob’s songs where “car(s)” appear.

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In Dylan’s most recent videos, cars play prominent roles.  In “When the Deal Goes Down,” the always double-barrel beautiful Scarlett Johansson is in a red convertible. A car is used by a woman as a weapon against her abusive mate in “Beyond Here Lies Nothin‘” (“cars” is used to rhyme with “ours” in that song).  And most recently, in “Duquesne Whistle” a van (okay, not a car) is a source of terrorism for the Charlie Chaplin-esque young lover.  Cars are vehicles for many things in Dylan.

Cop cars appear in the next to last verse of “It’s All Good“:

Cold-blooded killer, stalking the town
Cop cars blinking, something bad going down
Buildings are crumbling in the neighborhood
But there’s nothing to worry about, ’cause it’s all good
It’s all good
They say it’s all good

No rhyme with “cars,” but the alliteration in “cop cars” hooks up well with the “Cold” in “Cold-blooded.”  Daniel Mark Epstein quotes the same verse from the song to demonstrate how the song is “laugh-out-loud hilarious,” and how Dylan’s voice “was just the right voice for it.  Agreed.  Just right, too, is a cop car or two to hit home, if it hasn’t already, that “It’s all good” is exactly what it’s not.

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According to Daniel Mark Epstein, Bob’s first car was a pink Ford Convertible given to him by his dad after his 16th birthday, “Abe sometimes spoiled his son with gifts.”
Maybe it looked something like this:

And then in 1961, Bob made his famous hitchhiking journey, with two college students, from Madison, WI to NYC, in a four-door Chevrolet Impala:

In 2001’s Love and Theft, Dylan puts Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in a street car named desire:

Well, they’re going to the country, they’re gonna retire
They’re taking a street car named Desire

The rhyme “retire/Desire” that comes from this street car creates an interesting contrast in Dylan’s life.  Desire certainly drove him to NYC, becoming “the city that would come to shape my destiny,” Bob says.  His desire to see Woody Guthrie, especially fueled him more than anything else.  And Bob has never considered retirement it seems (motorcycle accident respite aside), the unending tour proof of his ardent-heartedness, desire countering any impulse to retire.  Dee and Dum are two identities in one, two impulses, two roles to play, neither real or only real together, like Robert Zimmerman and Bob Dylan, but both with “their noses to the grindstones.”

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car” and “star” rhyme in “Summer Days.” The star, the celebrity kind that is, not the celestial type, is worn out, or at least called so:

Well I’m drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say, “You’re a worn-out star”

Later in the song, a car is getting worn out as well:

I got eight carburetors, boys I’m using ’em all
Well, I got eight carburetors and boys, I’m using ’em all
I’m short on gas, my motor’s starting to stall

Being on all cylinders will do that.  Summer’s wearing out in this song, too, but the song isn’t, too much jump and energy for that to happen.  And the speaker knows a place anyway “where there’s still something’s going on.”  Maybe it’s here, the perfect destination for anyone, even a worn out star, drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac car”:

Nice rhyme that, “flats”/”Cadillac” . . . Cadillac Flats.
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In “Po’ Boy,” “cars” and stars” rhyme again, but this time “stars” are the ones in the sky and “cars” makes a shift in meaning:
Poor boy in a red hot town
Out beyond the twinklin’ stars
Ridin’ first-class trains—making the rounds
Tryin’ to keep from fallin’ between the cars

These are train cars. The poor boy appears to be jumping from car to car giving the ticket takers and conductors the slip. Yes
Some trains don’t pull no gamblers
No midnight ramblers like they did before

But maybe some still do.  If David Mark Epstein is right and this is a ballad about wealth, then the Po’ Boy is the poster boy for poverty making the rounds, gambling, and rambling with the police at his back.  Stars shine again in this song, at the end with the Po’ Boy washing dishes and feeding swine, the epilogue to, or worse, the mere afterthought of a knock-knock joke.
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Honest With Me” has “car” in it but it’s unrhymed:

I’m crashin’ my car, trunk first into the boards

The line is amusing though in the visual–intentional use of one’s trunk to crash into anything is worth a grin, chagrin for the recipient, boards it is in this song.

The 90’s is a “car“-less decade for Dylan.  Three times the word appears in 1986’s “Brownsville Girl.”  If I’m being honest (with me) I’d have to admit that when I first heard this song I thought knocked-out loaded was exactly the condition Dylan must have been in when he wrote it.  I thought that for awhile.  And then the likes of Michael Gray and Stephen Scobie set me straight, and I started to see why so many put this song on their list of his greatest.  Gray’s observation especially that “uncertain crossings of one sort of another are a recurrent motif in “‘Brownsville Girl‘” raised my awareness of its depth.

car” helps to make those “uncertain crossings” happen, geographically,

Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton’

with time,

Well, we’re drivin’ this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies

and emotionally,

And she don’t want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control

No rhyming with “car” but Dylan uses it well as a vehicle for those crossings Gray speaks of that make it a work of art.

Below is a terrific clip from Both Ends of the Rainbow with Ira Ingber discussing the making of it:

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In “Union Sundown” off of Infidels, “car” is not in the rhyming headlights, but “Chevrolet” is with “day”:

And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day

The lines with the rhymes are ten syllables each, too–straight roads taken by Bob to make this rhyme.

Here’s an 83 Chevrolet I could picture Bob in, but I guess the license should say Argentina;

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In 1983, Dylan once said about the song, “Shot of Love,” “It defines where I am at spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else.  It shows where my sympathies lie . . . It’s all there in that one song.”

I always take what Dylan says with a grain of salt (every grain even, salt and sand), but If I  pretend he meant this, “car“‘s place in this song ramps up a bit:

What makes the wind wanna blow tonight?
Don’t even feel like crossing the street and my car ain’t actin’ right
Called home, everybody seemed to have moved away
My conscience is beginning to bother me today

car” is parked away from the rhyme, “”away”/”today” but it adds to the sense of being stuck and in need of a shot of love. The speaker can’t move while everyone else  seems to be, away that is.  Spiritually, this song smacks of an existential angst, a parting from the absolutes from Slow Train and Saved.  Everything’s not broken, but they “ain’t actin’ right, that’s for sure.  Musically and romantically? I get–the reggae/gospel sound he liked during this period, and who hasn’t been in need of a shot of love.  Spiritually speaking though, this song and this verse are an indictment of a religion with all the answers or rather of religion that makes questions unnecessary.  What makes the wind want to blow tonight?  Maybe  to keep those answers just far enough away from our mortal grasp.
Dylan live singing “Shot of Love” with his gospel gang:

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In “Hurricane,” the car plays a major role as evidence against the defendant, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter:
Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”
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And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white.”
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In the second verse, “car” rhymes with “bar,” linking arguably the two most important settings in this “movie” song together.  “car” drives through the song as well what with the presence of it in the first three letters in Carter’s name.

Dylan knew the power words have.  So did Carter.  I’m going to let him have the final words here:

Words are about the most powerful drugs knows to men.”

Carter’s Car: “a white car with out-of-state plates”

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In “Tangled Up in Blue” a car is abandoned:

We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

The abandoned car sets up the splitting up between lovers that affects the pursuit throughout the song.  As Carrie Brownstein says of “Tangled,” It is an American story of humble beginnings, with far-reaching hopes and colossal disappointments.  At the start, the loves and the narrator himself occupy a cohesive space. But the context begins to shift and unravel . . . The song sets up the album [Blood on the Tracks] as a series of fractures . . .”

Michael Gray noticed the “rhyming spill-over towards the end of each verse.”  He adds, “As we listen to the song, these short spill-overs become more and more stabbing in their emotional effect as they as they become at the same time more and more agile and clever as rhymes. “

In the above verse, I think “it”/”split” and “say”/”away are examples of what Gray means.  “car” is not involved, but it does assist the theme of spilling over, or the inevitability of it when something is driven as far as it can go, over the line, right into the next.

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When I hear “Idiot Wind,” the line, “Smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door” won’t leave my head for hours.  It’s just the way Dylan sings it or maybe the image or the words arranged for blunt impact:
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcardoor.

I’m singing it in my head now . . . and will the rest of the day, with no rhyme needed to keep it there.  Here’s a boxcar:
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In #Rainy Day Women” #12 & 35,” a car is just another place to get stoned:
Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Michael Coyle and Debra Rae Cohen remind us though that the “‘Getting stoned’ here is a public stoning, tied to musical performance.” “car” rhyming with “guitar” in this verse aims the stoning at Dylan.  Dylan tells us that “Sometimes the ‘you’ in my songs is me talking to me.”  That said, having performed this song often as the last of his encores, Dylan unites both the audience (those about to get in their cars and maybe come back again, with him saying it’s the end with his encore and playing his guitar while doing so–rhymes uniting words creating fiction that is life.
Here’s Dylan with The Grateful Dead playing it at MSG in 1994:

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In the first stanza of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “streetcar” pulls up again in the sixth line, not as a noun though, but as an adjective describing the lady’s kind of visions:

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?
With your pockets well protected at last
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass
Who among them do they think could carry you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate

No hint of a rhyme, but if that streetcar is desire again, how beautiful to have visions of desire placed “on the grass.”  According to the Oxford Dictionary of World Histories, the word “car” was mainly poetic and conveyed splendour and solemnity, from Latin carrum, carrus meaning a wheeled vehicle.  I can only imagine with what splendour and solemnity this sad-eyed lady would place her desires on grass; with  “flesh like silk” and a “face like glass” what an image that would be.

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The speaker in “Talkin World War III” steals a car, a Cadillac to be exact:

Well, I seen a Cadillac window uptown
And there was nobody aroun’
I got into the driver’s seat
And I drove down 42nd Street
In my Cadillac. Good car to drive after a war

We have the location, too, 42nd Street.  “car” and “war” don’t rhyme, but to the eye they appear to internally in the last line.  Good car to drive after a war?  But “car” comes before “war” in this verse.  Let’s turn it around:  Good “war” to drive after a “car.”  Just havin’ some fun, like Dylan did with this song.
Dylan live at Newport Folk Festival introduced by Peter Yarrow in 1963 (he sings “car” twice in this verse):
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Walking is what Bob’s doing with Suze on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with cars parked on the streets of NYC in the background.  On “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” he doesn’t even want a car–he prefers walking:
Lord, I ain’t goin’ down to no race track
See no sports car run
I don’t have no sports car
And I don’t even care to have one
I can walk anytime around the block

World War III changes things–he’s alone stealing a car in NYC in that song, where
Everybody sees themselves
Walkin’ around with no one else

In Bob Dylan’s Blues” “car” is unrhymed, “run” rhymes with “one,” but “one” refers to a car.  On the cover he doesn’t seem to want to be “one,” “walkin around with no one else that is,” but together, smiling, walking with Suze.
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In “Talking New York,” “car” rhymes with “guitar” again as in “Rainy Day Women“:
I swung onto my old guitar
Grabbed hold of a subway car
And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride
I landed up on the downtown side
Greenwich Village

Robert Shelton sees the song modeled after Woody Guthrie’s “Talkin’ Subway.” What I like about that is the connection between the two songs having subway cars prompting movement.  Dylan grabs hold of one, Guthrie follows people running down to catch one:
I blowed into New York town,
I looked up and I looked down.
Everybody I seen on the streets,
Was all a-running down in a hole in the ground.
I followed ’em. See where they’s a going.
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Nothing more New York than its underground subways.  I just really love that Dylan and Guthrie are united in making them a part of their NYC experience.
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Below is a photo inside a NYC subway in the 60’s by Bernard Safran. Follow the link beneath it to see more photos from Safron of the NYC Dylan saw from 62-72.
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Subway Riders
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4 Comments

  1. Kenny

     /  October 15, 2012

    Always near a chrome horse with some diplomats!

    Reply
  2. J Imp

     /  October 18, 2012

    Good stuff. Thanks for the ride.

    Reply
  3. Sarcasmono

     /  January 20, 2013

    Yanks, for the rizzide, Homie!!!

    Reply
  1. Bob Dylan and cars « Visions of Dylan

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