On almost every one of his album covers Dylan’s head is displayed; in the  case of several that’s all there is, just a head.  He’s worn many hats for those many heads, literally so on his first album, Nashville Skyline, Desire, and World Gone Wrong.  But most times it’s just his crazy, curly hair that adorns that strikingly familiar head:

In my Oxford American Minidictionary the word “head” as a noun has 15 different meanings, just a sample of the many senses this word has–as many perhaps as the number of heads Dylan has displayed for us.

In “Beyond Here Lies Nothin‘” head means what sits on the top of one’s body, and a request is made to have a hand lay on top of it:

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said

No demand for a head on a shoulder, hand to head please . . . better for this weary voyager, heading where nothin’ is or staying to avoid nothin.’  Love is always something,as the beginning of the songs says:

I love you pretty baby
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ we can call our own

Hand to head, such a touch will keep one together through life, but the album cover shows more than just that going on.  Any touch between lovers, a world onto its own.


A  lot of “heads” roll around in Tempest, rhyming with “bed” five times:

from “Duquesne Whistle“: “I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed/Everybody telling me she’s gone to my head

Pay In Blood“:  “You get your lover in the bed/Come here I’ll break your lousy head

Scarlet Town“:  Mistress Mary by the side of the bed/Kissin’ his face and heapin’ prayers on his head

Tin Angel“: “The boss he lay back flat on his bed/He cursed the heat and he clutched his head” and “He crawled to the corner and he lowered his head/He gripped the chair and he grabbed the bed”

The rhyme finds itself in moments of sex, violence, pain, and death. Tempest is one of Dylan’s most violent albums, perhaps the one with the most deaths and threats. “head“/”bed” then becomes a thematic rhyme helping to weave sex and violence throughout the album as a motif.

The  “Duquesne Whistle” video shows this emphasis.   Watch the close-up of the would be lover’s head as it bobs and weaves, descends and rises, gets sprayed with mace, is covered with a hood, gets punched, accumulates more and more blood and scars, and comes near to a kiss, but no where near her bed .  But most of all watch the hands in pocket Dylan leading a gang of all shapes and sizes, genders and ages through this narrative indifferent to the results of violence and unrequited love.


A friend of mine interprets “Narrow Way” as a dialogue between Dylan and Jesus.  The lines with the “bread”/”head” rhyme lend support for such a theory:

You went and lost your lovely head
For a drink of wine, and a crust of bread

Theories only sometimes work in Dylan within a song, at most, most of the time.  The pronoun references are too slippery to follow and attempts to build narrative, make sense of dialogue or time, well it’s a long and narrow way . . . you take what you need and you leave the rest when you try to interpret Dylan.  But the attempt is worth it.   When I hear the chorus blasting

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I cant work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday

I’m both amused and stimulated by Dylan again whose defiance can include telling even Jesus what to do, the Jesus with lost his “lovely head,” . . . wait . . . that was John the Baptist . . . slippery Dylan at it again.

David Yaffe says Dylan recycled “a motif from a Memphis Minnie blues” with “The Levee’s Gonna Break.”  Recycling is a relevant word when it comes to the constant identical rhyming found in the song.  Each verse begins with a duplicate rhyme, “break”/”break”, “day”/”day”, “new”/”new” etc.  “head” follows “bed”/”bed” in the third to last verse:
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I ain’t got enough room to even raise my head

Dylan loves to thieve.  We all know that.  But Shakespeare did, too.  Most of his plays are created out of other sources.  He may very well have plundered a contemporary’s The Taming of a Shrew to write his own The Taming of the Shrew.   But it’s what he did with previous sources that matters.  Theft, of the kind that involves lifting and then rewriting material from sources, is duplicating followed by invention.  Dylan mirrors this in “The Levee’s Gonna Break” with duplicating rhymes followed by full rhyming words.  “If I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break, if I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break . . .”


Call it “cultural plunder” (Lott)or “yoking” (Yaffe) “High Water” is an amalgam of allusions, references, borrowings, gleanings,  and sifting.  That said, the prophet in Dylan sure got it right that after 9/11 (Love and Theft released on 9/11) many people have lived feeling that their heads are just above water.  The song is packed with messages of how tough, rough, and bad it is “out there.”  The verse with the “head”/”lead”/”said” rhyme helps reinforce this sentiment:

High water risin’, six inches ’bove my head
Coffins droppin’ in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin’ into Vicksburg, don’t know what I’m goin’ to do
“Don’t reach out for me,” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”
It’s rough out there
High water everywhere

There’s keeping just above the dangers and threats, almost drowning, not dark yet but getting there, and we’re in this together–this is all over the place, happening to me and you stuff in this verse.  Coffins droppin like balloons is quite an image.  There’s staying above but going over implied in these lines, too.  Things go over like lead balloons.  Greil Marcus notes that what drops harder than anything in this song is the word “care” and the way Dylan says it in the line, “Either one, I don’t care”/High water everywhere.”  Dylan not caring goes over like a lead balloon. The finger pointing songs we grew up on made him seem to care so much.  Now he “used to care but things have changed.”  Staying above and going over, heady advice for our time though, downright caring, when we look again and see that what we saw is no longer standing there.

Love sick?  That means your heart must be heavy; you might even feel it more in the stomach.  Where’s your head in all this?  Well, that’s what’s causing the heartache.  I think Bob gets this, and that’s why we find the word “head” early on, almost right away in “Love Sick,” rhyming with “dead”:
I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping

In one verse, Dylan conveys the physical (tired feet), mental (brain is so wired), and emotional (to him even the clouds weep) impact of being sick of love–this kind of love (lust?).  The rhyme suggests this is a kind of death, dead in the head, a whole other take on what it means to be a dead-head.
In a Victoria’s Secret commercial he depicted the kind of love he was talking about.  Sell out?  Well, he once told a reporter if he were ever to sell out lit would be for “ladies’ garments”:
Michael Gray calls “Standing In The Doorway” one of four major songs on Time Out Of Mind.  David Yaffe puts it on his top 70 list in Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown.  If you’ve ever been left alone, abandoned, tossed aside, rejected, well, this song resonates, finds its way into your heart, your broken one.  Dylan uses “head” twice in the song, once in the second verse rhyming with “bad” and “sad”:

The light in this place is so bad
Making me sick in the head
All the laughter is just making me sad
The stars have turned cherry red
I’m strumming on my gay guitar
Smoking a cheap cigar
The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don’t look like it will anytime soon
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Under the midnight moon

How so?  This is a wrenched rhyme, the way Dylan delivers the “ea” sound forces it to rhyme with “bad”/”sad.”  The whole song is wrenching, the sadness is especially–captured so well with the tone of his voice, the highlight being the way he stretches out the word “head,” the last word on the song:

There are no words that need to be said
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Blues wrapped around my head

The “said”/”head” rhyme ends the song.  But it’s not the sound of that rhyme that lingers; it’s the way he stretches out the words that end the last two lines, ” crying” and “head.”  The singer is not the only one the blues wrap around by the end of the song, the listener is, too.  This is a blues song, and the lingering instrumental after the word “head” leaves you with nothing to say and maybe even tearing up if you let the song have its desired effect on you.  The tone of voice and the atmosphere created by it may  be unmatched in any other Dylan song.

Bob singing it on Masked and Anonymous:
You can head to a life shackled to cold irons, but if you’re heading out to find Cold Irons, forget it.  The town doesn’t exist, at least not in the U.S.  Chicago does though, and if the singer in “Cold Irons Bound” has gotten anywhere we know he’s passed through Chicago. He says,  “the winds in Chicago have torn me to shreds/Reality has always had too many heads.”  Reality as the multiple-headed hydra is an interesting image.  Lop one off and two others appear.  If you’re going to try to lop off one of those heads anyway though, you’ll need a weapon, and that’s exactly what cold iron refers to, as in the poem named “Cold Iron” by Rudyard Kipling:
Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
“Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ’em all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
“What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
“Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
“As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
“Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread,
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
“See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.””Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold.
“Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!”
“shreds”/heads” is a good rhyme.  Previous to it, “head” appears in the fifth verse:

There’s too many people, too many to recall
I thought some of ’m were friends of mine, I was wrong about ’m all
Well, the road is rocky and the hillside’s mud
Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood

Though not an internal rhyme, “head” works well with “road” in its d-ending accompanying the full “mud”/”blood” rhyme that ends each line.  “head” used twice, two heads better than one, two that appear when you cut off one, from the hydra that is.  You might start with cold iron but hot iron is the key to defeating the hydra.  To stop the growth of more heads, Ialaos helped Heracles brand the stumps from the severed heads, stopping the heads from multiplying.  Heady idea!

The first things broken in “Everything Is Broken” are lines, and the only “broken” line in the song is in the first verse, broken because it has the only unrhymed end of line word and because the verse has seven lines, not six like the rest (besides the two line bridge).  The “heads“/beds” rhyme is in this verse helping to accentuate the brokenness in the verse from the line with “jiving,” left discarded by a rhyming partner:
Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

Yeah, the -ings in “jiving” and “joking” have a ring to them, but they form a  half rhyme, “broken” replacing “jiving” as the better sounding rhyme with “joking.”  Dylan hints at what will be broken with the i in “lines” matching the one in “jiving.”
Neil Young and Tom Petty sang it together at a benefit concert in 1989, the year Oh Mercy was released, no jiving, no joking:
Dylan’s “dream” songs refute any theory that you can’t dream in color.  Read any of them and you’ll see that what he shares is packed with vivid details, memorable visuals, and vibrant colors.  “Had a Dream About You, Baby” is one of them, and the “red”/head” rhyme in it is one of those moments that has the kind of specifics more associated with reality than dreamland:
You got a rag wrapped around your head
Wearing a long dress fire engine red

Compare this to say, The Judds’ first single release about a dream:
Had a dream about you, baby
Had a dream about me and you
Had a dream and I woke up cryin’
Well, I can try but I just can’t stop
And the time is draggin’ by, tick-tock
Oh my heart, it just can’t love no one but you
Well, I’m high and dry and lonely
I’m as lonesome as can be
And I stare out of my window
Well, I can play but I just can’t win
And the weather’s lookin’ mighty grim
Oh my heart, it just can’t love no one but you
Oh my heart, it can’t love no one but you
My heart can’t love no one but you
Oh my heart, it just can’t love no one but you
Oh my heart can’t love no one but you
My heart can’t love no one but you
Oh my heart, it just can’t love no one but you
Had a dream about you, baby
Had a dream about me and you
Had a dream and I woke up cryin’
Well, I can try but I just can’t stop
And the time is draggin’ by, tick-tock
Oh my heart, it just can’t love no one but youOh my heart, it just can’t love no one but you
I can’t see a thing, let alone a color.  But I actually like this song better than I do Dylan’s so here it goes, have a listen:
Dylan once said this about the voice of Johnny Ray:
“Johnnie Ray, he had some kind of strange incantation in his voice, like he’d been voodoo’d, and he cried, kind of, when he sang … it was the sound that got me, it wasn’t who it was … I began to listen to the radio, [and] I began to get bored being there [in Hibbing].”
The idea that a voice can have or create an incantation is thought-provoking.  Perhaps Dylan’s voice has done that to me, put me under some kind of spell, can’t shake him, get him out of my head, just like what the woman in “Under Your Spell” did to him.  In the next to last verse of “Under Your Spell,” he uses the “head“/”dead” rhyme:
I’ll see you later when I’m not so out of my head
Maybe next time I’ll let the dead bury the dead

The internal identical rhyme, “dead”/”dead” is like an echo, almost as if “see you later” could mean when I’m dead because that’s the only way I can get out my head and not under your spell.  Death as the antidote for all lifetime spells.  Well, maybe some spells were not made to be broken.   If Bob has a spell on me, let it not be broken til I say the ultimate see ya later.
Here’s a performer who could put a spell on anyone and I think that was his intent.  I saw Screamin Jay Hawkins in 1979 or at the Bottom Line in NYC–will never forget him; he’s seared in my memory; I’ll never get him out, and that’s a good thing.
Screamin Jay Hawkins, The Merv Griffin Show, 1966:
Arguably the eeriest presence that rears its ugly head in all of Dylan’s songs is in the very beginning of “Jokerman“:
Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing

Dylan has several rhymes complete before the end of the second line in this song.  The lilt of his voice makes it hard to notice this.  Only in reading the lyrics can additional words in the same line after rhymes like “are glowing” be observed.  His voice stretches out words and vowel sounds, and his gentle pauses after each rhyme accommodate the “extra” words in those lines to keep the song smooth and pleasing to the ear.  I think it’s one of Dylan’s best sung songs.
Back to that idol . . . it is the idol of people who worship materialism, violence, greed . . . any inhumanity to man for personal gain.  The bread being cast is a hope that in the midst of what nourishes this idol good deeds will and can be done and repaid in kind.  Dualities dominate this song, “bread”/”head” being one of many.  Here’s what that idol looks like in the official video of the song:
David Yaffe refers to the shot of love on Shot of Love as a “spiritual injection.”  Poetically, what’s shooting at you on the title track are couplets, 12 to  be exact, with “head” used in one of them, early, in the second verse:

What I got ain’t painful, it’s just bound to kill me dead
Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head

The head, of course is Jesus,’ 12 couplets, one for each disciple that followed him, one of whom would benefit from the price on Jesus’ head, and that would be Judas.  He’s the fifth one from the left, sitting, in Da Vinci’s painting:

The fifth verse, tenth couplet reads,

There’s a man that hates me and he’s swift, smooth and near
Am I supposed to set back and wait until he’s here?

Just having some fun with numbers.


Michael Gray calls Shot of Love’s “Lenny Bruce” “an endearing bad song.” The song is deserving of those conflicting comments.  That the song can be both “endearing” and “bad” may be perfectly suitable for a song about Lenny Bruce.  He too was “bad,” Dylan croakes, at the end of the song: “Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had.”

Bad in a bad way would be someone who cuts off baby’s heads, something Bob says Lenny never did:


Never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies’ heads
He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds


That shocking image stays with you for awhile though.  It’s an extreme, as is robbing a church which would get you a noose around your neck in Elizabethan times.  Why such exaggeration–well the line that finishes the “heads‘/”beds” rhyme returns to what he did for people.  And the lines with that rhyme mirror the effect Bruce had–shocking but elevating and revealing. What do I mean?  Well, listen to Bruce talk about the meaning of obscenity for just a couple of minutes and I think you’ll find it shocking (at least it was back in his time), elevating, and revealing:


In the Garden,” Dylan’s “most performed song of his gospel period,” according to David Yaffe, asks 25 questions in 5 verses, questions Yaffe says, “about whether the people who crucified Christ knew who they were dealing with.”  A statement is in the middle of each of the 5 verses except the first.  The fourth verse contains the half-rhyme  “Head“/”instead”, half because only one part of the second word rhymes with the first.  In fact, all the rhymes with the statement lines are either half-rhymes or wrenched rhymes, i.e. “earth”/”worth.”  Most of the lines with questions are auto-rhymes, merely repeated words,  4 times each as in “know”/”know,” “know”/”know.”

Some Psalms are structured this way.  And I think that’s Dylan’s model here or his attempt to write a Psalm that he could sing.  Psalm 118 is a good example:

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

Let Israel now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

I called on the Lord in distress;
The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes.

10 All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
11 They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me;
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
12 They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns;
For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
13 You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.[a]

15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.

21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.

22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.

29 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

And naturally, all this repetition lends itself to song:

The “head” rhyme in “Hurricane” is “head“/”dead” found in the fourth verse:

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”
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men


In some “head”  rhymes two heads are better than one; the first is Patty Valentine’s and it’s nodding; the second is William Marins’, whose head had a bullet in it that went through his left eye.   The nodding head and the head with the “one dying eye” united by rhyme offer a microcosm of Dylan’s effort to lay before us in this song at once violence and the denial of violence, at once violence and lack of culpability . . . accountability, at once violence and injustice, and the anger fueled by it all.  The song uses rhyme to build on this anger, build and build until justice is served, not just a drink at the bar.

The ababc rhyme scheme is consistent throughout “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.” Christoper Ricks says Dylan loves to play with rhyme as much as he loves the complication of it.  The “did him” “Jim and him” rhyme in “Lily” is one of those  playful complications perhaps, but one set “in the world of the Western.”  Likewise, Robert Shelton refers to it “a narrative ballad in the western tradition . . . filled with whimsy and mystification.”
The first rhyme to start the second verse is “said”/”heads”, an imperfect rhyme due to the -s in “heads“:
He moved across the mirrored room, “Set it up for everyone,” he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin’ before he turned their heads
Much rhyme “imperfection” is in this song, but much “perfection” is present, too.  The beat never stops though and Dylan’s voice never skips a beat, blending imperfection and perfection, both whimsical and mystifin’, like this guy:
4 “heads” pop up in “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat,” but only one of them rhymes, even though 3 appear at the end of lines where we expect rhymes.  Actually, there’s not a lot of rhymes in the song, and maybe too much “skin” and “hat” identical rhymes in the first verse:
Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
A perfect set-up for further  discussion of what else is too much in the song is a line from Robert Shelton who said, it’s “a sustained joke about mindless excess.”  Maybe true, but certainly not headless.   And if the song is about Edie Sedwgwick as David Jaffe and many others support, then she’s the target of the “mindless excess” and many “heads,” “skin,” and “hats.”  Here’s the one rhyming “head” rhyme–note it takes 5 lines for the rhyme to sound with “said”:
Well, I asked the doctor if I could see you
It’s bad for your health, he said
Yes, I disobeyed his orders
I came to see you
But I found him there instead
You know, I don’t mind him cheatin’ on me
But I sure wish he’d take that off his head
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
And here’s the head, skin, and hat:
And here’s the factory girl, dancing, smiling, living in her skin, with and without hats, and with that perfectly beautiful head, worth writing, as Michal Gray says, “a whole song about a hat” for.
Robert Shelton notes that the lyrics in “From a Buick 6″ are “traditional couplets.”  And almost from the start Dylan gets the lead out to get the “e” sound charging up and down the highway of the song.  “bed” starts it at the end of verse 1, but the “dead”/”head“/”said”/”bed” rhymes in the last verse drive it home:
Well, you know I need a steam shovel mama to keep away the dead
I need a dump truck mama to unload my head
She brings me everything and more, and just like I said
Well, if I go down dyin’, you know she bound to put a blanket on my bed.

Here’s what a Buick looked like in 1965, the year Highway 61 came out, the album Michael Gray called the “carving out of a new emotional correspondence with a new chaos-reality”:
In “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” Dylan acknowledges that he knows he’s a poet, but it comes with a guarded hope:
Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it
Hope I don’t blow it

The song Shelton calls an “abrupt shift towards whimsy and Dada nonsense” has some of Dylan’s most outrageous rhymes, with the likes of “Goldwater”/”daughter,” “scarf”/”barf,” and “Swimmin”/”women”, but the zaniest of all the verses might just be the one with the “head” rhyme in it:
Well, I set my monkey on the log
And ordered him to do the Dog
He wagged his tail and shook his head
And he went and did the Cat instead
He’s a weird monkey, very funky
Is there any better example of freedom: monkey is told to do the dog and he does the cat instead?  Yes, freedom of choice, Bob; even the monkey gets it.  And Bob’s a weird funky monkey, too–makin up these rhymes and all.  Thanks, Bob, for all your funky monkeyness. Worth a listen, for comic relief and all:
Michael Gray calls “To Ramona” one of two songs off Another Side of Bob Dylan that comes “across as early flashes of the creative explosion” soon to be.  It’s a five verse song with the rhyme “fed”/”head” beginning the third, middle verse:
I can see that your head
Has been twisted and fed
By worthless foam from the mouth
I can tell you are torn
Between stayin’ and returnin’
On back to the South
You’ve been fooled into thinking
That the finishin’ end is at hand
Yet there’s no one to beat you
No one t’ defeat you
’Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad

The rhyme feeds images that last, a head twisted and foam from the mouth. The foam comes from others–worthless fodder, scraps of crap Dylan would get used to from the media, would come to know all to well what it was, and even more so how do deal with it–only self-pity could be the real crippling damaging force.
head“/”fed” is the only rhyming couplet in that verse.  But what I really like is how the ending -d sound is echoed later in it at other line ending words, “hand” and “bad.”  “head” which begins the verse almost helps “hand” and “bad” become a rhyme, especially when Dylan sings it compressing just the right words to do it, with that “early flash” of “creative explosion”:
I’m amused by the irony that when Robert Shelton saw Dylan put on a show for his “Dinkytown” friends in 1962 Bob forget the words to “Bob Dylan’s Blues” and so sang “Corrina, Corrina” instead.  The irony lies in the lyrics from “Bob Dylan’s Blues” with the “heads“/”dead” rhyme:
Oh you five and ten cent women
With nothin’ in your heads
I got a real gal I’m lovin’
And Lord I’ll love her till I’m dead
Go away from my door and my window too
Right now

Yup, nothin in his head when it came to the lyrics to that song that night either.
It’s an imperfect rhyme that “heads“/”dead” with the plural on “heads.”  But imperfect rhyming adds to the ludicrous content of the song, perhaps another with comic relief intentions.
Those cheap women maybe don’t deserve that wisecrack, but Bob would make it up to them thirteen years later on “Simple Twist of Fate,” a deep, tragic song that glorifies a prostitute.  But this song is just for funning and for enjoying the ride of it.
Here’s Bob performing in the Gaslight in 1962:
Shelton sees “I Shall Be Free” as a shirttail song–one of those tucked into the end of Freewheelin, a weak one amongst blockbusters.  But Ricks sees some rhyming quality to it, namely the “heavy/levee” rhyme used by Bob for the first time.  It’s a rollicking haymaker of a song again, and as such it’s not surprising that a good ole hit in the head happens, one with a memorable head rhyme:

I’s out there paintin’ on the old woodshed
When a can a black paint it fell on my head
I went down to scrub and rub
But I had to sit in back of the tub
(Cost a quarter
And I had to get out quick . . .
Someone wanted to come in and take a sauna)

This is slapstick and farce, mindless fun; but that poor head, right?  Well, Bob gives it some attention again in the last of eleven verses,

Well, ask me why I’m drunk alla time
It levels my head and eases my mind
I just walk along and stroll and sing
I see better days and I do better things

The head and mind both pacified by alcohol.  And he knows from the last line here (not of the song–more nonsense there) that he will do better things, but he already has on Freewheelin, so not such a gamble there–it’s all a stacked deck in fact, as to the art he will create, so if back then you were a better ready for betting days or better things, betting on Bob would have been a good bet.  “I Shall Be Free” he names it.  This is a song that helped him feel free from better days and better things, the kind that are like a kick in the head eased by drink or the high of real freewheelin’.

My favorite hit in the head with a paint can scene:


Bob tells us that the answer is blowing in the wind, so when he refers to specific winds we should pay attention.  But “Caribbean Wind” was a song Dylan seems to have had as much problem wrapping his head around as we might trying to find answers in blowing in the wind.  On Biograph he says about it “I just couldn’t quite grasp what it was about after I finished it.”  Maybe he meant it when he created the “head“/”bed” rhyme in verse 7:

The cry of the peacock, flies buzz my head
Ceiling fan broken, there’s a heat in my bed
Street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee”
We met at the steeple where the mission bells ring
She said, “I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing
You can do about it, so let us just agree to agree”

The image of flies around a head appears as a threat in “Idiot Wind“:

One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle

In “Caribbean Wind,” however, the flies are buzzing a head, not flying around eyes.  And the victim is in a ditch, not a bed, decay and death not prompting the flies, a buzz, buzz like confusion rather than real flies camping our for dinner.
Yeah, what’s this song all about . . . the answer is blowing . . . somewhere in the song, from Bob’s head to ours:
Rolling Stone called Dylan’s 1971 “George Jackson” a “return to social relevance.”  Michael Gray reminds us in his Bob Dylan Encyclopedia that it also marked the return of Dylan recording an acoustic guitar solo single, the first since the “pre-electric period, 61-64.  What Gray also saw in the song was a “particular and special–pers0nalizing” of the “classic opening line of the song, “I woke up this mornin’.”  The “head” rhyme helps summon the “personalizing”:

There were tears in my bed
They killed a man I really loved
Shot him through the head
Lord, Lord
They cut George Jackson down
Lord, Lord
They laid him in the ground

The tears from the speaker he wakes to find in his bed collide with the shot in the head, a private response to public violence, Dylan at it again with rhyme to move its impact beyond sound and into emotional response and theme.

Often lost in the study of Dylan is what he teaches us by defending the people he writes about, revealing the injustice, the tragedy, and impact of their loss to us as memorable and palpable, the facts and circumstances of a victim’s death to be part of  a truth too real to be true.  For those of us who may not know who George Jackson was and what happened to him, let Dylan shed light via his song and motivation to learn more via the research Dylan inspires:


The 1,705 word long “Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie” uses the word “head” three times, twice in rhyme, “head“/”bed” and “head“/”lead”:
But it’s trapped on yer tongue and sealed in yer head
And it bothers you badly when your layin’ in bed
And yer eyes get swimmy from the tears in yer head
And yer pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead
I find it fitting that this blog post on “head” would end with Woody Guthrie, whose head contained a mind Dylan loved and influenced so much.   Dylan unites “mind” and “head” in the first line of the song:
When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb
So the last part of this “head” blog post will simply just do the same, focus on the mind, the revolutionary one, contained by the head that mattered so much and still does to so many, including Tom Morello covering Woody’s “Ease My Revolutionary Mind” for the Occupy Movement on Woody’s 100th birthday:


We spread everything from lies to disease to tables to the word. We can spread things beneath our feet, over our bodies, or across the sky.  We can put spread on a cracker or tuck ourselves under one before we sleep.  I’m confident enough in the English language that poets have explored the range of “spread” through the centuries in content and rhyme.

In the last verse of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin‘,” the only song Dylan uses “spread” in a rhyme sails are spread:

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said

Dylan rhymes “spread” with “head” and “said.”  All four verses have a three word rhyming pattern, rhyme spread out nicely within the song, beyond it . . . well . . . there’s nothin.

For the record, William Butler Yates’ use of the word “spread” in “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is my favorite poetic moment with “spread.”  Something about spreading your dreams that works for me”:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


“The music we play has to be tomorrow’s, the things we say have to be today,  and the reason for bothering is yesterday”  -Pete Townsend-  1972

The past, meaning not today or tomorrow, is complicated with Dylan as it is with most writers/poets.  I don’t think I’ve read anyone who speaks about Dylan and the past better than Michael Gray does in his comments about Blood on the Tracks.  It

deals with the overlaying of the past upon the present . . . a profoundly felt understanding of our fragile impermanence of control, so that in dealing with the overlay of past upon present Dylan is dealing with the inexorable disintegration of relationships, and with the dignity of keeping on trying to reintegrate them against all odds.

The overlaying of the past Gray speaks of tied to understanding, disintegration and reintegration is throughout Dylan, not limited to relationships but history, the self, words, and rhymes.

I liken Dylan and the past to Willa Cather’s Thea Kronberg in The Song of the Lark who comes to the conclusion that hers is a “soul obsessed by what it did not know, under the cloud of a past it could not recall.”

Dylan writes under the cloud of the past, sometimes recalling it, sometimes summoning it, many times rejecting it, and often making his listeners sense that its reality is not hinged on completely recalling it but feeling it, his and ours.


In “Beyond Here Lies Nothin‘” Dylan refers the mountains to the past:

Beyond here lies nothin’
But the mountains of the past

Mountains are about yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.  Their presence speaks of a past, their permanence our todays and tomorrows.
Before journeying to the “past” with Dylan, how about an old song from the past, done by Dylan in the not so “mountainous” past, and redone in the recent past by Pete Townsend, an old folk song called “Corrina, Corrina“:


The lines that rhyme “fast” with “past” in “Mississippi” hit home the mythological reference to Odysseus in The Odyssey:

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Odysseus’s ship is split to splinters in Book 12:

Zeus with thunder and lightning together crashed on our vessel,

and, struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus, she spun in a circle,

and all was full of brimstone. My men were thrown in the water,

and bobbing like sea crows they were washed away on the running

waves all around the black ship, and the god took away their homecoming.

Holding onto what’s left of the ship, Odysseus arrives on the island of Calypso, where he eventually sets sail on a raft and winds up on the shores of Phaecia where he is stripped to nothing, even clothes.  It is here that he must feel that the past he wishes to return to, his home in Ithaka, where he is king, is lost.  Dylan,  conversely, as any study of his life will show, has tried to escape from his past, even lying about it to erase it, “pure hokum–hophead talk,” he calls it in Chronicles.

What Odysseus and Dylan have in common though are women who have come on the scene to save them.  For Odysseus, when he arrives on the shores of Phaecia, Nausicaa, the daughter of the king and queen, pulls him out of the emotional depths (sinkin fast), guiding him to what results in his return home (nostos).  Dylan’s savior women, Suze, Joan, Sara, Carolyn all have, in some way, pulled him out of one phase into another, pulled him out of a sinkin into a past that is a kind of death, one that would end his knack or talent for shape-shifting, from one music to another, one sound to another, one image to another, one personna, etc.

The ancient Greek myth of Nausicaa, by the way, has morphed into Japanese pop culture in the form of a protector of the environment.  As such, she protects our past, the one where nature is not violated, kept unharmed by human greed.  Some things, perhaps the myth and Dylan are telling us, should never become past, never even come to the point of sinkin fast.


Dylan overlays not the present with the past but the future in “Bye and Bye” with these rhyming lines:

Well the future for me is already a thing of the past
You were my first love and you will be my last

One of the reasons I admire Bob Dylan is for the unexpected places, the twists and turns to them, he takes my mind.  Lots of good rhymes throughout this song.  Christopher Ricks quotes the lines above in association with Philip Larkin’s poem, “Going, Going” . . . Here’s Larkin, another writer who invites satisfying mind shifting, reading his poem:


past“/”fast” rhyme in “Political World,” too, but in an apocalyptic way:

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last

I guess in in such a world the past becomes a different world, the future threatened to be no world at all.

At the Dodge Poetry Festival in the late 1990’s, reading “The Crying Poem,” Jimmy Santiago Baca asked the audience to STOP TALKIN’ POLITICS!” and instead create “a language made of whimpers and sniffles and sobs,cry out loud, louder, cry baby, cry! Cry! Cry!”  “I’ll never forget it.


Clearly, Dylan has a thing for this “past“/”fast” rhyme.  He uses it again on “Silvio” right from the start of the song:

Stake my future on a hell of a past
Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast

Maybe he likes it for what it says about how fast time goes by.  Time flies–future becomes present and then past.  As I’m typing this what I just typed just became the past–what I’m thinking about writing, just became present, now BAMM past!

The song’s opening with this rhyme helps defy the standard investment clause that past performance is not an indicator of future results.  In 1986, Greil Marcus felt that “Silvio” was evidence that Budweiser commercials had more of a future than Dylan’s music:

‘”Silvio” suggests he has so little left of his style he couldn’t make a convincing Budweiser commercial–there’s more musical freedom in the average Budweiser commercial than there is here. Dylan’s music now has meaning only as neuroticism.”

Well, again that was 1986.  This is now. Dylan did have a hell of a past and now he still does, and a present and future.  A better would have done well to put money down on Dylan in 86 based on Dylan’s past, good sense even, “better use your sense.”

Maybe some of us would still rather hear this Budweiser tune than listen to “Silvio“:


Interesting that “past” is not used by Dylan during his Christian phase. Perhaps he cut off his past so severely at this time that the word never came to mind, even in a rhyming way. The “past“/”fast” rhyme appears again in “If You See Her, Say Hello” and it helps convey regretting that time passes so fast:

Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past
I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast
If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find
Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time

Times spent in a relationship replayed movie style, movies of the mind, not out of mind, have that flash before your eyes effect, though it can cripple the present, that living in the past stuff.  It has a way of splitting the self–keeping one from being fully alive in the present.  Optima dies . . . prima fugit, writes Virgil, “In the lives of the mortals, the best days are the first to flee.”  This is the epigram Willa Cather used for My Antonia.  Better to let them go then, on their fleeting way, or they just might keep us too preoccupied with the past to be open to what occupies our present.

Robert Shelton senses a “sea-wave rhythm in the song.”  Memories can go like that, sea-wavy, trance inducing, smoke coming up on the screen.  Hard to resist the past when listening to this song:


In “Tough Mama,” Bob throws “last” into the rhymes of “past” with “fast,” saving it for last in the third of five verses:

Sweet Goddess
Born of a blinding light and a changing wind
Now, don’t be modest, you know who you are and where you’ve been
Jack the Cowboy went up north
He’s buried in your past
The Lone Wolf went out drinking
That was over pretty fast
Sweet Goddess
Your perfect stranger’s comin’ in at last

I want to play (and this might be lamely done) with a little Christopher Ricks-like analysis here.  Under the study of “last” I blogged about this song’s White Goddess associations.  This verse may be the most direct reference to her.  In Chronicles, Dylan states, about the “poetic muse,” that he “[d]idn’t know enough to start trouble with it.” Well, maybe in 1974 he was ready to.  Be that as it may, Ricks comes in here because I want to look at that word “last.”  If that perfect stranger is Dylan himself “comin’ in at last,” maybe it is a statement of “I know this has taken awhile but I’m ready to invoke you now.”  Or maybe, he means check out the last verse where you’ll see me “comin in at last.”  The last verse is

I’m crestfallen
The world of illusion is at my door
I ain’t a-haulin’ any of my lambs to the marketplace anymore
The prison walls are crumblin’, there is no end in sight
I’ve gained some recognition but I lost my appetite
Dark Beauty
Meet me at the border late tonight

Yes, the meeting time is set.  Is this when Dylan finally decided it was time, at last, to have a tryst with the White Goddess?  Well, again, Blood on the Tracks was next.  Clearly, this meeting was a success if Blood on the Tracks is the payoff.

Want a glimpse of the White Goddess?  A version of her appears as Jadis, the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia:
The laughter that begins “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” sets the tone for the whole song.  It is a raucous, playful, “dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free” romp of a song. And they rhymes enhance the fun.  Robert Shelton in his entry on “115th” in No Direction Home, that Dylan’s “ear was always looking for the rhyme that would work, unsettle, and amuse.”  The “mast”/”past” rhyme in “115th” is one of those:
Well, I got back and took
The parkin’ ticket off the mast
I was ripping it to shreds
When this coastguard boat went past

The rhyme standing by itself doesn’t tickle, you but when the rhyme hits, coming off the throes the image of a parking ticket on the mast of a ship, well, it’s all, as Ed Norton, Ralph Kramden’s pal, says, “good clean fun.”


The laughter alone is worth listening to over and over again:


The Times They Are A Changin” is all about breaking from the past and the last verse hits this message home with the “past“/”fast” rhyme taking the lead from “fast” leading the charge:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

I so admire Christopher Rick’s observation that “the refrain at the end of each verse is itself unchanging” . . . and so each time it is sung it sends the message that all things must change.  This song, as Ricks says, “Was not enlightenment dawning once and for all” . . . “the times are still a-changin” and always will be. The present now will always “later be past“–this is a song of hope–for a change for the better–for forward thinking for being “younger than that now” all the time.
Ricks will not be relegated to the past . . . here’s a scholar not done with his changes:
In Chronicles Dylan says, “Sometimes you know things have to change, are going to change , but you can only feel it . . .  but you don’t know it in a purposeful way.”  Maybe this is why the farewell in “Restless Farewell” is a restless one.  The speaker is uneasy, agitated, regretful, but finger-pointing, insinuating in his targets.  The “fast”/”past” rhyme, maybe the first time Dylan used it, helps express the break to come, the need for change, the inevitability of it:
Oh ev’ry girl that ever I’ve touched
I did not do it harmfully
And ev’ry girl that ever I’ve hurt
I did not do it knowin’ly
But to remain as friends
And make amends
You need the time and stay behind
And since my feet are now fast
And point away from the past
I’ll bid farewell and be down the line

Robert Shelton says that “[t]ime is crucial in this song.”  Time to go, time to leave the past behind, time to move on, time to cut ties, time to make the break.
Dylan chose to sing this song at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday celebration, a restless farewell of sorts, to a man whose time was to come (he died at the age of 82).  Time goes by fast . . . the last time Dylan would sing this song live was near his own birthday, May 24, on May 21, 1998.  Birthdays are celebrations of our years.  “Restless Farewell” to them Dylan seems to be saying, so we can “point away from the past.”
The World War that takes place in “Talkin World War III Blues” lasts about 15 minutes:
Well, the whole thing started at 3 o’clock fast
It was all over by quarter past
This is Dylan’s first and only use of the “fast”/”past” rhyme with “past” not meaning relating to a former time.  Still there it is again, a rhyme Dylan has used for over 40 years.
Eric Bulson says there’s joking “around about commies, fallout shelters, and nuclear war” in the song, but feels that Dylan “was seriously trying to come to terms with a very real fear about America’s future.”
In Chronicles, Dylan shares what he felt those fears can do to a child growing up in the midst of the threat of annihilation:  “Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit.”
Maybe in 1950, William Faulkner had the spirit of children in mind when he wrote his Nobel prize speech, expressing hope for humanity even if we seem hell-bent on destroying ourselves:
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
Here’s most of the speech: