“I and I” (1983)

Image result for Infidels Dylan

In “I and I” the ayes have it, any eye will do. I think Dylan plays with the meaning that sound summons to our mind when we hear it; the printed word “I” is just a mere symbol for the sound’s message to our ears:

I and I
In creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives

Forgiving and living lives throughout the song in rhyme with this chorus, and it’s where “I” and “I” lives, too, or you and me or even an eye for an eye.  But one must have an eye for eye to hear the other rhyme sounds, more than eyes are needed to catch the union of sound rhyme creates. But really only hearing is needed–one must have any eye to hear rhymes, or an ear for seeing where they are, and in this song they appear in every other line, alternating rhymes that is, alternating like an I for an aye or for an eye:

“truth”/”tooth” is one of my favorites in the third stanza:

Took an untrodden path once, where the swift don’t win the race
It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth
Took a stranger to teach me, to look into justice’s beautiful face
And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

Though I do have an eye for the second rhyme in the last verse:

Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put
Someone else is speakin’ with my mouth, but I’m listening only to my heart
I’ve made shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot

Neither looks like they could rhyme, but they they do, according to my ears.

“I and I” live, London, 1993–thanks again for keeping a steady eye on this one for us woolhall, wherever you are; the electric guitar and harmonica are especially pleasing to the ear in this performance–worth playing through to the end:



“Honest With Me” (2001)

So you bought Dylan’s Love and Theft on September 11, 2001, the day it was released, pop it on and play “Honest With Me” which begins with the line,

Well, I’m stranded in the city that never sleeps

You then watch the day’s events unfold, with many stranded in NYC and elsewhere that day from the World Trade Center bombings.

Eery, gives you the creeps; the second line is even,

Some of these women they just give me the creeps

Dylan likes performing this song.  He’s done so 601 times according to bobdylan.com since its release, and is on his current playlist as I write this.

Dylan is honest with the couplet rhyming throughout the song, “bear”/”air” maybe the only forced or wrenched one, but to be honest, not really. And each couplet is a new rhyme, except of course for the repeated chorus which is

You don’t understand it—my feelings for you
You’d be honest with me if only you knew

Eery, creepy in its coincidence is that finger pointing, “you”/”knew” repeated five times in the song.  Much controversy over who knew what about 9/11 before it happened.  I don’t want to get into that, but there are those out there who were not honest about what they knew, honest about what they were planning to do:

I’m here to create the new imperial empire
I’m going to do whatever circumstances require

Watch an energized Bob perform “Honest With Me” Live 8/10/11 (thanks, woolhall)

“Foot Of Pride” (1983)

I can think of two, maybe three songs off of Infidels that should have been replaced by “Foot Of Pride.”  It’s a song that marks that religion departure period sound.  Funky, with a distinct serious harmonica, and that breezy Knopfler guitar framing the background.  It’s Infidels-like more than other songs on Infidels.

The rhyming in it is complex, the terminal rhyme pattern varies from verse to verse.  The more remarkable trail to follow is the medial and leonine rhymes, rhymes with middle of the line words rhyming with the end of lines.

Verse 2:

Hear ya got a brother named James, don’t forget faces or names
In these times of compassion when conformity’s in fashion

Say one more stupid thing to me before the final nail is driven in.

Verse 3:

He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash

Miss Delilah is his, a Phillistine is what she is

Verse 4:

You’ll play the fool and learn how to walk through doors

A whore will pass the hat, collect a hundred grand and say thanks

They like to take all this money from sin, build big universities to study in

So the bulk of this medial rhyming takes place in the middle of the song; six verses and three bridges comprise it. And there’s struggle in it–the words are biting, caustic, condemning, and aimed  at a a range of corruption.  Infidels is a condemning word.  Infidel! Does each song on Infidels identify one?  Doesn’t seem like it.  Maybe “Foot Of Pride” does too obviously to too many.  As Ricks says, Dylan brings the foot or pride “down with . . . biblical weight”:

Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When your foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back

Pride and rhyme slapping down smack in the middle of things in this song.

Speaking of putting one’s foot down, here’s Lou Reed with a cover of the song from the Dylan 30th anniversary concert special, 1992:



“Everything Is Broken” (1989)

An irony with “Everything Is Broken” would be that the rhyming in it never breaks down. The song is packed with successive pairs of terminal rhymes or couplets.  And many of them are full or perfect rhymes, meaning both elements of the rhyme are precisely matched as all of the rhymes are in the first four lines:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds

The fourth stanza has nothing but perfect terminal rhymes:

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin
Everything is broken

There’s only one chink in the armor of all this perfection and couplet creating going on and it’s with the word “jiving” found near the end of the first verse:

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

“jiving” sits there alone as the only un-rhymed line ending word.  Yes, “joking” ends in “ing” as does “jiving” so you get the “ing” sound symmetry, but wasn’t “joking” meant to rhyme with “broken”?

Even more curious is that the first verse is the only one with seven lines; besides the two bridges, the other verses contain six, so it stands to reason that one word would be the odd man out.

Maybe the word “jiving” needs to stand out because maybe nothing really is broken.  The second bridge suggests that it may all be a perception, a psychological shift in perspective when the speaker is left without someone:

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Yes, everything feels broken when you’re gone–the whole litany of broken things is a jive, except that one about broken hearts:

Streets are filled with broken hearts

That one maybe the speaker can attest to, no jiving there.

Here’s Neil Young and Tom Petty with a cover of the tune from a 1989 Bridge Benefit.



“Early Roman Kings” (2012)

Tempest - Rolling Stone

“Early Roman Kings”‘ main rhyming pattern is the alternating rhyming abab as in its second verse

All the early roman kings
In the early early morn
Coming down the mountain
Distributing the corn
Speeding through the forest
Racing down the track
You try to get away
They drag you back
Tomorrow is Friday
We’ll see what it brings
Everybody’s talking
Bout the early roman kings

But there are interesting diversions from or exceptions to that pattern.  In the very first verse, “in” jumps in with “coffin” to create couplets:

Drivin’ the spikes in
Blazin’ the rails
Nailed in their coffins
In top hats and tails

In the middle of the third verse appropriately an internal rhyme appears with “lecherous” and “treacherous”

They’re lecherous and treacherous
Hell-bent for leather
Each of ’em bigger
Than all them put together

But the rhyme sound, the assonance namely, pushes forward with “Hell-bent,” “leather,” “them,” and “together.”

Indeed, Dylan’s rhyming bell still rings, like the bell in Breaking Bad:

I ain’t dead yet
My bell still rings
I keep my fingers crossed
Like them early roman kings

Live Version from just this past June 2014 with nice clear video (thanks to Ernest Habringer):

“Desolation Row” (1965)

Christopher Ricks calls “Desolation Row” “a masque of the sins.”  A masque is a good word, a dance macabre or parade of “lifelessness,” Ophelia’s only flaw as Dylan says in the song: “Her sin is her lifelessness.” It’s a great post-modern work in its ambiguity and and paradoxes–is Desolation Row a good or bad place to be?  Or worse does it matter whether you are there or not–either way desolation is yours for the taking or giving, like switching seats on the Titanic:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”

The seeming schizoid content, streams of consciousness narration even, can lead the listener astray from the excellent and quite ordered rhyming.  The rhyming puts order to the seeming wasteland chaos of the world captured in the song.

Desolation Row” consists of 10 verses of of 12 lines each, and in each of verse the 2nd and 4th, 6th and 8th, and 10th and 12 lines rhyme.  It’s laced with some internal rhyming, too, but the terminal rhymes are striking in their pattern in a song that feels like it wants to avoid patterns at least in terms of coherence and meaning.  The rhyming seem at odds with the compulsion to interpret, inspiring and challenging the listener to yes, take it all in, impossible to do,  just as it seems impossible for a work with such content to rhyme so well.

It’s a turbo charged amalgam of images and references to people real and literary, but it’s essentially and mostly about a place, where some don’t belong, like Romeo and Casanova, but others do, like the Good Samaritan and Einstein. And some of the words that rhyme do seem to belong together in their perfect rhyming, “brown” with “town” or “show” with “Row.”  But some at first glace don’t seem rhyming friendly with each other, like “smiles” and “style,” “vest” and “lifelessness,” “trunk” and “monk,” and my favorite “cigarette” with “alphabet.”  But they are.  And they are an unforgettable part of how that song “Desolation Row” is built and works.  It’s a song and a place, where either way in or out you are and will be forever be affected by it.

Live Acoustic Version from the Bootleg series, Volume 4, 1966: