“Day Of The Locusts” (1969)

[This blog posting is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Professing Dylan (2016), a book about teaching Dylan, published by Philips Memphis Publishing and edited by Frances Hunter (1939-2016) of Arkansas State University with a forward written by Michael Gray.]

The song begins with the sound of locusts, though more like the melodic leg-rubbing sound of crickets.  The chorus refers to how they, the locusts, were singing to Dylan, but the listener gets to hear them, too, so we are in a sense privy to this invitation or entrance in to such singing. The tears and perspiration on the benches acknowledge the celebratory transformation that graduates anticipate, but Dylan is distanced from that–it is the locusts he hears, though he sees the tears and perspiration.

The second verse refers to darkness and the smell of a tomb.  But there is a sudden light–the hope perhaps shown to him from nature,

I glanced into the chamber where the judges were talking
Darkness was everywhere, it smelled like a tomb
I was ready to leave, I was already walkin’
But the next time I looked there was light in the room

and perhaps not limited to the singing of the locusts but to the birds “flying from tree to tree” in the first verse.

The third verse is probably a direct reference to Crosby’s anger–an emotion felt by Dylan and projected out from his friend, who upon departure called the Princeton administration a “[b]unch of dickheads on auto-stroke” (qtd. in Dylan, Chronicles).  But Dylan shuns this emotion. It is not the one he wants to pursue in this song.  Instead he pursues joy.

In the fourth verse, he picks up his sweetheart and heads out to nature, blissfully removed to a place where he could become himself again and not the representation or image-extended identity of someone else.

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota
Sure was glad to get out of there alive
And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me
Singing for me, well, singing for me

The song uses alternating rhymes throughout with “distance” appearing as an echo rhyme twice.  Keeping one’s distance from harmful settings and being distant from one’s self when one’s identify is compromised are messages echoing in the song.  What’s off in the distance, too, may just be where one needs to be so that what becomes distant  becomes relevant to a quote from another Dylan song,

What looks large from a distance
Close up ain’t never that big

(“Tight Connection To My Heart”)


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