From the Publisher
From the Back Cover
In 'Ballad of a Thin Man' in 1965, Dylan launched a withering attack on the myopic critic of culture:
'Something is happening here But you don't know what it is, Do you, Mister Jones?'
Yet Dylan himself has been a subject of consuming interest to many of the most significant poets and critics over the last thirty years. It has even been argued that he is the finest living user of the English language - true to his genius through all his changes of stance, constantly exploring the state of his soul as he dons the cloak of lover, clown, cowboy, priest, bleak prophet of doom.
In this collection, poets and professors explore different aspects of Dylan's work, writing about his impact on their own intellectual and artistic lives, as well as his wider influence. These fascinating, specially commissioned essays are rigorous and challenging, at once a celebration and a questioning of a powerful talent, the genius Leonard Cohen called 'the Picasso of song'.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Tell me, is my name in your book?
Tell Me, 1983
Bob Dylan was given a name: Robert Allen Zimmerman. He gave himself others. In 1958 he fronted a band in Hibbing, Minnesota, called Elston Gunn and the Rock Boppers, and when he briefly joined Bobby Vees band it was as Elston Gunn. Subsequently he guested on various records under various aliases, including Bob Landy, Tedham Porterhouse, Blind Boy Grunt, and Robert Milkwood Thomas. But the change that matters is from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan. It took place in 1958 or 1959, and was made legal in 1962, when Dylan was twenty-one. Everything starts from this re-naming, but Im going to delay considering it. First I want to look at some of the names in Dylans songs.
Song titles carry the names or nicknames of real people: Song to Woody (Woody Guthrie), Ballad of Donald White, The Death of Emmett Till, Who Killed Davey Moore?, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Sara (Sara Dylan), George Jackson, Hurricane (Rubin Carter), Joey (Joe Gallo), Julius and Ethel (the Rosenbergs), Lenny Bruce, Blind Willie McTell and High Water (for Charley Patton). Titles also carry the names of real places: Hard Times in New York Town, Kingsport Town, Oxford Town, Spanish Harlem Incident, California, Positively 4th Street, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Goin to Acapulco, Mozambique, Romance in Durango, Caribbean Wind, Brownsville Girl, Mississippi.
Place names in titles are a fraction of those found in songs from every part of Dylans career, forming a map of America with crazy zigzagging lines of connection to Europe and Africa and the Middle East. The same is true of people: the songs play host to a vast population of named figures, real and imaginary, drawn from literature, popular song, folk-tale, history, legend, myth, the Bible, the movies: here are some of them, in more or less alphabetical but no other order: Abraham, Achilles, Aladdin (and his lamp), Captain Arab (alias Ahab), St Augustine, Brigitte Bardot (followed by Anita Ekberg and Sophia Loren), Samantha Brown, Madame Butterfly, Cain and Abel, Casanova, Fidel Castro and his beard, Cassius Clay (before he changed his name), Cinderella, Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too, Columbus, Walter Cronkite, Charles Darwin (trapped out on Highway 5), Bette Davis, Bo Diddley, Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille, Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Ford and Jesse James, Clark Gable, Galileo, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, Barry Goldwater, the Good Samaritan, Homer, Henry Hudson, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Isis, Little Jack Horner, Jack the Ripper, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Erica Jong, Judas Iscariot, Jupiter and Apollo, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Lucifer (the name of a new pony), Bertha Mason, Willie Mays, Michelangelo, Napoleon (three times), Nietzsche coupled with Wilhelm Reich, Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona, Don Pasquale, Tom Paine, Gregory Peck, St Peter, Peter OToole, Prince Philip, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot (fighting in the captains tower), Ma Rainey and Beethoven (unwrapping a bed roll), Rasputin, the reincarnation of Paul Reveres horse, John D. Rockefeller, King Saud and his four hundred wives, Romeo (rebuffed in Desolation Row and brushed off again in Floater), his maker Shakespeare (in the alley with his pointed shoes and his bells), Belle Starr (twice,!
once paired with Annie Oakley), Big Joe Turner, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (pronounced with an extra ee as three-syllables Tweedle-ee-dum and Tweedle-ee-dee), and Link Wray.
And then, of course, there are the made-up names, some of them ordinary, such as the names of women to whom love songs are addressed (Corinna, Ramona, Angelina, Johanna, Magdalena), or the names of characters from ballads and other stories: Old Reilly who is hanged for stealing the stallion in Seven Curses, John Brown who goes to war, John Thomas, the un-Lawrentian miner who marries the narrator of North Country Blues, Will OConley (Rambling, Gambling Willie), Frankie and Albert and Blackjack Davey, Jim Jones (who declares his intention of joining a gang of brave bushrangers led by the historical Jack Donohoe), Arthur McBride and Diamond Joe, Silvio and Stack-a-Lee, the mysterious Henry Porter about whom the only thing we know for sure is that his name isnt Henry Porter, Aunt Sally who isnt really his aunt, and Mr Goldsmith (a nasty dirty double-crossing back-stabbing phoney). And last but not least, either in number or significance, the names of freaks and quirks of fancy, crazies and masked or disguised creatures, of whom these are only a handful: Gypsy Lou and Baby Blue, Dr Filth and his nurse, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, Lucky and Mighty Mockingbird, Queen Jane and Quinn the Eskimo, the king of the Philistines and Gypsy Davey, the kings of Tyrus with their convict list, Mr Tambourine Man and Miss Lonely, the other Jones (not the one who doesnt know whats happening, but the one who came along and emptied the trash), Silly Nelly and Fat Nancy, Tiny Montgomery (along with Skinny Moo and Half-Track Frank), Henry and Mrs Henry, the Jack of Hearts, Tweeter and the Monkeyman, Mr Jinx and Miss Lucy who jumped in the lake, a retired businessman named Red (cast down from heaven and out of his head), the Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands and the Man in the Long Black Coat.