Wedding song

I try to be meek and mild. I try to be humourous too. And I’m always serious. Honestly. To some people, those don’t seem to go together well.
I’ve never received more complaints — verging on the indignant — than after I wrote about Wedding Song that

It may be a silly song, hastily written, badly rehearsed, and with some of the least successful poetic images Dylan has ever written (“I love you more than blood” – yuck!)

I’m sorry if I hurt someone’s feelings by trashing their favourite song, but I do think it’s a silly song; all reports agree that it was hastily written; and the recording bears ample evidence to the short rehearsal time, even though the performance miraculously hangs together and succeeds in the way that only Dylan can make it succeed and for which I love his music. For once I agree with Clinton Heylin:

Though it is hard not to interpret the lyrics on a literal level, Dylan’s performance once again transcends the at times slipshod sentimentality. Which may well stand as the motif for all of Planet Waves. Though it is an album suffused with brilliant performances from both musicians and vocalist, Dylan had yet to fully excise some bad writing habits picked up during the amnesia. (Dylan Behind Closed Doors, p. 99)

The “slipshod sentimentality” keeps me from seeing the honesty that Dylan so desperately tries to display (or: which the persona in the song so desperately tries to display, or: which Dylan so desperately tries to make the persona in the song display), and which makes it sound dishonest to me, despite all the overwhelming images. “You try so hard…,” as the poet says.
Many have kindly suggested to me that “blood” is not to be taken literally. Frankly, I didn’t believe that Dylan was sitting at his breakfast table with Sara’s hand in one hand and a glass of freshly poured blood in the other, thinking “Now, which one do I love more…?” I’m well aware of the associations between family and blood. That still doesn’t make it a successful poetic image, for me.
There’s more to the poetic than making cunning connections or crafting rhetorical figures. Those things are to a poetic text what a virus is to a computer: They can be very powerful, but just being there — on the harddisk or in a text — isn’t enough. As long as they don’t run — if they aren’t executed — they do no damage; they do nothing, apart from taking up space.
So, what does it take for an image to be executed?
The very sound of it is important, the physical qualities, that which is not connected with concepts, words, ideas. Already here, “I love you more than bleahd” fails, and not only because of the kitchen-table associations.
A certain broadness in the range of associations isn’t a bad thing either, instead of monomaniacal insistency on one topic (unless of course that insistency itself is what is on display). The blood image alone might have done it for me in a different context, but in the company of the other larger-than-life images in the song, trying to top each other in greatness of sentiment — More! More!! More!!! — it reminds me quite a bit of Dan Bern’s song Tiger Woods, which has the same escalation on overdrive:

I got big balls
Big ol’ balls
Big as grapefruits
Big as pumkins,
Yes sir, yes sir
And on my really good days
They swell to the size of small dogs —

Balls big as small dogs — now, there’s some poetic imagery for ya!
But most important for how I judge a poetic image is its ability to project a persona which we all know is literary but whose experiences are close enough to our own that we can make them our own as if they were genuine. This is the fundamental failure of Wedding Song for me: I can’t for the life of me think of it as a genuine, honest expression of anything. Too many things stand in the way and prevent me from making it my own. And if that is the case, I’d rather go out there and get those experiences myself — and tell myself that I don’t need Dylan to tell me what it’s all about.
Which I did. There’s a reason why that particular song was featured on the front page on that particular day…


9 thoughts on “Wedding song

  1. Dylan was obviously too content with his life, at that time, to be able to write touching love songs. What’s bad with Wedding Song, though, isn’t necessarily the lyrics — they’re not all that horrible — but rather those harmonica interludes and I usually don’t mind Dylan’s harp style (at least not from that period).

  2. I tend to think the harp interlude in Wedding Song follows pretty much the standard Dylan formula. The song is weak, though, and I find the harp part of it reflects that. It is like lovesongs-by-numbers to my ears. I agree that the performance is class in the way only Dylan can do, but there is nothing else about the tune that makes it stand out like so many of Dylan’s other songs. And yes, I would say that is a symptom of Planet Waves as a whole, though it has it’s moments.

    I just discovered this blog. Very good – thank you. I’m especially impressed by the live comments preview… amazing! Is that a plugin?

  3. Thankyou – dylanchords.com has brought me untold joy. The New York version of Idiot Wind is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard, and it is something I thought I would never learn to play. I’ve never seen anything resembling a decent transcription before, but yours is note-perfect.

    Btw, I find the best way to hit the G#m chord is to go x-4-4-3-4-0 for the best of both worlds. Sounds great!

  4. The comments placed here about the Wedding Song are interesting to me. First off, I disagree with everything negetive about the song. Second, I disagree with everything positive said about this song.

    I have been a die hard dylan for longer than I can remember. And the one thing that I truly love about Dylan’s music is it’s seeming simplicity. Unless one were to study his music and chords and guitar work, both flat pick and finger pick, one would never know, or understand, how truly deep it is. And not deep from an intellectual point of view so much as musically.

    Take Ring Them Bells, Hazel, Buckets Of Rain, Make You Feel My Love, or I Want You, and study them. They are all simple sounding with simple insights into the human condition. But go a step further and you see the genius that is dylan’s music. Unrivaled by few, except maybe pink floyd, his music is heart wrenching and sad, with a little finger pointing when needed and comic relief when he feels like it.

    The problem I have with some of the flack given to Wedding Song is that it is just a song. It sounds the way it does for a reason. Dylan is not a sloppy musician, no matter what some of the Gas Light Tapes tell us, and he is not a sloppy writer. Wedding Song is a simple 3 chord love song. “I love you more than blood” is a deep line, no matter how many people don’t like it. It is a stunning revelation that a man could love a woman more than his own mother or father or sister. It is a line that is trying to express the deepest and darkest places of love. As is the entire song.

    For the flack, yet again for lack of a better word, this song gets, we must remember one thing: Bob Dyaln is just a song writer. He is just a man who plays the guitar and writes poems to music. He is a man who loves and studys and hates and worships and vents like the rest of us. Some of his songs deserve to be put under the microscope to be studied: Gates Of Eden, Desolation Row, It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, Political World, Love Sick, and It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, are just a few off the top of my head. But Wedding Song is not one of them.

    Dylan has said on more than one occasion that the “I”‘s in his songs don’t always reflect him. They could be reflecting a person he just met or a person he has known half his life. The point is that some of the “I”‘s aren’t even real people. I believe this to be the case with the Wedding Song. It seems to be sung from the point of view of a simple country boy trying his best to either show his love on their wedding day or trying to make up for somethng foolish he had done. Hence the overblown lyrics and crazy symbols that dance throughout the song. And the fact that the chords don’t stay the same and the pacing is off tends to lean more towards this belief that it is a concept song inbstead of a personal song. That it is more a song about how a simple, rather uneducated, might try to express his love to the woman he is about to marry. Evidence is also in the three chord structure of the song that waivers part way through as well and the vocals that seem to JUST miss the note they are gong for. These thing are by design, folks. He wouldn’t put something out there just to put it out there under the guise that a fan would eat anyuthing the artist throws out to them. This a touching song that has many meanings and many depths to me presonally. It is not my favorite dylan song by far, but the beauty of dylan isn’t with the songs but the albums. And Wedding Song is perfect closer for the album.
    Planet Waves may not be Freewheeli’n or Oh Mercy or Time Out Of Mind, but it is not a tank album. It has it’s moments and songs that make listening worth while to any dylan fan.

    Again it must be stressed that Bob Dylan is just a song writer. Albeit a better song writer than almost any in music history, he is just that. He is not a prophet or a wise man, a sage or a professor, he is just a man who writes songs and makes a living at it. And anyone who disagrees is putting too much stock into one human being.

    Steinbeck and Kourack and Salinger and Hemmingway are the same as he. Just writers of a different format who made a living at it. They are not prophets anymore than Dyaln but they are all genius in their own right.

    Afterall, words are words and ideas, ideas, but coming up with them doesn’t make a genius. Following through and seeing them out, no matter what the pop culture of America or Britain says to the masses, makes genius. Seeing the world a way that hasn’t been seen before and telling the world about it makes genius. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Healthy debate is good and right, but one should never forget the worth of what one is debating. We are not talking about James Joyce and Portrait of the artist as a young man or finnegan’s wake, we are talking about a song that may actually be filler and the difference is alarming.

    On a side note, I have been coming to this site for many years and have found all the info I have ever wanted and appreciate being able to view it. As a musician it is an invaluable tool, as a fan it is heaven.

  5. I think Wedding Song is a great Bob song. It may not be the best example of his songwriting prowess, but it may be a perfect example of his ability to express a feeling through a song. The words by themselves are not what draws me to the song. The melodie, the vocals, the twangy guitar playing, the PERRRFECT harmonica all mean more to me than the actual lyrics. They sound almost as if they were made up on the spot, maybe not while playing his guitar, but at a desk on paper, but without a second thought about what he has just put down. I picture a man overwhelmed by his feelings for someone, meditating on what he might say about that person and the lyrics to Wedding Song is what that strong feeling created. So the fact that the lyrics alone arent that great, but that the intended feeling is still so obvious and intense coming out through them is aperfect example of what makes Bob Dylan a bona fide genius at what he does.
    And let me just add that i really do love the harmonica parts to that song.

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