Swamps and passports: what it all means

I must say I like it when Dylan agrees with me. I once suggested to let the brown passports in ‘Desolation Row’ mean brown passports, and then see what happens. Now Dylan says:

Images don’t hang anybody [i.e. in the new audience] up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.

In what way?

Well for instance, if there are shadows and flowers and swampy ledges in a composition, that’s what they are in their essence. There’s no mystification. That’s one way I can explain it.

Like a locomotive, a pair of boots, a kiss or the rain?

Right. All those things are what they are. Or pieces of what they are. It’s the way you move them around that makes it work.

The image with the crooked astrologer is hilarious. The sad thing about it is that I can imagine that it is not just a hypothetical example exaggerated out of proportions. That at times, that’s what it’s been like to be Dylan. If it’s true that his project in the early nineties was to get that monkey off his shoulder, that’s quite understandable. I almost feel sorry for him, that poor Voice of a Generation.

The whole interview is a nice read. Highly recommended.

8 thoughts on “Swamps and passports: what it all means

  1. The interview is indeed great. Some great insights into his song-writing process – the answer to the question about the girl dragging a statue of Buddha in a wagon, for example, and the following remark.

    “Hopes and fears go together like a comedy team. But I know what you are talking about. Like in the Everly Brothers song, ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM. If they said, ‘All I have to do is hope’, it wouldn’t be saying the same thing. It wouldn’t be as strong. ”

    There’s a couple of points in the interview so far that I found rather mysterious – I was wondering if anyone could shed any light on them?

    Firstly there’s this:

    “Q: I suspect that a lot of men will identify with MY WIFE’S HOME TOWN. Do you ever get in hot water with your in-laws over your songs?
    A: No not really. The only person it could matter to gets a kick out of it. That song is meant as a compliment anyhow.”

    Any suggestions as to who “the only person it could matter to” could be?!

    Then there’s this:

    “Q: Did you write any of these songs with the accordion in mind or did it come up during the sessions?
    A: I use an accordion player when I play off-road shows.”

    What does he mean by an ‘off-road show’?! Well obviously it means a show outside the usual concert halls, but has anyone ever heard whispers of these shows before? Who does he play to, for example?!

  2. i also thought of your brown passports point when i read that part of the interview. what surprised me was this bit:

    I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that.

    21 years into the never-ending tour he’s only now realizing that?! however, i feel privileged to be able to have been part of that audience that he refers to, that audience that feels his style and substance in a visceral way.

  3. ps. funny it would be dylan himself to best sum up what why we’re all nuts about him

  4. Speaking of shows, I was at the Dublin one (6 May) and there was a very nice lyrical variation (along with Bob playing a wonderful solo on his seldom-seen guitar). In verse 2 the refrain goes “She’s gone to the mill, blood of the moon along the road/ she went with the man in the long black coat”

  5. Hi, Mr. Ostrem:

    I wanted to write to you and express my gratitude for your “Dylanchords” site. I play in a band that performs Dylan compositions exclusively, and we have relied on your site for guidance in our arrangement. In fact, we gave you a special thanks in our recent CD. If you’d like a copy, I’d be happy to mail one to you.

  6. Just found your site – I decided to Google your name after benefiting so much from your guitar chords over the years. I think that there should be a special monument to the great transcribers of the internet. Now I will also be able to enjoy your writing and analysis.


  7. The question of Dylan and ‘images’ is interesting. I agree there was a “monkey to get off his back.” Can any sane person live with the expectation of being a ‘prophet’? Of course Dylan is right to fend this off – a person assuming the role of ‘voice’ stirs a terrible ghost from the twentieth century.

    That said!! – there is an artistic ambivalence here I think. Blake wrote ‘prophecies’. And Shelley once famously asserted that a nation’s real legislators are it’s poets! Without all the personified clutter of ‘prophecy’ – actively created, or dream inspired, images do deserve to be taken seriously.

    Jung’s famous assertion – of ‘the blonde beast stirring’ – is a case in point. Based purely upon the dreams of his German patients (PRE the unfolding of hitler’s horrors) – he made this tragic ‘prophecy’. Of course Jung too has been the subject of many claims of his being a mystic/cult figure. And naturally he fought hard to refute this. As Dylan is a musician – Jung was a scientist. – regular guys(!) – neither claiming to part seas (leave that to the megalomaniacs).

    But as regards the OBJECTIVE importance of an artist’s images, Dylan might just be being a little coy; rightly so – sanely so! But I wonder if he sometimes smiles to himself – why THIS image at THIS time?

    Just a thought!! – long winded at that!

  8. I assume the “only person it could matter to” means his wife, as in “Hell’s My Wife’s Hometown” … dunno about the off-road shows, tho, I wondered about that, too

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