Bob Dylan Poetry
A comparison of recordings of Bob Dylan’s “All along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix offers a vivid case study of what Samuel Floyd characterizes as “the complementary oppositions of African- and European-derived musical processes and events. ” The song itself draws together elements of ballad and blues traditions; and the two recordings treat this synthesis in very different ways even as they share the common ground of late 1960s rock. Dylan’s is a spare, acoustic folk-rock rendition, while Hendrix’s is an opulent electric spectacle whose sonic and syntactic conception npacks the latent drama only suggested by the original.
In the process, Hendrix offers an alternative answer to the songs existential dilemma implied in its lyrics and emphasized in its musical setting. This paper examines the elements and the workings of the dialogic interaction represented first of all in Dylan’s song, and then in the transformation it undergoes in Hendrix’s version. His use of language was unusual, and called attention to itself by Juxtaposing words and images not usually associated with each other. In contrast, “All Along The Watchtower” is spare and restrained.
The song consists of only three verses, with no chorus. The language is simple. Yet the three verses are packed with meaning and drama. Let’s see how it starts. “There must be some kind of way out of here,” OSaid the Joker to the thief. Notice how Dylan starts the song by throwing us into the middle of a conversation, and begins with an urgent statement. We don’t know where the “here” is from which the speaker wants to escape, but we know he wants out. The sense of drama is immediate. We find out that the two people speaking are “the joker” and “the thief. These are archetypal characters that have existed in one form r another for thousands of years. By identifying them in this way, Dylan invokes a sense of timelessness. Because these fgures are broad archetypes, there is already a suggestion that this might be a parable of some sort, a story whose essence remains the same over many different times, places and characters. The Joker, or Jester, can be seen in general to represent the artist: someone whose role is to amuse other members of the established order, but also to provoke them, to suggest alternate ways of looking at reality.
And, of course, the Joker and the thief are both outsiders of sort, united in their separation from more ordered segments of society. “There’s too much confusion, 01 can’t get no relief. 0Businessmen, they drink my wine, OPIowmen dig my earth. ONone of them along the line 0Know what any of it is worth. ” The rest of the verse tells us why the Joker wants to escape: there is too much confusion. But what is confused? Others are benefiting from his labors, and working for him to help produce the results. But neither understands the worth of their efforts. So the confusion is about values: what is valuable and what is not. No reason to get xcited,” 0The thief he kindly spoke. 0″There are many here among us OWho feel that life is but a Joke. 0But you and l, we’ve been through that, OAnd this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, 0The hour is getting late. ” The second verse begins with the thief speaking “kindly’ to the Joker. This adverb lets us know that he is sympathetic and that he, perhaps, understands the worth of the Joker and his efforts. the thief and the Joker know better, having lived through that. So while others may still be confused, these two are not.
Since they understand the value of life, it is mportant for them to be truthful with one another. Then the last line of the verse brings us back from exposition to a sense of drama and movement, and impending action: “the hour is getting late. ” All along the watchtower, OPrinces kept the view, 0 While all the women came and went ” 0Barefoot servants too. 00utside in the cold distance, OA wildcat did growl. 0Two riders were approaching, and 0The wind began to howl. The beginning of this final verse suddenly shifts the scene, without at first giving us any sense of how this new setting connects to the first one.
In contrast to the first two verses, which were full of conversation, this verse unfolds almost cinematically, full of visual imagery. This new scene is populated with princes, women, and barefoot servants, establishing a time and place in the past, although again using enduring, archetypal fgures. These fgures guarding their castle seem to represent established society, and the existing power structure. But what are they guarding against? A wildcat growls from a distance, suggesting the savage, untamed power of nature lurking Just beyond the well-ordered lights of the castle.
Then we see the two riders approaching. Suddenly, in only four words, the first two verses are connected with the last. With a sort of cinematic establishing shot, but used at the end of the story rather than the beginning, we see the thief and the Joker approaching the castle. We already know that they want to establish a different set of values, one based on the worth of human life. Their approach towards the guarded castle suggests an impending confrontation. And then the last line of the song strengthens this suggestion with imagery of a furious storm starting to build.
Note how this last verse has made physical the relationships suggested in the previous lines. The thief, Joker and wildcat are all placed outside the castle, which is occupied by princes and servants. So we now have, in a very concrete sense, independent outsiders and a rigid power hierarchy. Dylan’s accomplishment here is nothing less than amazing. In the space of a few verses, in a song so spare it could almost be missed as a throw-away, Dylan manages to accomplish all of the following. Summarizes his own life to date.
Given his earlier efforts to make pointed fun f almost everything around him, and his near-fatal motorcycle crash that marked a turning point in his career, it is hard not to see the Joker as Dylan himself. He has now learned that life is not a Joke, and distinguishes between artists and outsiders who understand the seriousness of life, versus the businessmen and fans who treat his art as simply a marketable commodity. Identifies the primary issue of our time as one of values. Modern thinkers such as Ken Wilber, with his image of our contemporary “flatland,” in which everything is seen as neutral, and devoid of value, are brought to mind.
In earlier songs Dylan talked tirelessly of modern fgures misunderstanding the significance of issues such as war, freedom and poverty. Here Dylan stands back from these specific issues and reduces the confrontation to its essential element: human values against the established order. Propels his theme with a powerful dramatic structure. From a traditional dramatic viewpoint, almost nothing happens in this song: two riders talk to each play. Yet by repeatedly hinting at the intensity of a coming confrontation, and by identifying the two opposing forces, Dylan keeps us on the edges of our seats, ondering what will happen next.
The effect at the end is comparable to the conclusion of William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, “The Second Coming”: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? ” In both cases, there is a perceptible chill creeping up the spine, as the poet leaves his reader to contemplate the inevitability and intensity of the coming confrontation, and its consequences. Well, so much for the lyrics. Dylan’s original reading of the song is as spare and compact as his words, with the music adding little. Hendrix’ treatment is whole different matter, though.
The first element to note is how the music here parallels the dramatic structure of the song. Listen to the opening drums and guitars, as one example. (Audio clip – 44K. ) The beat starts, intensifies, and then stops. As in the lyrics, the power is hinted at, but not unleashed. The music, like the words, points towards some future action, presents the tension, but does not resolve it. This device is repeated throughout the song, with Hendrix mostly holding back, repeatedly returning the song to its basically quiet pace. The second element I want to note is Hendrix’ use of guitar to represent the confusion that the Joker is experiencing.
This is a perfect role for Jimi, of course, since his guitar parts often defy our normal expectations for the instrument. He uses bent notes, a wah-wah pedal, and other devices to represent a disorienting, almost inhuman sonic landscape. Here is one example. (Audio clip – 128K. ) The third musical element I want to comment on, and the one that really frames and defines the whole song, is Jimi’s repeated, gradually progressing ascents up the scale with blistering notes. Here is what I mean, the first ime it appears, at the beginning of the first guitar break, between the first and second verses. Audio clip – 16K. ) Here is what it sounds like at the end of the second, and longer, guitar break, between the second and third verses. (Audio clip – 40K. ) And here, finally, is the way it sounds at the end of the song. (Audio clip – 220K. ) Notice how Jimi seems to be gradually reaching for a note that he only finally hits at the end of the song. And then when he gets there, he repeats it, over and over, making a high keening sound, representing not only the howling wind referred to in the last line, ut that coming conflict that the song so clearly prepares us for.
And the music ends on this note, as do the lyrics, without resolution, but clearly pointing forwards to some anticipated future act of liberation. This is simply a brilliant collaboration between songwriter and musician, the accompaniment extending and reinforcing the meaning and drama of the lyrics, and showcasing the unique possibilities of the electric guitar along with nothing more than a bass, drum kit and acoustic guitar. Listening to this song is like trying to find your way through a washed-out desert at unset.
He’s making some harsh criticisms of American society during the Vietnam era, but the music is so mellow and the lyrics so strange it’s like he’s daring you not to pay attention. Aside from that, “All Along the Watchtower” is a song that defined the late 1960’s, when the calm, disciplined protests of the early decade were degenerating into violence and confusion. No wonder Dylan ends the song with a howling wind. Hendrix got around to covering this song, it sealed the deal: the guitar solo at the end has come to embody the splitting apart of order into screeching, and possibly iberating, chaos.
Hendrix’s version has been used in countless movies and television shows, from the Spike Lee Joint Clockers to Forrest Gump to the episode in The Simpsons when Homer’s mother, an ex-hippie terrorist, returns to Springfield. And, if nothing else, it’s cool to think that Dylan has performed this song more than any other. Not many people are aware that Bob Dylan was the original writer and singer of “All Along the Watchtower. ” Since Bob Dylan wrote the song, two other widely known artists have done their own version of this song: Jimi Hendrix and The Dave Matthews Band.
Although it is the same song Just done by different singers, each song has its own characteristics which makes them appear as very different songs. In this paper, I will compare how each of these artists adds their own touch to the song by the use of their instruments. If you have ever heard any of Bob Dylan’s songs, you know that he as a very mellow tone to all of them. “All Along the Watchtower” is no different. Dylan uses only a very few instruments. At the very beginning of the song, you will hear a harmonica which immediately makes you want to hear the rest of the song. The only other instruments
I can hear in Dylan’s version of the song are a guitar and drums. Throughout the song you hear Bob Dylan. An influential poet, writer, and musician who redefined American pop music. Dylan was able to use his skills to successfully reach an outstanding degree of accomplishments. Being able to take the term literature and give it a whole new meaning, Dylan has made a significant change in todays music listeners. Dylan was capable of taking his ability to write, his ability to perform, and putting them with the time he had to spare to become one of the most enigmatic, prolific performers in the world.
In the time of Bob Dylan’s music, the world separated literature and music. Music included lyrics, beats, rhythms, and instruments. Literature, on the other hand, was strictly for poetry, ballads, letters, and stories. Never before had anyone considered the opportunity for song lyrics to be considered literature. People strongly thought of the two as being very different categories. With both literature and music being respected in their own unique way, Bob Dylan came along to add a new element. During his time, Dylan was known for his touching songs, however, many did not onsider him a poet.
This thought was false. Dylan was a poet first aln meetings, Bob Dylan had raised an interesting question. “Is it possible for a performance art to be considered literature (Marcus 119)? ” Bob Dylan’s music was unique; he was able to intertwine his lyrics through the life he had lived and through the events of the world around him. Some events in Dylan’s life were the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. Dylan would come to be known for playing at concerts that were protesting the war at hand. Many young adults would flock to hear the man who new Just how to express the words.
The words that expressed his deeper most feeling were the same words that comforted these many young adults by the mass. With people feeling the same sorrows as Dylan himself, it was his words that little significance. It was all in the words. “l wanted Just a song to sing, and there came a point where I couldn’t sing anything. I had to write what I wanted to sing cos’ what I wanted to sing, nobody else was writing (Spitz 407). Dylan shared this feeling with others everywhere. It is possible that him writing songs was the only way to say what needed to be said.