Monday, July 21, 2008

Tangled Up in Dylan (Revised)

This post is revised and edited.

The Sacred in the Secular is a blog about faith and arts that is the brain-child of Billy Belk, Josh Wells, and myself. I have penned five new posts there that I hope will produce discussion in the comments (***of that blog, not this one***) about the music of Bob Dylan. I am calling the series "Tangled Up in Dylan."

Some commentors have suggested that I have failed the task by not posting any analysis of my own in the posts. I have my own thoughts on the songs, and I will post them in the comments, but I am simply wanting to get the discussion started first. My point in calling this "Tangled Up in Dylan" is to demonstrate how people each take something different from each song, and few if any of those "interpretations" give any thought to what Dylan intended when he wrote that song. This is the same mistake many people make when it comes to interpreting the Bible. They give no thought to the author's intended meaning.

Antagonizers would be better to just click the little red "X" in the top right corner than to try to start a fight in the comment section.

Links are here:

Introduction, in which I explain why I am doing this.

Part 1: "It Ain't Me, Babe"

Part 2: "Shelter from the Storm"

Part 3: "Property of Jesus"

Part 4: "Cry a While"


Anonymous said...

Sweetheart like you.

Well, the pressure's down, the boss ain't here,
He gone North, he ain't around,
They say that vanity got the best of him
But he sure left here after sundown.
By the way, that's a cute hat,
And that smile's so hard to resist
But what's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?

You know, a woman like you should be at home,
That's where you belong,
Watching out for someone who loves you true
Who would never do you wrong.
Just how much abuse will you be able to take?
Well, there's no way to tell by that first kiss.
What's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?

You know you can make a name for yourself,
You can hear them tires squeal,
You can be known as the most beautiful woman
Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal.

You know, news of you has come down the line
Even before ya came in the door.
They say in your father's house, there's many mansions
Each one of them got a fireproof floor.
Snap out of it, baby, people are jealous of you,
They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss.
What's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?

It seems very likely to me that the first verse is a reference to Jesus ascension (going north for a while) and Pentecost (a cute hat) followed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (sweetheart in a dump like this) - compare treasure in jars of clay.

The woman who "should be at home" being properly loved and appreciated seems to be Jesus who "left" the perfect communion of the Trinity to take on human flesh and be abused, including betrayal by a kiss, being tempted to "make a name for himself" by Satan in the desert.

News of you has come down the line, presumably refers to the line of prophets, but also possibly the work of the Spirit preparing the heart to meet Christ; before you came to the door probably also has at least two levels of meaning - the incarnation, and the image of Christ standing at the door and knocking.

However, I find the later verses (see more difficult to fathom and would appreciate any insights from bloggers.

Russ Reaves said...

To anonymous:

1) Why be anonymous? I normally reject anonymous comments, but I decided to let you slide since you put so much thought into the comment.

2) Can we take this discussion over to the other blog:

3) You've obviously put a lot of thought into this song. Now, I think we should be careful to ask, do you think that the ideas you spoke of are what Dylan had in mind when he wrote it, or what the song "means to you." We don't want to commit the same error with Dylan's songs that so many make with the Bible, namely jumping to "what it means to me," before answering "what it means." It can't mean now what it never meant before. But, if the song opens a door for your mind to enter and explore the thoughts you expressed here, I think that's OK. The song becomes a springboard for theological or some other kind of musings. I don't know that Dylan would object to that, rather he might be glad that he could be of help.

4) I am not sure I get the connection between Pentecost and the cute hat. Can you help me understand that one?

5) The lyrics you omitted are:

"Got to be an important person to be in here, honey,
Got to have done some evil deed,
Got to have your own harem when you come in the door,
Got to play your harp until your lips bleed.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings.
Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
Steal a lot and they make you king.
There's only one step down from here, baby,
It's called the land of permanent bliss.
What's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?"

Yes, I would agree, if your thesis about the rest of the song is correct, these verses would be tough to reconcile with it. Since I'm not sure that it is correct, I don't think I can add anything to the interpretation of the verses.

6) You've brought a song to mind that I have not heard or thought about in several years. I will have fun thinking on this one. Thanks for contributing to the discussion. But next time, don't be "Masked and Anonymous".

Richrd said...

You guys are joking, right? I hope you're joking. I hope at least one of you is joking.

Russ Reaves said...


I am not sure if "Anonymous" is serious or if he is trying to make a joke, but I treat all comments seriously and all commentors with respect, so I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I can't answer for him.

Now, if I said something that you hoped was a joke, be more specific, so I can give you an answer. I can tell you that my only joke was the "Masked and Anonymous" reference.

Richard said...

Anonymous takes Sweetheart Like You and analyzes it based on his/her own desire to find some kind of gospel truth in the lyrics. But, none exists. (S)he has analyzed the work based on his/her fantasy. There is nothing in the lyrics to lead anyone in their right mind to the analysis offered.

Let's us the same predisposition to analyze something by Ogden Nash:

"I shoot the hippopotamus with bullets made of platinum, because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten 'em."

Using anonymous's analytical style I could say:

The hippo is likely a reference to the lumbering weight of communism, and Mr. Nash is saying that if he were to use the lead of secular thought to criticize the beast it would not fall, so he uses the platinum of gospel truth to bring the beast down.

How on earth could that analysis be construed from Mr. Nash's poem? The poem may be nonsense, the analysis is nonsensical.

That's what anonymous does with Sweetheart Like You. And he/she does it with such seriousness that I can't help but think (or hope) he/she is joking.

Richard said...

PS: Your comment to anonymous is very kind. I just think he/she is deluded - or joking.

Russ Reaves said...

over on the other blog (ahem- Where I intended for the discussion to take place) I have posted my own thouts about "shelter from the storm" in which I try to separate what Dylan intended for the song to "mean" from how the song affects me. Any piece of art can conjure up memories, emotions, or thoughts in its audience that are foreign to the artist. As Dylan says, "I seen a shooting star tonight and I thought of you." Shooting stars have nothing to do with "you" but they can be triggers of memory, emotion, or thought. The Artist who puts shooting stars on display intended for them to be "for signs and seasons, days and years (Gen 1:14) and to remind us of Himself (psalm 19).

Russ Reaves said...

of course, I guess the "you" in "Shooting Star" could be God, which would make my pevious point moot. I say that tongue in cheek but I am sure someone out there can give a lengthy defense of the song having that meaning.

Russ Reaves said...

Ok, so a few weeks have gone by, and "Anonymous" has yet to return to defend his thesis, so I may have to delete it soon. Thanks to his suggested interpretation of "Sweetheart Like You," I just can't listen to the song the same. The problem is that whenever I hear the line, "By the way that's a cute hat," I just break into fits of uncontrollable laughter. SO, before its too late, please, Anonymous, say something here to make me take you seriously.