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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Thursday, August 19, 2010


I'm reading Hilary Mantel's big novel Wolf Hall (her biggest by far since the wonderful Place of Greater Safety) and on page 93 came across this fine list (describing Thomas Cromwell's house in 1527):

...his house is full of people every day, people who want to be taken to the cardinal. There are artists looking for a subject. There are solemn Dutch scholars with books under their arms, and Lübeck merchants unwinding at length solemn Germanic jokes; there are musicians in transit tuning up strange instruments, and noisy conclaves of agents for the Italian banks; there are alchemists offering recipes and astrologers offering favourable fates, and lonely Polish fur traders who've wandered by to see if someone speaks their language; there are printers, engravers, translators and cipherers; and poets, garden designers, cabalists and geometricians. Where are they tonight?

It made me think about Dylan's capacity for list-making, in song and in the early poems, and so I wonder what people feel is his best list, or their own favourite? Are early ones like those in 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' matched by any since? Surely not 'Everything Is Broken', but what else?


Anonymous Yvonne said...

What came to mind for me are the lists in 1st line of every 2nd verse in "No Time to Think" (Street Legal): "Loneliness, tenderness, high society, notoriety", "Memory, ecstasy, tyranny, hypocrisy", "China doll, alcohol, duality, mortality", "Paradise, sacrifice, mortality, reality", "Equality, liberty, humility, simplicity", "Mercury, gravity, nobility, humility", "Socialism, hypnotism, patriotism, materialism", "Loyalty, unity, epitome, rigidity". Written down here, it looks like a word salad, but not in Dylan's singing of all those words. I'm very fond of Street Legal, by the way.

1:40 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Gotta Serve Somebody has a good list, not so poetic as Hard Rain, but very true to the spirit of the song. Everything is Broken is too simple really, isn't it? It's a song that doesn't deepen with repeated listens and the list is witless and obvious.

Hell of a lot of lists in Chronicles, just like that passage you quoted from Hilary Mantel. I think a list is necessary now and again, but sometimes in Chronicles I wondered was he being paid by the word, ya know what I mean?

10:31 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Good answers. (And of course the last sentence of Hilary Mantel's that I included, which comes immediately after the list, itself offers a coincidental echo of Street Legal).

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Bev said...

"Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" - I've just had a quick scan of the 'lyrics' (for want of a better word) and almost half the lines seem to begin with "And"...

"And yer sky cries water and yer drain pipe's a-pourin'
And the lightnin's a-flashing and the thunder's a-crashin'
And the windows are rattlin' and breakin' and the roof tops a-shakin'
And yer whole world's a-slammin' and bangin'
And yer minutes of sun turn to hours of storm"

What a great recording; I wish there was more stuff like this.

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Steven Hart said...

"I can drink like a fish/ I can crawl like a snake/ I can bite like a turkey/ I can slam like a drake."

"Please Mrs. Henry."

10:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Kieran, Chronicles sprang to my mind, though not for quite the same reason. I thought of it as surely the winner for creating the greatest list of non-credited sources; though I realise many an album makes a valiant attempt at totalling as many ;)

9:01 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Yes, well, as it happens, Bob, Plagiarism and Bootlegs is a topic we'll be discussing here in Southwest France on the final Slowly Into Autumn Bob Dylan Discussion Weekend, September 24-26. And there's still one space left on that weekend. So it's not too late to add yourself in.

11:12 pm  
Anonymous AVS said...

"Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is the only list song that I can think of that is about one person.

5:50 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

There's also 'Most of the Time', in which, while the list is about the narrator, the song is "really" about "her". It has a suspect Professional Songwriterliness about is, but I particularly like this stanza, which seems more personal - more playfully autobiographical, perhaps:

Most of the time my head is on straight
Most of the time I'm strong enough not to hate
I don't build up illusion 'til it makes me sick
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

1:49 pm  
Anonymous wee tommy said...

My first thought was the list of rebels and outcasts in Chimes of Freedom. I remember a friend and I listening to it 40 years ago, and his great satisfaction at realising that the final line: ‘An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe....’ could apply to us. We might not be refugees, or deaf and blind, or mistreated mateless mothers, but with that line we managed to sneak into a Bob Dylan song, albeit under the wire.

11:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wedding Song" has a nice litany of the richness of Bob's love, presumably for Sara.

In sharp contrast is "Dirge" from the same album, with his list of things he hates, and the reasons for that.

Bob has a way of doing that. End to end of the spectrum, yet "nothing is revealed".

1:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He frequently indulged his love of words on the radio show. Many lists there. I particularly liked his lists of flowers on that show, especially at the end where he throws in one, and then laughs and goes, "I just made that one up."

1:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" is up there and "Seven Curses" ( with a great vocal performance ).

Street Legal is an amazing album and gets better as the years go by.


2:38 pm  
Blogger kevmurph said...

"All I Really Want to Do" belongs in this discussion. And then there are the seven curses in the song of the same name.

7:21 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

All good suggestions. I don't wish to grind any axes here, but isn't it striking that most of the best lists are from early songs? Indeed most even pre-electric. Apart from my own suggestion of 'Most Of The Time', and radio shows, none is from later than the 1970s...

12:01 am  

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11:06 am  

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