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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 17:17 GMT 
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smoke wrote:

Studio cut is definitive. Best live version is Berlin 2003.


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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 19:47 GMT 

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Bennyboy wrote:
They had better drugs then.



No they didn't. I was there. The weed available now is infinitely better. Performing this long, complicated song, from memory - stoned or straight, is quite an accomplishment in itself. Certainly one of his finest lyrical efforts. To say so much, in one line, over and over, is a big part of what his greatness is all about.

the opening line -

"They're selling postcards of the hanging", for example, is an indictment of our culture, pointing out how they used glorify lynchings of blacks in the south and actually sell postcards of them, setting a ghastly tone for what follows.


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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 20:10 GMT 
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Location: Maybe it isn't a tour, maybe he's just lost.
Image
Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Hanging on the market square.

Quote:
"...glorify lynchings of blacks in the south"


That's true in this case IF Duluth, Minnesota is "the south."

There is a strong suggestion that the image and content of "Desolation Row" was influenced by the nearby town of Duluth, Minnesota, located at the northern end of Highway 61. The opening lines of the song, "They're selling postcards of the hanging... The circus is in town", seem drawn from the Duluth lynchings, which occurred in Duluth in June of 1920 and from which actual (and very gruesome) postcards were made and sold at the time.

This is the actual Duluth postcard from the 1920s-30s and what Dylan most likely saw and is thinking about:

Image

Here are the details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duluth_lynchings

And here is the Duluth memorial, described by its artist as attempting to "reinvest [the victims] with their unique personalities", to counteract the way the lynchings "depersonalized" them.

Image


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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 20:28 GMT 

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Long Johnny wrote:
Image
Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Hanging on the market square.

Quote:
"...glorify lynchings of blacks in the south"


That's true in this case IF Duluth, Minnesota is "the south."

There is a strong suggestion that the image and content of "Desolation Row" was influenced by the nearby town of Duluth, Minnesota, located at the northern end of Highway 61. The opening lines of the song, "They're selling postcards of the hanging... The circus is in town", seem drawn from the Duluth lynchings, which occurred in Duluth in June of 1920 and from which actual (and very gruesome) postcards were made and sold at the time.

This is the actual Duluth postcard from the 1920s-30s and what Dylan most likely saw and is thinking about:

Image

Here are the details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duluth_lynchings

And here is the Duluth memorial, described by its artist as attempting to "reinvest [the victims] with their unique personalities", to counteract the way the lynchings "depersonalized" them.

Image



Great info Johnny, thank you! I'm not sure your theory is right, the postcards were a widespread practice, but it's a fascinating detail and great research! And as I said, the line is an indictment of our whole culture. Just as important, and equally horrifying, the unleashing of widespread, deep rooted racist hatred since Obama assumed the presidency is a grim reminder that though things have improved, we still have a LONG way to go. I live in the "enlightened" northeast and continually run into it.


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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 22:24 GMT 
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therevelator wrote:
Nah, neither one of those songs would be in my Dylan top 10.PEZ


Proof of the pudding:

Simple Twist of Fate
Mississippi
Tangled Up In Blue
Idiot Wind
Positively 4th Street
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Visions of Johanna
Blind Willie McTell
Like A Rolling Stone



NICE

but I would make a few changes....

"Simple twist of fate"...Lost because of that simple twist of fate
instead try...."Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands"

Mississippi...Yeah baby Yeah

"Tangled up in Blue"...could have used a little too much force
instead try...."I want you"

"Idiot Wind"...Yeah baby Yeah

Positively 4th Street..Yeah baby Yeah

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"... Bob does not write protest songs.
instead try..."Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again"

"Visions of Johanna"...Yeah baby Yeah

"Blind Willie McTell'..Yeah baby Yeah
(no one can sing the Blue quite like....)

"Like a Rolling Stone"...Loved it. Over Played It... now I just Can't
Try instead...The Wedding Song...

Now this is Better :D


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PostPosted: Sat July 11th, 2009, 23:09 GMT 

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Whenever I hear the 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" performance I nearly cry knowing that no one (other than those who were there) will know how it ends.


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PostPosted: Sun July 12th, 2009, 08:01 GMT 

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The piece from No Direction Home:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIBoHaaSz2g


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PostPosted: Sun July 12th, 2009, 18:44 GMT 
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it almost saddens me hearing garcia outshining denny like that, while the deads own collaboration with bob is long past by and acknowledgedly unsuccessful.


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PostPosted: Sun July 12th, 2009, 23:29 GMT 
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I especially like the version from the Mtv Unplugged rehearsals. While I believe the original studio release will never be outdone, there are some great performances from the 1999-2003 era, most notably (in my opinion) Pittsburgh November 05, 1999.


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PostPosted: Sun July 12th, 2009, 23:48 GMT 
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Location: Maybe it isn't a tour, maybe he's just lost.
I've never heard a NET version I wanted to hear a second time. Or even all the way through.


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PostPosted: Mon July 13th, 2009, 00:24 GMT 
The postcard that Long Johnny posted is from the curatorial project "Without Sanctuary," which is a collection of "lynching souvenirs" that was both a photographic exhibition and a book. Many people have the misconception that "lynching" means "hanging." It does not. "Lynching" covers a vast array of violence (including torture which is too unspeakable to be described here), and hanging was not the only way in which the victims were killed.


"Without Sanctuary" exists also as an evolving online project, which includes hundreds of "lynching souvenir" photographs, information about the history of lynching, and a film about the project. It can be accessed here


http://www.withoutsanctuary.org


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 05:46 GMT 
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DESOLATION ROW

Robert Shelton

In a near-sequal to A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Dylan describes your neighbourhood after that rain. Both thunder with prophecy – Unless we renounce materialism, this will be our future. Dylan articulates the rock visions of contemporary apocapypse. Desolation Row belongs beside Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ginsberg’s Howl as one of the strongest expressions of apocalypse. Eugene Stelzig maintains, however, that “Eliot’s disillusionment is resigned, Dylan’s is charged with rebellion”. The scenery is a dreamed mental landscape. Dylan’s description combines the grotesque, the existential and the dream powerfully. Desolation Row is grotesque Mardi Gras where heroes and villains of our mytho-history range side by side. They are laughable, but our smiles freeze. The writer who questioned society for two years now sees answers, but does not like what he sees. Everything is cockeyed, topsy-turvy, all is lost, all is ludicrous, the only truth lies along Desolation Row. As bizarre as his cast is, they are real people. To maintain their veil of secrecy, the faces have been rearranged and the names changed – shades of Cubism. There is no point in inspecting the travelling papers of Cinderella, the Good Samaritan, Ophelia, Einstein, Doctor Filth. Follow the gargoyles as they head down Desolation Row. Along the way, we encounter Dylan’s condemnation of the modern assembly line – mad human robots out of Chaplin’s Modern Times. Then, almost as an aside, Dylan makes a shambles of simple-minded political commitment. What difference which side you are on if you are sailing on the Titanic? Irony and sarcasm are streetlamps along Desolation Row, keeping away total, despairing darkness. Gallows humour for a mass hanging.

The slow musical matrix heightens the song’s biblical roll. Repetition, like Old Testament cantillating, underscores the warning. A masterful, romantic guitar above and behind the vocal line softens the repetition somewhat, but is repeated until it provides only underlining, not relief. This image of the world is far removed from marches toward social progress. One of the curses of poetic vision is seeing too clearly the difference between how things are and how they ought to be.

Andy Gill

The south-of-the-border slant continues with Desolation Row, an 11-minute epic of entropy set to a courtly flamenco-tinged backing. Often described as a latterday equivalent of Dante's Inferno, it takes the form of a Fellini-esque parade of grotesques and oddities, in which equilibrium can only be maintained through immersion in the absurdity of the situation, acceptance of one's position in Desolation Row.

It could serve as Dylan's alternative State Of The Nation Address, an increasingly surreal update of the America depicted in Gates Of Eden. From his vantage point on Desolation Row, the singer describes the futile activity and carnival of deceit indulged in by a huge cast of iconic characters, some historical (Einstein, Nero), some biblical (Noah, Cain and Abel, The Good Samaritan), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella, Casanova), some fantastic (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Phantom Of The Opera), some literary (TS Eliot, Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of the above categories, notably Dr Filth and his dubious nurse. Detached from their historical moorings, abandoned in this cultural wasteland, these figures serve mainly as shorthand signifiers for more complex bundles of human characteristics, allowing Dylan to cram extra layers of possible meaning into the song's already tightly-packed absurdist imagery.

As a result, the song is open to a plethora of interpretations, virtually impossible to decipher in detail with any degree of certitude. (The English poet Philip Larkin, reviewing the album in Jazz Review, described Desolation Row as having "an enchanting tune and mysterious, possibly half-baked words.") Certain stanzas obviously offer implied criticisms of familiar Dylan targets – venal bureaucrats, bloodless academics, soulless theologians, loveless bourgeoisie, and the full stifling panoply of industrialised society in general, against which he posits the enduring power of creativity, love and freedom. Much of the song's enduring power derives from the way in which many of its characters are locked in symbiotic (but unfulfilling) balance with one another – the sex-fearing Ophelia and the sex-obsessed Dr Filth; the blind commissioner and the tightrope walker to whom he is tied; Einstein and his friend, "a jealous monk," trapped in an insoluble debate between science and religion; Eliot and Pound, glimpsed arguing over arcane poetical points while pop singers steal their audience; and lustful Romeo and casual Cinderella, a cancellation of desire.

Like much of Dylan's material from this period, the song makes a mockery of accusations that he had betrayed or abandoned "protest" music; rather, what he has done is to broaden the scope of his protest to reflect more accurately the disconcerting hyper-reality of modern western culture. It's clear that he regarded the song as one of his best – he is reported to have spent some time discussing it with Allen Ginsberg, and when Nat Hentoff asked him what he would do if he were President, the least absurd part of Dylan's response was that he would "immediately re-write The Star-Spangled Banner, and little school children, instead of memorizing America The Beautiful, would have to memorize Desolation Row."

Musically, the song is completely different from the rest of Highway 61 Revisited, abandoning the guitar / double keyboards set-up that gives the album its distinctive tone, in favour of a more stately, ruminative setting of just two guitars, with no rhythm section at all. "I just think Bob wanted to set it apart in some way, shape or form," believes Al Kooper, "And instrumentation was just the way he chose. Bob Johnston had Charlie McCoy come up from Nashville to play electric guitar on that one, but there was a version on which Bob played acoustic guitar, Harvey Brooks played bass and I played electric guitar, with no drums on it."

Paul Williams

And finally I can say about Desolation Row only that I am in awe of it. Consider one tiny question – in the third verse ("The moon is almost hidden / The stars are beginning to hide / The for¬tune-telling lady / Has even taken all her things inside.") What time is it? – Dawn? – Dusk? – Midnight? – End of the cycle? – Just before the big show? The verse as heard, as experienced, is nothing more or less than an announcement of the time, and hearing it one knows, senses, to the bone, the moment that is being referred to; yet you cannot put it in words or numbers without discovering, on second thought or closer reflection, that you are contradicting yourself. But it is not contradictory when we hear him singing it – it is real, it is specific, something very particular is evoked. What? No words for it. Only – that time Dylan speaks of in Desolation Row when he says, "The moon is almost hidden."

Nigel Williamson

The poet Philip Larkin once reviewed Desolation Row, and wrote that he could not decide whether the words were “mysterious” or merely “half-baked”. Over 11 epic minutes and ten complex stanzas, it sounds like great poetry, an impression only enhanced by the name-dropping of TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, who are held up to ridicule as “calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen throw flowers”. But, as Larkin indicates, deciphering the song’s layers of symbolism and absurdist imagery is not easy.

In broad terms, the song presents a Fellini-esque carnival of human futility, dispassionately observed by Dylan gazing down from his vantage point high above Desolation Row. It is as powerfully subversive as any of his more direct protest songs, as most of the institutions of bourgeois western society are mocked. Philosophy, science and religion are put on trial and all found wanting as a bizarre cast of characters from Einstein to Robin Hood to Romeo and Casanova run through the song’s cinematic scenes. Some have called the song Dylan’s alternative State Of The Union address, a suggestion that is not too fanciful, particularly in the light of his own tongue-in-cheek response when asked what he would do if he was president. He answered that he would get school children to memorise Desolation Row instead of America The Beautiful.

Musically, it is quite different in tone from anything else on Highway 61 Revisited, replacing the predominant electric guitar and Hammond organ sound with two simple guitars, played by Dylan and Bruce Langhorne. Logic says that it ought to grow repetitive as the pattern barely changes over 11 minutes. Yet, somehow, it never does.

Patrick Humphries

Desolation Row is plain, but far from simple, with Dylan buzzed only by Bloomfield’s jagged guitar. Nobody had ever made this kind of 11-minute odyssey in pop before. Dylan’s world on Desolation Row is powerfully post-apocalyptic. Whatever once was has gone, disappeared in a blazing conflagration, leaving a world populated only by grotesques and travestites. Dylan is at fault when assembling his cast, his choice of characters is too random and none is given any flesh. Only Cinderella can be visualised, with her “hands in her back pockets, Bette Davis style”. Despite that, the impact of Desolation Row is only reinforced by its snowballing effect.

Desolation Row meanders like a snake, all its despair and disillusion to be found in Dylan’s world-weary reading. It does not end as it should, though, with the sinking of the Titanic. As a symbol, the disastrous maiden voyage of the largest movable, man-made object on earth, on the eve of the First World War, takes some beating.

If Dylan felt it worth namechecking Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, that was good enough reason for me to seek out The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock, because that had something about mermaids too. Desolation Row also has Dylan getting to the Phantom Of The Opera long before Lloyd Webber. With hindsight, Desolation Row may have been weakened by the relentless juxtaposition of celebrities and myths – besides, everyone has done it since – but back then, when Dylan was the first kid on the block to try something that ambitious, Desolation Row was a spray-can allegory, a grim fairy tale, a rock ‘n’ roll Recherche Du Temps Perdu.

Paul Cable

An alternate version of Dylan's epic Desolation Row was also recorded. Again, it is good that it was rerecorded for the album but the specimen included here still has a lot going for it. But it has what I can only describe as a hesitant quality about it, and an unsureness that was ironed out by the time the released version was cut. There are some lyric changes in this version as well. You Dylanologists out there can maybe make something of them.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 05:49 GMT 
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Clinton Heylin

Published lyrics: Writings and Drawings; Lyrics 1985; Lyrics 2004.
Known studio recordings: Studio A, NY, 29 July 1965 – 1 take [NDH]; 2 August 1965 – 5 takes; 4 August 1965 – 4 takes [H61].
First known performance: Forest Hills, NY,28 August 1965.

“If I just came out and sang Desolation Row five years ago, then I probably would've been murdered.” Dylan to Nat Hentoff, October 1965

What does one do the month after inventing an entirely new form of popular song? One does it again. With Desolation Row, Dylan manages something even he had never pulled off before – writing a song as long as Tam Lin (and in that classic ballad meter) but without any such narrative thread. Instead, Dylan relies almost solely on placing familiar characters in disturbingly unfamiliar scenarios, revealing a series of increasingly disturbing canvases. Being Dylan, he unravels no ordinary tale. This is the same world he talked about in a number of interviews from the second half of 1965, at which he regularly claimed he had “never written anything as far out as some of the old songs,” and how inspired he had been by “all these songs about roses growing out of people's brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels.”

This “far out” vision depicts a totalitarian world where one's only escape is to the ominously named Desolation Row (an idea David Bowie borrowed for his own magnificent All The Madmen)? With Dylan's reading beginning to branch out beyond the Beats and French symbolists – and the drugs temporarily helping to open yet more doors of perception – he draws on the likes of Nietzsche (cited in the album sleeve notes), Kafka, and Kierkegaard to fuel a bleak, dystopian world-view. (There can be little doubt that the castle where the insurance men keep the kerosene is Kafka's.)

Dylan later suggested (to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner) that Desolation Row – along with everything from “that kind of New York type period, when all the songs were just city songs” – was heavily influenced by his good friend, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg – “His poetry sounds like the city.” Well, one of Ginsberg's achievements in writing Howl and Kaddish was to reintroduce oral rhythms to poetry (hence their suitability for record). Desolation Row went further still, returning the words of popular song to a time when they had a power no other media could match. Or as Ginsberg himself put it, “It was an artistic challenge to see if great art can be done on a juke box. And he proved it can.”

Despite displays of literary ambition, one must be wary (as others have not been) of reading too much into Dylan's name-dropping of literary sources in mid-1960s songs, a list of which would imply an awfully well-read 24-year-old university dropout. References to the likes of Ophelia, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, TS Eliot, and Ezra Pound in this oral epic in no way affirm an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, or the authors of The Waste Land and The Cantos, respectively. Dylan wants these familiar cultural icons to provide him with a series of archetypes he can place in his own wasteland.

Dylan actually had something of a fierce anti-intellectual streak running through him in these years. As he told Hentoff a couple of months after the composition of Desolation Row, “We have the literary world [and] the museum types, which I also have no respect for. In my mind, if something is artistic or valid or groovy, it should be out in the open. It should be in the men's rooms.” When asked about the prospect of critical acceptance by another journalist friend, Ralph J Gleason, the following December, Dylan retorted, “They should use the new ones, like Desolation Row [if they want to study me].”

It seems clear that, even in his mid-1960s heyday, Dylan drew more from the world of painting than from any extra-curricular reading – or from frequenting men's rooms. Desolation Row was, in Dylan's mind, an aural painting, “a picture of what goes on around here sometimes”, as he suggested on the sleeve of his previous album. Were it to have a visual equivalent, it would have been something like Bosch's Garden Of Earthly Delights, a triptych vision of heaven and hell certainly familial to Dylan's former girlfriend, Suze (who attended one of the Highway 61 Revisited sessions). A similar incongruity regarding its characters (“Einstein disguised as Robin Hood”) and locale (“They're selling postcards of the hanging”) suffuses Desolation Row. And whereas a song like On The Road Again was intended to be humorous, here the results are as oppressive as anything Hieronymus ever daubed on canvas.

Yet it would appear that some contemporaries found Desolation Row a riot of sorts. When it was debuted at Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl, a month before the album's release, there is audible laughter from each audience. And one suspects that one more line that would have induced mirth at these shows would have been, “They're spoonfeeding Casanova / The boiled guts of birds.” But it was the one significant change Dylan made to the lyrics between 29 July 1965 and 2 August 1965, when the song went from electric to acoustic, “their” motive for spoonfeeding now being “to get him to feel more assured.”

Writing a song of this length was only half of the challenge – recording and performing it quite another. For all of Dylan's early immersion in epic narratives like Matty Groves and Tom Joad, his longest studio recording to date had been Percy's Song. As such, Dylan must have been both surprised and delighted when he recorded it, backed by electric guitar and bass, in a single take at the end of the first album session on 29 July 1965. (Krogsgaard dates the “electric” version of the song to the 30 July 1965 session. He is clearly wrong. The session sheet for the 29 July 1965 session has an untitled song that times out at 11 minutes and 47 seconds, the exact time of the take on the Highway 61 Revisited test-pressing.)

His own performance is almost faultless, singing the words like a man in the captain's tower on a personal voyage of discovery. Yet something convinced Dylan to redo the song, and I doubt it was the slightly out-of-tune guitar (Tony Glover, in his Live 1966 notes, has suggested it was wildly out of tune, and that Dylan did not notice). So at the end of another extraordinarily productive session on 2 August 1965, he cut the song acoustically, allowing producer Bob Johnston to overdub some flamenco guitar fills (which may or may not have been provided by Bloomfield or Charlie McCoy) at a session two days later, before editing together the released version from four incomplete takes and the only complete take. And even though it would generally be hard to fault his judgement at this juncture, I am not sure the acoustic version is more captivating than the electric one. What it did mean was that the song became Highway 61 Revisited's Restless Farewell.

That Dylan seriously considered using the electric take is confirmed by the existence of a test-pressing of all the songs on his shortlist, presumably cut at the end of the 2 August 1965 session. One must presume it was for Dylan's own benefit, allowing him to decide which songs and sequence to go with. This remarkable artifact (subsequently bootlegged as Highway 61 Revisited Again) does not utilize the acoustic Desolation Row but rather the earlier, electric take, implying that Dylan and/or his producer still preferred the electric version, even after recording its acoustic alter ego (thus debunking Glover's suggestion that Dylan was annoyed to find himself out of tune).

The sequence of songs on this test-pressing does not resemble the order in which they would have appeared on the original reels. Nor does Desolation Row come last. This, and the fact that Dylan ended up releasing the songs in pretty much the order they were recorded, suggests that neither he nor producer Bob Johnston ever settled on an ideal album sequence, and Desolation Row ended up as the album closer largely by default. (Desolation Row is also “out of place” in Writings and Drawings, appearing before Highway 61 Revisited and Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.)

In concert Desolation Row was never the finale, even though Dylan performed it at every show from Forest Hills to the Albert Hall nine months later. Those performances showed just how sure he was of the power these plentiful words had to hold his audience/s. Post-accident, he has been less convinced, performing the song exactly three times between 1974 and 1986 – once in St. Louis in 1974, once in Rome in 1984, and once with The Grateful Dead gumming up the works in Washington in 1986. (Where are the superhuman crew when you need them?) In each case the song was trimmed of at least two of its ten, 12-line verses (in truth, they are 34-line verses in traditional ballad meter).

Only in 1987, with The Heartbreakers on hand, did Dylan rediscover Desolation Row. Trimmed down to even slimmer proportions, performed in seven and eight-minute versions, this semi-electric tour de force almost resembled that fabled outtake from 29 July 1965. Even when he mastered the song sufficiently to perform an 11-minute semi-acoustic arrangement – such as the one manifested at Bethlehem, PA, in December 1995, it was still pruned of three verses (including the penultimate “Praise be to Nero's Neptune” stanza). Other Never Ending Tour performances suggest he has never quite resolved its acoustic/electric status, and also that the full ten-verse original is long gone. At least the release of the electric outtake in 2005 meant everyone could finally savour that first studio vocal, when Dylan could still recall the thrill of it all.

Michael Gray

“Kafka” means “jackdaw” in Czech. Franz Kafka was born in Prague, 3 July 1883, into a middle class German-speaking Jewish family. He also learned Czech as a child, and some French. (He was keen on Napoleon and Flaubert.) He graduated in law at the University of Prague in 1906 and while holding down a day-job, began to write. He caught tuberculosis in 1917, and also suffered from insomnia, constipation, migraine, boils and (perhaps no wonder) clinical depression. He was painfully diffident – except, oddly, when insisting on promoting Yiddish theatrical productions against the advice of friends and family – and felt enormous self-loathing, even while others found him likeable and highly intelligent, with a quirky sense of humour and boyish good looks. In 1923 he moved to Berlin to concentrate on his writing, but his TB grew worse, and after returning to Prague he entered a sanatorium at Kierling, near Vienna, and died there – in part from voluntary starvation – on 3 June 1924.

Kafka published only a few short stories during his lifetime, and attracted little attention until after his death. Famously he instructed his friend and literary executor Max Brod to destroy his manuscripts when he died, but Brod could not, instead ensuring that the work saw proper publication. Critical attention and acclaim soon followed, and he became acknowledged as one of the great modernist writers of the 20th century, crucially for his depiction of contemporary individual powerlessness in the face of omnipotent, bizarrely irrational, unfathomable bureaucracy. He is, thereby, one of the founding figures of modern consciousness – the father, if you will, of alienation.

Hence the ready and widespread use, not least among people who have never read his work, of the term ‘Kafkaesque’, to describe any personal experience of protracted struggle against obdurate authority, and by extension any sensation of being caught up in rules, regulations or institutional customs you don’t understand or don’t agree with. Kafka himself is generally envisaged as the haplessly lonely writer enveloped in anguished alienation. This rather detracts from his superb craftsmanship, and fails to pay attention to his subversive good humour and energy.

Dylan’s mid-1960s work is inevitably informed by Kafka’s work, and without naming him, Dylan brings intimations of his vision into Desolation Row. The eighth verse indicts the education system, depicting it as organised to enforce and perpetuate ignorance, a nightmarish machinery for bringing into line the potential enemies of the state—which is to say, of the status quo—the independent thinkers: ‘Now at midnight all the agents / And the superhuman crew / Come out an’ round up everyone / That knows more than they do.’ That ‘crew’ suggests, along with the opening phrase ‘At midnight . . .’, the whole sinister morass of collective vandalism, political purges and press gangs.

Those lines insist, equally acutely, on an overriding presence of violence; it is conjured up in the first two lines of that verse, so that we are primed for the imminent appearance of the ‘heart-attack machine’ that will be ‘strapped across his shoulders’, and for the near impossibility of escape. Dylan urges upon us anew a sense of the powerlessness of the individual, who is ‘brought down from the castles / By insurance men who go / Check to see that nobody is escaping / To Desolation Row.’

The allusion to Kafka’s visions, clinched by that ‘castles’, and perhaps by that ‘insurance men’ too, makes this pessimism clear. The Castle, 1926, like The Trial, 1925, is one of Kafka’s (posthumous) novels, and it was at the Workers Accident Insurance Institute that Kafka worked, and which formed for him a model ‘kingdom of the absurd’, in Alan Bennett’s phrase. (Bennett, in an excellent and modest essay, makes the same allusion as Dylan – assumes, like Dylan, that the very word “castle”, in a certain context, connotes Kafka’s work: “His work has been garrisoned by armies of critics, with some 15,000 books about him at the last count. As there is a Fortress Freud so there is a Fortress Kafka, Kafka his own castle.”) Kafka’s other important work is the short story Metamorphosis, in which the narrator wakes up to find himself not merely in Desolation Row but in “Kafkaesque” extremis – trapped inside a new body, that of a gigantic beetle. “Right now I don’t feel too good” indeed.

In Desolation Row, Dylan leaves us with the insistence that all any individual can do is hold to some integrity of personal perspective. And that, in the end, deepened by its emanations of Kafka, is exactly what Desolation Row itself offers.

Mike Marqusee

“Whoever stubbornly insists on his mere so-being, because every¬thing else has been cut off from him, only turns his so-being into a fetish. Cut off and fixed selfness only becomes, all the more, some¬thing external.” Theodor Adorno, The Jargon Of Authenticity

Dylan flails women whom he sees as desexed and uptight, as in the portrait of Ophelia in Desolation Row:

On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness

The climax of Desolation Row is a brutal vision of persecution in which social control is depicted as a form of torture.

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Here, the state, the ideologues, the forces of money conspire to distort and destroy the living human being. In the song's final lines Dylan howls:

Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

Desolation Row is a refuge and an annihilation, the exclusive abode of authenticity, the haunt of those who have stripped them¬selves – or been stripped of – all social investments. Communication outside its confines is suspect at best.

Mark Polizzotti

Desolation Row? Dylan said later that year. "Oh, that's some¬place in Mexico. It's across the border. It's noted for its Coke factory." Al Kooper later suggested that Desolation Row was a stretch of 8th Avenue in Manhattan, "an area infested with whore houses, sleazy bars, and porno-supermarkets totally beyond renovation or redemption." Part of the inspiration (and tide) might also have come from Steinbeck's Cannery Row (an early Dylan enthusiasm), and some of it was almost surely derived from Kerouac's Desolation Angels. But as with Juarez, the New York that the narrator has gone back to for this final song is a city of the mind, one that encompass¬es all of Dylan's Highway 61 and the terrain surrounding it, a funhouse America that is everywhere and nowhere.

After a long pause, as if giving us a chance to prepare, the song begins with a simple strum in drop-C tuning. This time, however, instead of a full band, what joins Dylan's gui¬tar after the first two seconds is a Mexican-flavored acoustic motif straight out of Marty Robbins's 1959 hit El Paso and other ballads with a south-west flavor. The second gui¬tarist is Charlie McCoy, a Nashville-based session man who had previously worked with Bob Johnston. Apart from some subtle contrabass by Russ Savakus, McCoy's is the only accompaniment Dylan will have on this song – distinguish¬ing it from the outset as a departure, a detour from the road we have been traveling.

It begins with a grisly view recollected from the singer's childhood:

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance.

And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go.

Neither the hanging nor the postcards are figments of the imagination, but a cultural memory: On 14 June 1920, in Duluth, several young black hands from the John Robinson Show Circus, which had just been in town, were arrested on charges of sexual assault after a white teenager accused them of raping his female companion and forcing him to watch. Despite contradictory evidence, three of the men, Elmer Jackson, Elias Clayton, and Isaac McGhie, were forcibly removed from custody on the evening of the 15 June 1920 by a rest-less mob numbering, some said, in the thousands. They were beaten and dragged to a lamppost on the corner of 1st Street and 2nd Avenue East, a block from the jailhouse, where, despite the entreaties of a local reverend, they were hanged. A photograph of the incident, which circulated wide¬ly for years afterward as a commemorative postcard, shows a crowd of Duluthians proudly posing around the three limp bodies. Eventually the police, who had so far turned a blind eye, dispersed the rioters, several of whom were fined for disorderly conduct. Two decades later, at around the time of Dylan's birth, an employee of the local historical society threw out the official records of the case as being too "unseemly," and it was not until 2003, 83 years after the fact and nearly 40 after Desolation Row, that the City of Duluth publicly honored the three men.

Circuses and carnivals haunt the collective imagination as places of freakish horror. Here, associated with what must be the ugliest incident in Duluth's history, the circus provides a backdrop for the most unremitting display of grotesqueries we've yet encountered on this journey. Dylan had already used a similar setting to convey Mr Jones's descent into panic. He had been struck by Fellini's La Strada and La Dolce Vita ("life in a carnival mirror," he called it), and later recalled the sights and sounds of the traveling circus he went to as a child, "You could see guys in blackface. George Washington in blackface, Napoleon in blackface. It was weird Shakespearean things, stuff that didn't really make any sense at the time." Among the more curious aspects of carny life was the fluidity of roles and identities. "I saw somebody putting makeup on, getting back from running the Ferris wheel once. I thought that was pretty interesting." In Desolation Row, most of the char¬acters seem to lead mysterious alternate lives, to perform other, darker functions on the side.

On an immediate level, Desolation Row is a sustained nightmare, a motor-psycho-drama in ten tableaux, an "opera of death" (Kerouac), a Baedeker of Hell. Dylan had explored similar phantasmagoria in pieces such as Talking World War III Blues and It's Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (as he would, somewhat more jocularly, in Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again). Here, they attain the atmospheric intensity of a full-fledged terror dream, thick with death and cruelty, an impalpable aura of horror at the limits of human devising. With its relentless images of com¬munal torture and execution, its litany of fallen giants and tri¬umphant local losers – and following upon other songs of dissolution, desolation, and destitution such as Tombstone Blues and Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – this is one of the most immac¬ulately frightful visions ever set to music.

As in Tombstone Blues, characters from history and legend parade by, sometimes the authors of unspeakable crimes, more often the victims of the small-minded locals and unreg¬ulated thugs who have assumed authority. Einstein "disguised as Robin Hood" is a ghoulish, drug-addled wreck, a shadow of the man "famous long ago for playing the electric violin" (this is, for modernizing physics the way Dylan modernized the folk tradition, but also for helping create the "duck and cover" paranoia that colored his childhood). Virginal Cinderella is "easy," casually dismissing the lovesick Romeo and blithely sweeping up "after the ambulances go," presum¬ably with him inside. Dr Filth is an ineffectual drunk, while his sociopathic nurse, "in charge of the cyanide hole," emotionlessly dispatches his patients, a caricature of every minor functionary exerting her nickel's-worth of power over a world too indifferent to rebel. The death-obsessed old maid Ophelia spends her time watching for the apocalypse ("her sin is her lifelessness" – a line lifted from Desolation Angels), while the Phantom Of The Opera ("a perfect image of a priest” – another lift from Kerouac) presides over the torture of Casanova, the libido principle:

They are spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words.

In an earlier taping of the song, among other lyric changes, Casanova is being spoonfed "the boiled guts of birds." By revising the line, Dylan turns a simple gross-out image into something far more sinister, in which the agent of the great lover's undoing is his own bravado and susceptibility to blandishments (as they would be ours).

Meanwhile, in a wink to Kafka, the forces of order deal with independent thinkers by spiriting them away to a gruesome factory

Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

This is the song of the rubber stamp and the jackboot, the chant of those who would remake the world to suit their own limited, belligerent vision. The common comparison between Dylan and Charlie Chaplin springs to mind – this is a world run by all the bigs, boxers, and bullies that habitually plagued the little tramp. Any thought of a better tomorrow here withers, for the one lesson to be learned by all who enter is that the fault lies not in our political or social institutions, but hope¬lessly, irrevocably in ourselves. The song works because, beneath the extravagance, it is no mere fantasy. (Not even on an immediate level: Einstein did look like a ghoulish wreck; Cinderella, bought for a shoe, didn't exactly play hard to get.)

On Desolation Row, individuality is eradicated in favor of bland anonymity ("they're painting the passports brown"), its denizens either processed or eliminated by the faceless powers that be. One by one, the famous figures emerge – cas¬trated Casanova, amnesiac Einstein, silenced Pound and Eliot (who would rather fight like pre-schoolers than "use their words") – only to be negated by the machinery of state. When identity and memory are expunged, there is little to pre¬vent authority from running amok. And just as the narrator's physical position vis-a-vis Desolation Row is ambiguous (is he among those going to? leaning out from?), so is his moral stance in this murky universe – for he, too, participates in this erasure of history, rearranging people's faces and giving them all another name.

Dylan once joked to Nat Hentoff that if he were presi¬dent, "little school children, instead of memorizing America The Beautiful, would have to memorize Desolation Row." In these dysfunctional states of America, the know-nothings are the ruling party, and mediocrity its own reward. Whether motivating a riotous lynch mob in 1920 or the escalating hubris of LBJ's bellicose administration in 1965, the prevailing Zeitgeist seems to have changed very little. The pioneer spirit that founded this country goes hand-in-hand with a dangerous and willful ignorance, a smug arrogance that underlies such slogans as "America right or wrong," and that Dylan had been castigating as far back as With God On Our Side and Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues. Nor is this smugness endemic to conservatism – when Dylan has the pas¬sengers of the Titanic shout, "Which side are you on," he is also taking aim, through one of its most cherished slogans, at the self-congratulatory stances of the left. In either case, the target is what Shelton calls "simpleminded political commit¬ment. What difference which side you're on if you're sailing on the Titanic?"

In this sense, and despite the eclecticism of its imagery, Desolation Row might be considered the ultimate cowboy song, the Home On The Range of the frightening territory that was mid-1960s America, a distillation of all the frontier ballads, cowpoke's laments, tales of murder and of gamblers on the run that help frame the most enduring of all our national myths. It can be heard not only in the western sound of the arrangement and simple three-chord structure, but even more so in the mournfulness of the tone, a tone that seems to absorb the melancholy of all the old ballads into one; that embraces the entire culture of "outlaw women, super thugs, demon lovers, and gospel truths." The Streets Of Laredo, Jesse James, Ghost Riders In The Sky; tales of love lost and death found in The House Carpenter, Ommie Wise, John Hardy, Stackalee, East Virginia, and The Coo Coo Bird; the Depression-era hard-luck sagas; and even such modern incarnations as Marty Robbins's Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs: in each of these, as in so many others, one can hear the preternatural sadness, a sound not only of impending demise but of destiny and promise gone astray, a premonition that all the discarded dreams, trag¬ic injustices, horrific genocides, and banal inhumanities filling out the American epic will ultimately serve only to transform the open range into some petty bureaucrat's office cubicle. The real horror resides in the fact that, from there, it is only a short walk to the cyanide hole.

Desolation Row is the soundtrack to an imaginary west¬ern, with its sepia tones, flimsy prop saloons, and corpses in the dust. Dylan was a fan of such westerns in his youth, a watcher of shows like Wagon Train, Rawhide, and Gunsmoke (whose Sheriff Matt Dillon is a more likely inspiration for the famous name change than Dylan Thomas). Their sadness is one that reaches through the years, into the deepest, smallest, most frightened core of the self, where one's fears, hopes, and anxieties live. In Desolation Row, Dylan dredges up all the haunting visions and ghosts of childhood and adulthood, the monsters that once lived in his closet and now populated his dreams. By setting it to a musical motif so rich in resonance for those -who, like him, grew up with the cowboy myths, he found a sound to match his night terrors, and it can send chills up the spine. "Laredo was a sinister town," Kerouac wrote in On The Road, "It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip into unnoticed." This is the wild west from which Desolation Row is fash¬ioned. In the end, this is where Highway 61 leads.

Dylan had already cut one version of Desolation Row, late at night, at the end of the same 29 July 1965 session that pro¬duced Positively 4th Street, Tombstone Blues, and It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry. In keeping with the rest of the album, he did it with electric backing, Al Kooper on lead guitar and Harvey Goldstein on electric bass (the only sound that was left, after the other musicians went home), producing a version that, in Kooper's estimation, "marries that song with the punkiness of the rest of the album" – the version included on the 2 August 1965 acetate. On 4 August 1965, dissatisfied with the result, he tried it again, discarding Kooper's and Goldstein's contributions in favor of acoustic backing by McCoy and Savakus.

There is still a fair amount of confusion, in various writings about Desolation Row, over who played second guitar, with some claiming Bloomfield and others Bruce Langhorne. Bob Johnston and Al Kooper are clear on this point, as is the guitarist himself, as are the album credits, as is the playing style – it was Charlie McCoy, end of debate.

"I thought Charlie McCoy was one of the major talents of the world, but nobody knew it," said Bob Johnston. "And I told him, if you ever come to New York, give me a call." When McCoy did call, Dylan and Johnston suggested he come to that day's work session. A consummate musician who can play a number of instruments (simultaneously, if need be), McCoy was unused to the informality of Dylan's recording methods: "They just told me to go out and pick up a guitar and play what I felt like playing. I finished and I went in and asked Dylan if it suited him. And he said, “Yeah, that's fine”. We just did one song. The only one I played on was 11 minutes long. We just did two takes and left."

Kooper, among others, maintains categorically that there were no overdubs on Highway 61 Revisited, though given the unusual segregation of McCoy's part on the stereo mix, this might have been the one exception. Regardless, McCoy's partici¬pation is another of the album's great moments of inspired accident. While Dylan's panoramic lyrics and hypnotic melody sketch out the vast canvas, it is McCoy's fills that give it their shading. The combined performance on this rendition is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and impossible to duplicate. Desolation Row is what Hellhound On My Trail is to Robert Johnson, Parasite to Nick Drake, or Venus In Furs to the Velvet Underground – a song so dark with atmos¬phere, so perfect in its delivery that it is hard to imagine anoth¬er version adding anything further.

It is not only the various covers by other artists that have failed to capture the power of the Highway 61 Revisited perform¬ance—too frantic, or wistful, or terrified, in contrast to the original's disaffected hoarseness – but even Dylan's own subsequent renditions. He nearly conveyed it on the 1966 tour, when it was a standard part of his acoustic set, but something was lost in the prim, sibylline quality of his singing. After that, Dylan performed the song during his 1974 tour with the Band (on 4 February 1974), infusing his solo guitar and vocals with accelerated energy, but to lessened emotional effect. In the late-1980s, accompanied by Tom Petty and The Grateful Dead, he took the song electric, returning to the "punkier" version Kooper preferred. In 1995, for his MTV Unplugged appearance, it shape-shifted into a bottleneck blues with conspiratorially desperate vocals, and by 2000 it had mutated into percussive soft rock. There are undeniable merits to all of these. Dylan, moreover, has expressed a preference for his live performances over his recorded ones – no doubt, as these live versions allow him to experiment, bend the song to his mood, recapture an emotional bond he no longer feels with a studio track made several decades in the past. But for me, no other version can match the sheer power of those 11 minutes and 19 seconds that transpired between Dylan, McCoy, and Savakus at Columbia's Studio A, 4 August 1965.

One of the strangest performances was Dylan's public unveiling of the song, at Forest Hills on 28 August 1965, two days before Highway 61 Revisited was released – strange not so much for the performance itself as for the laughter it elicited in the audi¬ence. Laughter at the predictable points – the commissioner's hand in his pants, easy Cinderella's "it takes one to know one" – and the less predictable – "after the ambulances go" (applause), "have mercy on his soul." Only with the eighth verse, when Dylan straps on the heart-attack machine, does the crowd seem to realize that the joke might be on them.

Kafka's friends used to howl with laughter when he read his stories aloud. Like the listeners at Forest Hills, they recog¬nized that gallows humor is still humor, however cruel and inhuman, and however much the titters have a distinct echo of whistling past the graveyard. One of Dylan's great talents is his ability to blend comedy and fear. Just as the sailor's rol¬licking odyssey in Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream suddenly lands him before a funeral director's accusatory stare, so too the unremitting horrors of Desolation Row give way to flashes of black comedy – a humor high-voltage enough to kill you if you lean in too close.

Ending an album with an epic-length piece is a risky but potentially rewarding gambit, one that can either tar the whole thing with bombast (think In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) or lend it gravity and substance. The longer the song goes on – assum¬ing it is the right song, in the right hands – the more convic¬tion it accrues, and the greater its power to affect. As Desolation Row progresses, detail piles upon detail, image upon image, compelling one to listen, to keep going forward even as the air through which one is moving darkens to the point of impenetrability. Time after time, it is one of the few songs (along with Johnson's Hellhound On My Trail, Josh White's origi¬nal recording of Careless Love, the Lord Invader's calypso anthem God Made Us All, a small handful of others) that can still bring me to tears.

After an exhausting ten stanzas comes the final instru¬mental verse, a long solo on the harmonica – Dylan's most sustained yet on Highway 61 Revisited – seconded by McCoy's guitar, the two of them in perfect synch, channeling the same western and Appalachian ballads, bringing it all home and infusing the song with an aching, mournful quality as ancient as human yearning, as old as music itself. With a few last blows and a final strum, the song ends, not fading out but, for the first and only time on this album, coming to a natural halt.

As writers and critics, we rhapsodize with our pens. Faced with music that stays beyond our command, the penetrating emotional charge born of sound, we have only soundless words as our response. And so we push the boundaries, spin our own fantasies, try out ever more grandiose modifiers, in an attempt to deliver even a portion of what the singer has given us. When there are lyrics to analyze or references to catch, we are on familiar streets. But hearing this so simple, so elemental duet of a moaning harmonica and a guitar that car¬ries with it a whole carpet bag full of human sorrows, I am gladly reduced to silence. The engine shuts off, the trip is over, ready at a moment's notice to start again.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 05:52 GMT 
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Joined: Sun January 4th, 2009, 23:46 GMT
Posts: 5212
Warehouse Eyes

Desolation Row may well be one of Dylan's most audacious pieces of writing, using a structure that he was to make uniquely his own. Fellini meets Kafka in the parade of grotesques that populate this bizarre and chaotic nightmare that is modern day society. "I accept chaos" Dylan said in 1965 and here he is asking us to do the same; the symbiotic but ultimately futile relationships are as out of place as the sailors in the beauty parlour or the blind commissioner who has "One hand tied to the tightrope walker."

An ominous feeling of doom pervades the song, and the sinister darkness has people reacting in appropriate "The fortune telling lady / Has even taken all her things inside" or inappropriate "Everybody is making love / Or else expecting rain" ways. Dylan's vision becomes more fantastic as the song progresses, and the characters become more freakish from "Einstein disguised as Robin Hood" accompanied by a "jealous monk" to the menacing "Dr Filth" with his dubious sounding nurse and "Ophelia" who is an old maid at 22. The feast or carnival that everyone seems to be preparing for never actually occurs, and this helps to give the song a timeless quality, along with the threatening sense of "...the superhuman crew / Come out and round up everyone / That knows more than they do." The line "The Titanic sails at dawn" is a stark reminder of the precarious grip we have on reality, the unsinkable ship that in fact sank, and with "Ezra Pound and TS Eliot / Fighting in the captain's tower" Dylan shows the futility of taking sides in the face of complete disaster.

The final irony of course, is that everyone is either in Desolation Row or trying to get there not the opposite, and in his insistence that we accept chaos, Dylan's advice would be "Don't send me no more letters no / Not unless you mail them from / Desolation Row." The song had been recorded in the final July session, but Dylan was not happy with the result, and Johnston invited respected Nashville guitarist Charlie McCoy to New York to re-record it. It proved to be a wise move, as this (the officially released version) is vastly superior to the earlier one.

Michael Scanlon – Mojo 2005 Readers Poll #2

With more characters than the Bible and running at over ten minutes, this could almost be Dylan’s War And Peace. It is immense. Some writers manage one killer line in a lifetime, here Dylan effortlessly knocks them out one after another. Gone are the Woody Guthrie pretensions, this is Salvador Dali shaking hands with Timothy Leary while being photographed by Andy Warhol.

Roy Harper – Mojo 100 Greatest Dylan Songs #4

Desolation Row, I thought when I first got hold of the record, that is exactly where we are at. It contained all the elements of where we had felt civilisation had been for years, but it was not delivered with the overt sense of humour of his more accessible earlier songs. Times had changed for Dylan. He was no longer the carefree young vibe thief of the freewheelin’ age. He was now expected by everyone under 20 to become the next messiah, just as he was becoming more human. There were rumours of hard-drugs and self-examination. Like a lot of us, he was on the verge of floundering. There were no easy solutions any more.

The more I thought about it, the more Desolation Row appeared as a collection of impressions thrown at a page. It was riveting, it was desperate. I could really identify with that. It called the world to account, but it was not bold, the humour was almost hidden. The song was a delineation – like a final notice of departure. We all know the characters the song describes – the Millais painting of the drowned Ophelia lingers in my mind, dead in the head at 22, living vicariously, peeping into Desolation Row for moments of delicious embarrassment, only to resume her role in some Salvation Army equivalent. Robin Hood, Cinderella, Bette Davis etc, they are all there along with a million inferences about the humdrum of seedy human life, usually set at midnight and beyond, while daytime insurance men check that no one escapes Desolation Row. And then there is the last verse written by someone on the outside – a token note from someone who is no longer part of the scene, who misses the freedom, but who perhaps could not handle the hand-to-mouth abandonment, or perhaps the grime. We never get to find out, and it does not matter. It never did, and it never will.

Roy Harper

Desolation Row, I thought, when I first got hold of the record, “That's exactly where we're at”. When I listened to it, it contained all the elements of where we'd felt civilization had been for years. It was not quite what I had expected. It was not delivered with the same appropriately cynical and overt sense of humour that had written the more accessible earlier songs like Talking World War III Blues, The Times They Are A-Changin' or Masters Of War. But for Dylan himself, times had changed. He was no longer the carefree young vibe thief of the freewheelin' age. Things had become much more serious. He was now almost expected by everyone under 20 to become the next Messiah, at the same time as he was beginning to become more human. There were rumours of hard drugs and self-examination, and a waning confidence. In the end, he was not able to realise the mantle he'd set up for himself with his brilliant beat wit. But who among us is/would be up to that?

I was really into the earlier stuff, like Talking World War III Blues, but this new stuff was different. It did not have anything like the swashbuckle of former work. It was far more introspective. Actually, I loved Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde because I realised that, like a lot of us, he had actually reached a point at which he was on the verge of floundering. There were not going to be any easy solutions anymore. My eyes came down from his former blazing hip comedic horizon. I stared blankly in front of me. I knew that we were all in the same boat. It was homely, it was so far out there that you didn't have to bother to think about former wild speculation any more. The great euphoric human tragedy was unfolding in front of your eyes as you began to think. And there he was again, putting a rough kind of focus on whole spectra.

The more I thought about it, the more Desolation Row appealed to me. It was a collection of impressions thrown at a page. They were brilliant impressions in the spirit of former pictorial masterpieces such as Matisse's cut paper impressions of the late-‘40s and early-‘50s, but with the darker edge of a decade later. An edge which was much less comfortable in its outlook for humanity.

At the same time that it was riveting, it was also desperate. And I could very readily identify with that. It called the world to account, but in a different manner than former brash statements. It was not anywhere near as bold. It was almost totally withdrawn. The humour was almost hidden. “Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, fighting in the captains tower” is, for instance, a bleak reference to two famous poets of the Far Right who regarded poetry as a learned exercise to be gained through reading The Classics rather than as a free form of speech in the Kerouacian mould. The song was a delineation. Like a final notice of departure. My immediate response was to write McGoohans Blues, which is perhaps a more rational evolution of the same kinds of thoughts, but the real riposte came a year or so later when I began to write [the album] Stormcock.

It was not so much that we were now in different boats so much as that we were all now in the boats, and away from the ship, and cast out alone on the ocean. Adrift. The boson had faltered. It was likely that Bligh was on the horizon and ready to resume control. And within seconds. as it turned out. What a dream we'd had. A wonderful momentary dream. That stream of consciousness poetry could rule the world.

We all know the characters in the song. They surround us every day. In the song, Desolation Row has changed since Einstein first knew it. It has sunk into further decay. And the image of the Millais painting of the drowned Shakespearean Orphelia lingers in my mind. And her dead in the head at 22, living vicariousl – peeping into Desolation Row for moments of delicious embarrassment, only to quickly resume her role in some Salvation Army equivalent. Robin Hood, Cinderella, Bette Davis etc., they're all there along with a million inferences about the hum drum of seedy human life. Usually all set at midnight and beyond. While daytime insurance men check that no one escapes to Desolation Row, somewhere they have no control over. And then the last verse. Someone from the outside has written. A token note from someone living in the past, who is no longer part of the scene but who misses the freedom, but who perhaps couldn't handle the hand-to-mouth raw abandonment, or perhaps the grime. We never get to find out. And it doesn't matter. It never did. And it never will.

By 1970 he had [Dylan] found drugs and Jesus and I was stuck with drugs and humanity and we had gone our separate ways. He was never again able to consistently reach the heights of '63 to '66. There were occasional songs now and then, and we always live in hope, but that was it.

He's a few days older than me. I loved him. It was a deep, very angry, very emotional brotherly and unconditional love. Somewhere just post-'Blonde On Blonde', we all knew that we'd forever exhausted the possibilities of ever having a messianic solution for the problems of humanity. I was pleased about that, I had always thought that the concept of Messiah was totally flawed.

For most of the world, Desolation Row is where it is still at. There are cultural diversions of course. Best selling ring tones, and Corrie, to keep the minds of the proles off it. But if you are over the age of 30, you will already know that it will be the biggest oncoming phenomenon you will have to deal with for the rest of your life. It is an illusive spectre. It is spread across humanity, but it is deeply personal. It is always full of constantly changing visions and images. You'll always be able to use those two words to describe it. Desolation Row. They have almost become part of our address these last 40 years. There have been millions on the streets this last month [post Live8] to protest about one obvious expression of it. All of those millions have got at least one foot still in it.

“Right now I don't read too good / Dont send me no more letters no / Not unless you mail them / From Desolation Row”

Not unless you have got some kind of an address in your humanity I can go to, and share with you for a moment. Not unless you have had to reach for the same drugs as me. And you can help me to score. Not unless you are so far down that you would never see me anyway – which, for those of us who respond to poetry, has tended to put the next 50 years into sharp focus. We were passing messages to each other, thousands of us, on vinyl. There was a great power in it. And there was a fantastic feeling of freedom. If that is our only legacy, I would be happy enough.

Ian Rankin

I first heard Desolation Row when I was 18, and I was just about to start university. The song is 10 minutes long, so you can really get into it, and it ticked all the boxes for a young would-be intellectual who wanted to be a writer. So I merrily went off and wrote almost pastiches of it with references to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. Off the back of that song, I did go and buy his collected lyrics and poems. I was interested in the words rather than the music, or indeed the singing voice. I have only got about six Dylan albums in my collection. When I wrote a novella called Death Is Not The End I had no idea it was a Dylan song. I had heard it on Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album. It is a good song too, but I have still never heard the original version.

Oliver Trager

As apocalyptically portentous as WB Yeats’ Lapus Lazuli, Allen Gingberg’s Howl, a Bosch triptych, or any song about the abyss of personal loneliness, Desolation Row is perhaps the most nightmarish vision in Dylan’s canon. Robin Hood, Einstein, Romeo, Cinderella, the Good Samaritian, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bette Davis, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, and the songwriter himself are just a few of those who make cameos in this carnival of the grotesque as Dylan transforms cultural legend into a barren dream of despair.

There is no escape from this science-fiction noir where mythology and history’s heroes and heels lurk in the shadows of every alleyway on this queerist of streets. By the time he committed his dark dream to vinyl, Dylan had long become adept at writing songs that took society to task. And while at least some of those songs contained an element of hope or the possibility of redemption, he does not even pretend to find it here. Against this canvas of doom – be it universal or personal – Dylan introduces us to some pretty shady characters whose veiled motives make the visitor to this particular ring of fire quickly begin to search for a way out – even if it means boarding the Titanic at daybreak with a non-refundable, one-way ticket. Turn left, and you are in the cyanide hole. Turn right and somebody is looking to attach you to a heart-attack machine. In this surreal, existentialist byway of the ludicrous, there is no exit or even a dead-end. Dylan may rearrange the faces and give all his actors new names, but it is clear that in his remaking of Modern Times into Metropolis, he is, despite his gallows humour, adopting a scorched-earth policy for his Mobius strip paved with toxic quicksand.

Some of the power in the 11-minute vortex in entropy – an inverted State of the Union address if ever there was one, no doubt derives from Dylan’s absurdist pairings on the crowded stage of this song. With so many characters in so many unexpected, unfulfilling, symbiotic clinches appearing in his edgy Putrgatory (the sex-phobic Ophelia with the libertine Dr Filth, the sightless commissioner tied to the tightrope walker, Einstein and the jealous monk locked in the fixed science verses religion debate, Pound and Eliot with their hair-splitting quibbles over politics, prurient Romeo and the easygoing Cinderella erasing all desire with her casual manipulations), Dylan’s ruthless combination of fear and frustration makes listeners wonder when (no if) they will see themselves stumbling along with the diseased parade.

A great irony of Desolation Row is that its release came on the heels of accusations that Dylan had abandoned so-called protest songs. Yeah, right. Here is a song that would appear to protest just about everything, and Dylan clearly cherished it from its inception. When asked by critic / journalist Nat Hentoff during theur farcical 1966 interview published in Playboy magazine what he would do if elected president, Dylan answered that he would “immediately rewrite The Star Spangled Banner, and little schoolchildren, instead of memorising America The Beuatiful, would have to memorise Desolation Row.

Some have traced Dylan’s original spark of musical inspiration to The Clown’s Baby, a song collected by John A Lomax in Songs Of The Cattle Trail And Cow Camp (1919). Probably American in origin, the tune is credited to one Margaret Vandergrift, although she may be only the person from whom Lomax collected the song. Whatever the source, esolation Row stands apart from the balance of Highway 61 Revisited as Dylan eschewed a larger ensemble for the stately, Spanish-tinged sound of just two guitars. As keyboardist Al Kooper recalled, “I just think Bob wanted to set it apart in some way, shape, or form, and instrumentation was just the way he chose.”

Jack Kerouac’s 1965 novel, Desolation Angels, with its title and its phrases “perfect image of a priest” and “her sin is her lifelessness”, may also have been appropriated by Dylan here.

For those seeking autobiographical traces in Desolation Row, look no further than its first half a dozen words, “They’re selling postcards of the hanging.” On 15 June 1920, in Duluth, Minnesota, a mere 21 years before Dylan was born in that city, a mob of thousands there dragged three black men, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who had come to town with the John Robinson Show Circus, from a jail and hanged them from a lamp-post at the intersection of 1st Street and 2nd Avenue East. The event grew out of a dubious accusation by a white teenager that the men had raped his female companion and forced him to watch. Eventually, it came out that the boy had made up the story, but the three roustabouts were arrested and jailed on 14 June 1920, along with three others from the circus who survived the inquisition. As was common practice for decades, the memory of the tragedy was kept alive by postcards – these were sold in Duluth for some time after the event and easily could have been seen by Dylan as a youngster growing up in northern Minnesota. After much soul-searching and a local committee with the blinders off and a bit in its teeth, a 53-by-70 foot sculpture atoning for the lynching was unveiled in Duluth in September 2003.

The famous Highway 61 Revisited cut with Nashville session guitarist Charlie McCoy is also worthy of note. Dylan had told McCoy to play whatever he felt like and the guitarist responded with inventive and spectacular acoustic filigrees. But that rendition serves only as a blueprint for what Dylan has done with the song in concert.

Perhaps because of its length and naked, surreal lyrical angularity that may make it difficult to remember, Dylan has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Desolation Row as a performance vehicle. Almost always performed acoustically, the song was a regular feature of his monumental concerts in 1965 and 1966. It remained in Dylan’s set-lists when he returned to performing in 1974 with The Band. After that, Desolation Row was shelved for the next decade, until Dylan brought it back for some passable renditions on his 1984 tour. Two years later, he proceeded to butcher it in a duet with Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead when he joined the band onstage during that summer’s Dylan / Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers / Grateful Dead tour. In 1987, though, he worked up an effective electric arrangement for his fall tour with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, and it made its debut as a Never Ending Tour highlight in 1990. These latter-day arrangements have retained the elusive, talis-manic qualities that made Desolation Row famous long ago, despite being departures from the original. Dylan’s second official release of Desolation Row on his MTV Unplugged album in 1995, for example, is markedly different from that on Highway 61 Revisited. In 1965, he performed the epic with a sneer and in 1974 he toyed with alternating dynamics in the phraseology to create an off-kilter tension. But his quiet, , conspirational voice two or three decades later make the corrosive song even more paranoid, if possible, than before. In a neat vocal sleight-of-hand, Dylan took to gradually raising the octave range from verse to verse, so that by the end of the song, his pitched delivery accurately portrays a man desperately trying to share what he has witnessed under the streetlights of the abyss with anybody brave anough to listen.

For something completely different, check out The Superhuman Crew (J Paul Getty Museum Publications 1999), a book that features artist James Ensor’s painting, Christ’s Entry Into Brussels In 1889, packaged with a CD of Dylan’s recording of the song from Highway 61 Revisited. Look at Ensor’s art while listening to Dylan’s – each enhances the other.

Finally, iTunes, the online pay-for-music digital jukebox introduced by Apple in 2003 to reinvent the Napster model legally, red-flagged Desolation Row with a hard-to-figure “explicit lyrics” warning. Guess that is what you get for thinking different.

Wikipedia

At the time, Desolation Row was arguably Dylan's most ambitious song and for many years his longest recording. Heylin describes it as an "11-minute voyage through a Kafkaesque world of gypsies, hoboes, thieves of fire, and historical characters beyond their rightful time."

Desolation Row is the final song of Dylan's sixth album, Highway 61 Revisited. The eleven minute song is a favorite of Dylan's fans; the lyrics especially are often cited as among his best, full of evocative imagery and poetry. Along with Visions of Johanna from 1966, it represents the apotheosis of Dylan's unique lyrical vision from the 1960s. It is the album's only purely acoustic track, in contrast to the thunderous electric rock and roll sound that Dylan was completely embracing for the first time with the album. It was recorded in New York City, New York on 2 August 1965; the take on the album was the second time Dylan had sung the song.

Al Kooper, who played organ and piano on the album, claimed in his autobiography that Desolation Row was 8th Avenue in New York City. At the time, this was a very dangerous part of town. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, is also a possible source for the song, as is The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot (who is referenced in the song).

The song describes a town of some sort, full of lowlifes and losers. The various characters receive only a line or two each, yet Dylan still manages to be evocative and bring forth images of crazy, nonsensical townspeople. Desolation Row would seem to lie on Highway 61, perhaps at the end of the line in Dylan's native Duluth, Minnesota, where the horde of freaks congregate after being rejected from elsewhere. Dylan's feelings about this place seem contrary; it is clearly a town full of mean, stupid and insane people, yet he seems nearly jubilant about being there. On the other hand, it is also a land of counter-cultural rebellion. At the time, political dissidents such as socialists and pacifists were shunned; these rejects are the inhabitants of Desolation Row, described in the song. Indeed, most of the characters mentioned were rejected from their society for being some sort of freak, from the Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, shunned because of their appearance to Cinderella, who forces her way out of her assigned role in society through sheer will power.

The Threepenny Review describes the song this way:

"In Desolation Row the listener's eye is directed toward a circus of grotesques: a beauty parlor filled with sailors, a commissioner masturbating as he caresses a tightrope walker, a whole city in disguise. But whoever they are, nearly all of the characters in the song share one attribute: they're not free. They are prisoners of judges, doctors, torturers, an entire secret police, and the worst part is they may have recruited its troops from their own hearts. If they are not free it is because they are prisoners of their own ignorance, their own vanity, their own compromises, their own cowardice. By the way they are sung, the saddest lines in the song echo with all that one man used to be, could have been, will never be again: 'You would not think, to look at him, but he was famous, lonnnnnnng ago,' the word long stretched out just as long as it will go, all the way back to the time when the Einstein the man was then wouldn't even recognize the Einstein he is now."

Dylan seems to believe that if the people of Desolation Row continue to grow, the world will become entirely the same, full of sad, lonely losers. This is Dylan's pessimistic vision of the future; where everyone, even Bette Davis, Cinderella, Casanova, and Albert Einstein, is tragic and pained, living in a scrap of a town.

The lyrics to Desolation Row are delivered in a laconic tone and sound like a description of a surrealist or symbolist painting or a film by Federico Fellini. The place described is having abnormal morality, where they sell "postcards of the hanging", and the social status quo is not followed: "beauty parlor (is) filled with sailors" and the "blind commissioner", who has "one hand tied to the tight-rope walker" while he masturbates with "the other (hand) in his pants". All these strange characters "need somewhere to go" and the place turns out to be Desolation Row.

The second verse concerns Cinderella and Romeo, who has apparently come to woo Cinderella; she "seems so easy". He is rebuffed, however, as someone says "you're in the wrong place, my friend/You better leave." After this disagreement between "someone" and "Romeo," Cinderella is left "sweeping up/on Desolation Row" after the ambulances leave. Most reviewers agree that Romeo and Cinderella are in Desolation Row because they do not fit into their assigned roles. Cinderella is supposed to fall in love with a prince, and Romeo is meant to love Juliet--their refusal to heed these roles and rules sends them in exile to Desolation Row.

The next verse mentions Cain, Abel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Good Samaritan as being inhabitants of Desolation Row. At night, the sky is becoming cloudy and threatening a storm ("the moon is almost hidden/the stars are beginning to hide") and everybody, except for Cain, Abel and the Hunchback, have gone inside (even the "fortune telling lady"). Those who are not making love are "expecting rain" (note: "Everybody is making love / Or else expecting rain" is a popular, oft-quoted line from this song), all except for the Good Samaritan, who is obliviously getting ready for a show at a carnival. That he is a carnie is perhaps notable, implying that possessing the quality of goodness (as the Good Samaritan does) makes one a carnival freak; he is, like the other inhabitants of Desolation Row, dissimilar from his neighbors because he is neither making love, nor expecting rain.

The fourth verse is about "Ophelia" (see Hamlet), who does not live on Desolation Row, though she does spend "her time peeking" into it. She does not live there because she has bought into the dominant status quo. As a result of conforming, Ophelia is already an "old maid" "on her twenty-second birthday." Her life is meaningless, as she spends all day trudging through a boring, irrelevant life which she takes seriously to the detriment of her real emotional and mental existence--"her profession's her religion/her sin is her lifelessness." Thus, her boring acceptance of mediocrity and banality is what keeps her from moving to Desolation Row. It is worth noting that Ophelia, in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, commits suicide.

The next verse describes a washed-up Albert Einstein (who is "disguised as Robin Hood"). Einstein was not always taken seriously in his time, and he was a noted iconoclast, so his presence on Desolation Row is not surprising. He is not an illustrious physicist, though, but a bum who sniffs drainpipes and bums cigarettes off strangers. Things used to be different for Einstein, though, as he used to be famous "for playing the electric violin / on Desolation Row". (This evokes the famous black and white picture of the middle-aged Einstein playing his violin). Another interpretation has this as Dylan himself, a Jewish intellectual in the costume of an outlaw ("Einstein disguised as Robin Hood") playing the "electric violin" at Newport.

Though much of the song is difficult to quantify to any real-word referent, many reviewers claim the eighth verse has a definite interpretation. To them, this verse refers to the actions of the federal government of the United States. Specifically, programs such as COINTELPRO, run by the FBI to discredit, sabotage and perhaps assassinate counter-cultural leaders. "... all the agents/and the superhuman crew" (i.e. FBI and law enforcement agents, enforcers of the status quo) "round up everyone/that knows more than they do" (isolate all freaks and people who don't fit into mainstream society). These iconoclasts are then brought to "the factory/where the heart-attack machine/is strapped across their shoulders" (perhaps referring to mind-and-heart-numbing suburban existence, represented by the "heart-attack", being tied to former idealists by the crushing banality of modern life). Finally, "insurance men" go to "check to see that nobody is escaping/to Desolation Row," lending credence to the idea that Desolation Row refers to a place where society's freaks and rejects can escape to and find solace in. This interpretation is impossible to square with the song's other lyrics, and ignores the verse's use of terms and phrases associated with Andy Warhol and his coterie.

The final verse is separated by a harmonica solo, thematically dividing it from the rest of the song. Noting this, a number of people have suggested an alternate explanation for the surrealist characters of the preceding verses. Much like Fellini's 8½, Dylan has populated the song with doppelgangers representing real people in his life. The narrator has received a letter from an old acquaintance, one who in the past hurt him very much, discussing the exploits of once shared associates. Dylan, unable to escape the past ("the doorknob broke") instead writes about these same people in grotesque exaggeration and has them populate a circus of freaks of his own devising ("All these people that you mention... I had to rearrange their faces / And give them all another name.") The narrator reaches the conclusion that even with this manipulation, he still finds himself unable to confront the memory of this person and asks "don't send me no more letter, no."

Hank Kalet

It is on Desolation Row that Dylan brings this nightmare to its logical and illogical conclusion, with a host of unlikely characters – Cinderella, Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, Dr Filth and Nero – casting about in a world that seems to jump off a Brueghel canvas, or maybe out of a William S Burroughs novel. "They're selling postcards of the hanging / They're painting the passports brown / The beauty parlor is filled with sailors / The circus is in town," Dylan sings atop a truly beautiful guitar line, a slowed-down flamenco riff that seems at odds with the dislocation and brutality of the lyrics.

The lyrics are a thick jumble of images, much of them contradictory, leaving us to wonder whether Desolation Row is heaven or hell. The Good Samaritan is heading to the carnival, but Casanova is punished for going there. Einstein had been famous "For playing the electric violin / On Desolation Row", while Ophelia, who finds death "quite romantic", stares at "Noah's great rainbow" and "She spends her time peeking / Into Desolation Row."

And it is not as if the singer knows the answer either -- or that we are asking the right questions: "All these people that you mention / Yes, I know them, they're quite lame / I had to rearrange their faces / And give them all another name / Right now I can't read too good / Don't send me no more letters no / Not unless you mail them / From Desolation Row."

Roger Ford

The final song of the album, this is the only track which is not faded out, yet still the ending of the mono and stereo mixes are different. If you listen closely to the very end of the mono version you can hear Dylan give a laugh, presumably in relief at having got through the take. This is much harder to hear in the stereo mix, even with the volume turned all the way up.

On the new hybrid SACD the clarity of this track is astonishing, and Charlie McCoy's steel-string guitar sounds remarkably solid, particularly on the SACD layer; but you have to put up with very obvious tape hiss at the start.

This released version of the song, according to Michael Krogsgaard's research, is a spliced composite of two separate takes, but despite much close listening I cannot hear the join.

The rough mix tape contains an earlier take of the song, recorded with different musicians. The released version has the aforementioned acoustic second guitar played by Charlie McCoy and a stand-up bass probably played by Russ Savakus. The out-take, recorded a day or two earlier, has Harvey Goldstein / Brooks on electric bass guitar and Al Kooper playing electric lead guitar (do not forget that when Kooper turned up at the Like A Rolling Stone session he came as a guitar player, even though he left as an organist).

Given this different instrumentation you would expect the out-take to have a different feel to it, but in addition it is played a tone lower, and a lot slower – so much so that despite having no harmonica verses it is nearly 40 seconds longer than the released version. The result is a very, very dark version of the song, made even more stark by its celebrated lyric variation: "They are spoon-feeding Casanova / The boiled guts of birds". This version appears to be a composite too – at the beginning of the seventh verse (“Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains”) the sound changes noticeably, with Dylan’s acoustic guitar much more prominent and the electric guitar correspondingly less so. Perhaps this flaw was one factor in Dylan’s decision to re-record the song.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 06:15 GMT 
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Perfect song.
Who is this Humphries guy? First he calls 'It Takes A Lot To Laugh' filler, and now this.
The whole song is so carefully constructed that if you try to replace his characters randomly w/ others, the song doesn't work. I love the Hollywood Bowl performance, I'd never heard it til a couple of days ago, and the laughter took me by surprise. It's endearing. And I love that he sings 'the stars they're just pretending to hide' instead of the lyric he sang on the album version.

The cover by My Chemical Romance for the movie Watchmen is horrible.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 07:01 GMT 
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Heard Desolation Row Friday night at Bournemouth , yes it had verses cut out of it the Titanic didnt even sail, but for me its my favourite song now and last night was MY version, it was like he was playing it for me.

Gotta say when your discovering Bob this is one of the hardest songs along with maybe It's Alright Ma to swallow and decipher 11 minutes is a long time to focus on one song and it's wordiness but the rewards of persevering with it are endless. It's Bob's greatest song for me, of many great songs.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 12:03 GMT 
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I have always liked and taken it seriously . HNowever once I read a review of a Dylan show in Isis which described it as the comedy part of the show . Instantly I understood what hethe reviewer meant and how these images put together could be percived that way , yet in all the reviews etc I have read since , not one person has ever agreed with or stated this opinion.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 12:12 GMT 
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Desolation Row wrote:
It's Bob's greatest song for me, of many great songs.


Agreed.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 15:58 GMT 
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oldmanemu wrote:
I have always liked and taken it seriously . HNowever once I read a review of a Dylan show in Isis which described it as the comedy part of the show . Instantly I understood what hethe reviewer meant and how these images put together could be percived that way , yet in all the reviews etc I have read since , not one person has ever agreed with or stated this opinion.


It has some excellent surreal jokes.
Have you heard the Hollywood Bowl performance? You can hear people laugh @ certain lines, like the one about the blind commissioner w/ his hand in his pants. I guess one reason that people don't hear the comedy any more is 'cause they don't get it. Or because it's easy to think of it merely as this very 'dark' song and to miss the humor.

I like this comment by Long Johnny:
" "Gates" is stern where "Desolation" is funky. "Desolation Row" has a humor to it - audiences laughed during early versions - nobody's chuckling during "Gates." The gates of Eden are black, iron, pointed at the top, you could impale yourself on them. Desolation Row is a line of wooden ramshackle houses with porches that are ready to fall off. Behind the gates of Eden people are parched and looking for a little water; on Desolation Row, the people on the porches sip cheap wine."


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PostPosted: Fri October 21st, 2011, 15:55 GMT 

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This song is very dear to my heart. Bobby played it the last time I saw him-at the Mann here in Philly on August 17-and I surprised myself by bursting into tears. Partly because Bob was singing with such passion and partly because of events in my own life and partly because it was just so beautiful to see this remarkable old man still singing his songs to us and making them new. I'm not articulating it well, but it was very emotional for me.

This is a pantheon songs...one of the songs that first caused me to connect with Bobby in that-he's singing what I feel...he's giving me words...

My favorite aspect of the lyric is the way in which Desolation Row emerges throughout the song as a place people want to go to, or at least peer into...and a subversive place-'the man' might come down on you if he catches you there...the beauty of the desolate people, people you "wouldn't think to look at" who possess wisdom in their downtrodden souls...

On a personal level, I have struggled with heroin addiction, and though I loved this song long before I ever touched the evil stuff, I have come to associate the two in a strange way...having encountered down and out junkies who are trash in society's eyes but are in fact beautiful souls in a very bad way...specifically I think of the infamous epicenter of the dope market in Philadelphia, Kensington and Somerset, underneath the el tracks...


it's a song that meant something very real to me at, oh 8 years old, and continues to 16 years later, with new depths of meaning and personal connections accumulated over those years

the lyric sparkles with creative genius. A prime example of the brilliance of our modern day Bard, and a song that will still be relevant in 400 years


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PostPosted: Sat October 22nd, 2011, 03:39 GMT 
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everygrain5 wrote:
This song is very dear to my heart. Bobby played it the last time I saw him-at the Mann here in Philly on August 17-and I surprised myself by bursting into tears. Partly because Bob was singing with such passion and partly because of events in my own life and partly because it was just so beautiful to see this remarkable old man still singing his songs to us and making them new. I'm not articulating it well, but it was very emotional for me.


No, everygrain5....I think you articulated your feelings very well. That is just the way I always feel when I see Bob live...it totally blows me away to see him sing Blowing in the Wind, All Along the Watchtower, Mr.Tambourine Man, etc........I just can't believe my good luck to be able to actually see Dylan himself sing these songs! .... 8)
welcome to ER ! :D


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PostPosted: Sat October 22nd, 2011, 12:11 GMT 
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everygrain5 wrote:
My favorite aspect of the lyric is the way in which Desolation Row emerges throughout the song as a place people want to go to, or at least peer into...and a subversive place-'the man' might come down on you if he catches you there...the beauty of the desolate people, people you "wouldn't think to look at" who possess wisdom in their downtrodden souls...


the lyric sparkles with creative genius. A prime example of the brilliance of our modern day Bard, and a song that will still be relevant in 400 years



thanks, evergrain5 and welcome :) I agree wholeheartedly!!


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PostPosted: Sat October 22nd, 2011, 14:32 GMT 
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Desolation Row wrote:
Heard Desolation Row Friday night at Bournemouth , yes it had verses cut out of it the Titanic didnt even sail, but for me its my favourite song now and last night was MY version, it was like he was playing it for me.

Gotta say when your discovering Bob this is one of the hardest songs along with maybe It's Alright Ma to swallow and decipher 11 minutes is a long time to focus on one song and it's wordiness but the rewards of persevering with it are endless. It's Bob's greatest song for me, of many great songs.


Both those songs are gripping so there's no difficulty. Not a dull moment between them. It's alright ma keeps you on the edge of your seat with the lyric, and Desolation Row with the lyric, vocal, and that stupendous McCoy guitar playing.


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PostPosted: Sun October 23rd, 2011, 01:19 GMT 
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The finest performance I know is March 20, 2004 in Toronto. Freddy Koella does some fine electric work while Larry handles the acoustic and it is sweet!

The MTV Unplugged is pretty good.


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PostPosted: Sun October 23rd, 2011, 10:40 GMT 
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the song has been discussed for nearly 50 years .


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