Connecting "Farewell Angelina" and "Angelina"
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 18:57:01 -0800 From: Janice Porter-Moffitt (firstname.lastname@example.org) Dear KarlErik, I am sending you a "spontaneous criticism" regarding two Dylan song lyrics that I think are related. I will attempt to explain what I mean by "spontaneous criticism" in another letter to you. There is no attempt here to be "scholarly academic" in approach. My work compels me in that Dylan himself is compelling. It is one interpretation among many. And that's the secret: while Dylan speaks to millions, he also speaks to one. This is one person's attempt to discuss in depth what Bob Dylan's lyrics have conveyed to me. In the meantime, I hope you can share with me your criticisms regarding this work. It is part of a larger documentation of Dylan's lyrics in a work entitled,
"Shadows He's Seeing That You're Chasing: One Woman's Interpretation of Some of Bob Dylan's Words" (by Janice Porter-Moffitt c.1997, Railroad Earth Press) *** The following excerpt may be used for non-profit purposes only, as long as the above copyright information remains intact ***
from chapter 3:
The Same Woman: Farewell, Angelina...sitting at the fireplace, a glass of wine, a cigarette, almost smoldering coals. I listen to the Bootleg Series for the millionth time and wonder why it never came to me before. I had never before thought of the link between "Farewell, Angelina" and "Angelina". Could there be a link? Are these two women the same person? My interest at once shifted from the general scope of the entire Series (neatly divided in thirds as a useful retrospective) to these two delicate songs, and soon found myself in a free-for-all juggling act, switching discs two and three back in forth in my CD player. I was immediately engaged on a quest to know. I suppose I knew the answer at exactly the moment the spontaneous thought entered my brain, but I had to immediately sift through the lyrics of both songs to find the subjective "proof" I was after. The more I listened, the more that was revealed. How could these two "Angelina's" be the same? Dylan (many years ago) is quoted as saying, "If words rhyme, they mean the same thing." Okay. And if two names are the same? Then what? I knew I might be stretching things a bit, but in one split-spontaneous-second I felt I had stumbled upon something that was no accident, something important. And while I do not feel that these two songs were a conscious effort on Dylan's part (but who's to know?) to sing of the same woman, there are certain definite qualities of each song that impress me as having direct association with each other. "Farewell Angelina" begins with just that -- a farewell. The narrator is saying goodbye to someone dear to him, someone that he's cared for deeply. This is significant to the understanding of the lyrics. It is not that the narrator necessarily wants to go, he has to. The narrator's attention is being turned from Angelina toward something more powerful, more compelling than the life he has had with her up to this point: the bells of the crown (symbolizing the new direction in music). These bells are strong ("crown" symbolic of royalty) and it is no longer possible, nor even desirable, to keep out of the current of strength. And even though "bandits" are responsible for taking the bells of the crown in a new direction, the narrator still "must follow the sound." It really doesn't matter how or by whom the bells are being taken. The narrator must follow after. But, the narrator does concede to Angelina that the music that remains in their midst is sweet, is slow: "The triangle tingles, the music plays slow", indicating a life of peacefulness (perhaps life before Newport, 1965). But, as the narrator points out, "the night is on fire" (excitement in the air) and he'll have to go. Talking the narrator out of leaving is out of the question. And blame needn't enter their conversation. It's no one's fault. The narrator's leaving doesn't change a thing ("everything still is the same"). The "table stands empty by the edge of the stream" evokes loss. In the "empty table", the narrator notes the loss of his and Angelina's relationship, loss of what they shared. But even this does not detain him. And, this particular line is the first signal of symbolism in the song. Even "the night is on fire" is mild surrealism compared to the rest of the song's lyrics. "The edge of the stream" brings to mind the very beginning of the strong, forceful current itself; the peaceful state of water before the mad, wild rush of "the bells of the crown". And now, folks are leaving, perhaps also following after "the bells of the crown". "The jacks and the queens forsake the court-yard" (those who are important in the business of making music and lyrics are heading off after the bells); "fifty-two gypsies now file past the guard in the space where the deuce and the ace once ran wild" (nothing to stop the listeners from leaving, as well; the "deuce and the ace" running wild in the same space is symbolic of the lowest and the highest having joined together in the music that they both had made together -- folk music really was a common denominator in America, the singer singing of the common man/woman). But, of course, "the sky is folding" (another card image), and the narrator will see Angelina after awhile -- the first and only hint in the lyrics that the narrator will be back this way again. In great symbolic technique, the narrator spends the rest of the song defending to Angelina why he must leave. He illustrates the various problems that have emerged since the bells of the crown were stolen. "See the cross-eyed pirate sit perched in the sun" (perhaps one of the bandits who has taken it upon himself to give "the corporels and the neighbors" an inkling as to what the bells of the crown are going to sound like in different hands). "Shooting tin cans with a sawed-off shotgun" is an image that reflects the amplification of music coupled with the innocense of simple lyrics. Who on earth would shoot tin cans with a double-barrel? Only those who need to get up close, take a broad, sweeping aim and fire away -- loudly and to the point. The electrification of music has certainly accomplished this. The corporels and the neighbors (the lowly listeners) are pleased, they "clap and cheer with each blast". It's happening! Things are about to change -- have changed -- and the narrator "must leave fast". He must move quickly after the stolen bells. The narrator shows Angelina a scene where the big (King Kong) and the small (little elves) -- the singer and the listener -- dance together on the rooftops, even old-fashioned tangos, to celebrate the new sound of the bells of the crown. But there are some who can't accept the new sound. And "the hero's clean hands shut the eyes of the dead not to embarrass anyone" is perhaps pointing out the agony of those who cannot accept the reality of a new music, a new era in singer/listener relationship. The narrator speaks of them being "dead", and an unknown "hero" graciously covers their eyes for dignity. Also, the narrator shows Angelina a "camoflaged parrot". Since parrots, by their very nature are already camoflaged, the narrator seems to be hinting that there is an imposter in the midst, perhaps trying to imitate what he really doesn't understand, and is mortified by its appearance. This brings to mind Newport 1965, and the booing and hissing from those who were aghast when Dylan went electric. The next line is priceless: "What cannot be imitated perfect must die". In light of what I've already said about Newport, this line stands on its own, without explanation. And now the narrator is about to exit. But before he does, things begin to get rough. "Machine guns are roaring, puppets heave rocks at misunderstood visions and at the faces of clocks". After the bells of the crown are taken away by bandits, the ones who, like the "camoflaged parrot", are angered by the theft, begin to get pretty nasty. The narrator calls them "puppets", symbolic of those who cannot maneuver of their own volition. "Misunderstood visions" are what they've come to label the new sound. And "heaving rocks at faces of clocks" represents their desire to stop time in its tracks; to hold on to a way of being in the musical world that is quickly fading away. And here we are, face to face with Angelina; whose side is she on? The narrator makes it quite clear that Angelina has chosen to remain with those who would stay behind. The narrator tells her, "Call me any name you like, I will never deny it". He is finally calling to Angelina on her own terms; he is placing her with those who have been against him. And it is important to note here that Angelina makes no effort to leave. She stays behind. The "hero" may as well have covered Angelina's eyes as he did the others. And indeed he did, as we'll see later. The narrator is confronting her with her disapproval of his actions. He must leave, he "must go where it is quiet". But not literally. The narrator must go, he must follow the sound of the bells of the crown, but it won't necessarily be a physical quiet, even though the sky above him where he is is erupting. He just needs to go to the place calling him, a place where he can think, a place he needs to be.
"The Same Woman: 'Angelina'"The narrator is now alone. He's finally made it to that place of quiet. And there has been no physical quiet to it. But it has been a place for him to think. "Well it's always been my nature to take chances" is a look back at the narrator's having left Angelina. He took a chance, "(his) right hand drawing back while (his) left hand advances". This line shows the narrator's ambivalence after the decision to leave was made. Remember, it's roughly 15 years later, since he did leave Angelina, and he's likely wondering if he made the right decision. "Where the current is strong and the monkey dances to the tune of a concertina" -- "Where the current is strong" signifies the "bells of the crown" -- how potent and powerful they really had become. "And the monkey dances" (remember King Kong and the little elves dancing together?) "Concertina" congures up an image of slow music emanating from an accordian-like instrument, perhaps the kind of music the narrator heard before. (Recall "the triangle tingles and the music plays slow" from the previous lyrics). Now the narrator finds himself in the fulfillment of a kind of prophecy, realizing that he made the best decision, the right decision, when he left Angelina the first time. But he's going back, just as the line of the first song predicted: "Farewell, Angelina, the sky is folding, I'll see you after awhile". Could the narrator think himself a coward for leaving Angelina the first time? "Blood drying in my yellow hair as I go from shore to shore". This line, I must admit, presents difficulty. The image presents itself in an intriguing way. Blood, in that there have been fierce battles for the narrator to face as he made his way following after the bells of the crown. No doubt. But yellow hair? What does hair have to do with his journey? When folk music "went electric" everything changed: clothing, attitudes -- and yes, hair. Hair got long, became shaggy, became unkempt (wasn't it wonderful!?) and the narrator points to his hair as having been influenced by the mood and moment of the time. Nothing in the line overtly points to this -- I'll just chalk it up to an intuitive hunch. But the hair is "yellow" -- is the narrator returning to Angelina thinking himself a coward? After all, he is going back. "I know what it is that has drawn me to your door". For whatever reasons, he's gone back. He's returned to her. He's come back to confront her with much. "But whatever could it be makes you think you've seen me before?" This line, too, is priceless: Angelina recognizes him immediately. She knows him. Remembers him. Maybe even still believes in him. But the narrator has changed so much he no longer knows himself, hence the question. Immediately, the lyrics change to the description of a man. "His eyes were two slits, make any snake proud, with a face that any painter would paint as he walked through the crowd". Here the narrator is describing someone he has seen on his journey, he's describing this man to Angelina, as one who has much to report after making his way back to Angelina. He even tells her that this man was "worshipping the idol of a god with the beauty of a woman well-endowed, and the head of a hyenna". This idolater was a man the narrator encountered on his travels. He is bringing news of this man to Angelina, as a warning to her. Instantly, there seems to be a request for forgiveness. The narrator asks, "Do I need your permission to turn the other cheek". Clearly a biblical reference (note: anyone unfamiliar with Dylan really must read the Bible, old and new) and, "if you can read my mind, why must I speak?" The narrator is full of sorrow here; I really don't see these lines delivered in a sarcastic way. He has traveled back to Angelina after having chased the bells of the crown, and has met up with the devil himself, or a reasonable facsimile, and is approaching Angelina for forgiveness. It's a sort of "I told you so" from Angelina, although that is strictly implied, not ever stated. But then, "Oh, I've heard nothing about the man that you seek, Angelina". Who has Angelina been seeking? Has she been waiting in the desolate land, sans bells of the crown, for a saviour? Has she been looking for a way to escape? After the narrator left her the first time, Angelina could very well have been waiting for someone to take his place in her life. But that someone never showed. At least not yet. The narrator continues to tell Angelina about what it was like where he had gone. "In the valley of the giants, where the stars and stripes explode, the peaches they were sweet and the milk and honey flowed". This line is indicative of the fruitfulness of a life after having followed the bells of the crown. Much had come to the narrator; he was wined and dined, he was provided the good life, and America had "exploded" in that she could no longer contain the new movement in music that set her ablaze. "I was only following instructions when the judge sent me down the road with your subpeona". Is the judge God? Does God have need for Angelina to appear before a court of judgement? In the previous song, "Farewell, Angelina", the narrator points to the sky as "changing colors", "folding", "trembling", "flooding over", and "erupting". Was this a fortelling of God's anger or wrath with Angelina? And the narrator was sent back (presumably by God) to present her with a choice. The narrator asks Angelina a pointed question: "When you cease to exist, then who will you blame?" If Angelina loses her life, who would be responsible for that? The narrator? God? The infidelic man? And what does it mean to "cease to exist"? Literally, to die? Or merely to lose her place in life, her status? Angelina finds herself in a dilemma: the narrator has returned to warn her that her life is in danger: "I've tried my best to love you, but I cannot play this game" -- the place she lives has become a wasteland (remember the exodus after the bells of the crown were taken away, and what was left behind). But the place that she lives, the place that the narrator had originally left, has now also been overtaken by forces beyond anyone's control, and the evil one has found his way into Angelina's life, even if indirectly -- perhaps she has only heard about him, but has never seen him. The narrator, on the other hand, has seen the evil one up close, could even describe him . The man with slits for eyes and a model's face has found his way ahead of the narrator back to Angelina. And this is why the narrator told Angelina before, "Oh, I've heard nothing about the man that you seek" -- Angelina was seeking a man completely different, the direct opposite, of the man the narrator had seen across the shore. They are indeed the same man, but the narrator and Angelina had seen very different versions of him. Hence, "Your best friend and my worst enemy are one and the same, Angelina". "There's a black Mercedes rolling through the combat zone" is descriptive of the wasteland the narrator had left before. But who's in the Benz? Is it the evil man, two slits behind the wheel? What does he want there? Why does he bring his symbol of power back to a place left desolate? What has he to prove? And Angelina's "servants are half-dead, (and she's) down to the bone". This man of power is lording it over the wasteland, and in grandiose gesture is tempting Angelina to go with him where things are better. But the narrator steps in, intervenes: "Tell me, tall man, where would you like to be overthrown? In Jerusalem (God's country) or Argentina?" (a place full of criminal exiles). The evil one is never given the chance to answer. The next verse is disconcerting. It begins, "She was stolen from her mother when she was three days old." Who was stolen? A child from the days of "Farewell, Angelina"? The only thing stolen in "Farewell, Angelina" were the bells of the crown. Well, yes. The "bells of the crown" is the child of the old folk music crowd, is folk music itself, taken away to ring a different tune. The narrator says, "Now her vengence has been satisfied, her possessions have been sold". Justice has come for the old music movement, who literally was abandoned when the "electric" day appeared. But now there has been some kind of forgiveness, a kind of reconciliation. There is now an evenness between the two styles of music (recall the many transformations Dylan experienced, including "John Wesley Harding" and "Nashville Skyline"). And then, "He's surrounded by God's angels and she's wearing a blindfold, but so are you, Angelina". To be "surrounded by God's angels" could have a double meaning, but in this instance it means a definitive defensive stance taken by the angels against the evil one. And "she's wearing a blindfold" is again the "child" taken away, the bells of the crown, to who knows where. Who really knew where anything was going when the folk music of the early 1960's was abducted and about to be changed? "But so are you, Angelina". Angelina's either "surrounded by God's angels" or "wearing a blindfold", depending on how one reads this line. I suspect, though, that the reference is to the wearing of the blindfold (perhaps placed by "the hero's clean hands not to embarrass anyone?) Angelina's in the dark -- about herself and her place in the wasteland that she has chosen to remain in. Now the narrator goes full guns. He's done as much as he can to turn Angelina's heart around, and so far to no avail. So he pulls out all stops and lets Angelina have it -- in the same way he let her have it in "Farewell, Angelina" -- warning her of "the cross-eyed pirate" and "the camoflaged parrot" and "machine guns roaring" and "puppets heaving rocks". Once again, the narrator must build a dramatic scene for Angelina to listen. Before, it was the narrator's life that needed saving; now, it's Angelina's turn. The narrator has come back specifically for this moment, to waken Angelina from the dangerous sleep she's been sleeping -- to personally serve her subpoena. The narrator begins: "I see pieces of men marching" (an army of evil) "trying to take heaven by force" (the wasteland is up for grabs), "I can see the unknown rider," (biblical reference) "I can see the pale white horse" (another biblical reference). "In God's truth just tell me what you want and you'll have it, of course" (the narrator has the power to give her what she requires). All she has to do is "just step into the arena". At this point, Angelina is totally paralyzed, she has no idea what to do. The "arena" is a daunting place, an unequivocal place of battle -- battle she's unable to do. Instead she "beat a path of retreat up those spiral staircases, pass(ing) the tree of smoke, pass(ing) the angel with four faces, (and begs) God for mercy, weeping in unholy places". In the wasteland, Angelina finally hears, finally feels the eruption that the narrator ran from initially. She had stayed so long in the wasteland she had grown accustomed to its ways. But it took the narrator's return for Angelina to act upon the danger. I think that the last verse of "Angelina" is not so much the narrators' telling Angelina to "beat a path of retreat...", but rather he's an observer now, watching her make the decision on her own. And she does.