Newspaper article International New York Times

Bob Dylan: Musician or Poet?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Bob Dylan: Musician or Poet?

Article excerpt

Francine Prose

If I had to choose my favorite Bob Dylan song, it would probably be "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." That's the one that begins, "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez/And it's Eastertime too." It conjures up a "Touch of Evil," Roberto Bolano sort of situation, with a dark tourist urban legend embedded in one verse: "Sweet Melinda/The peasants call her the goddess of gloom/She speaks good English/And she invites you up into her room/And you're so kind/And careful not to go to her too soon/And she takes your voice/And leaves you howling at the moon."

I don't know why I love the tune so much. Possibly because I've traveled to places that, in retrospect, I feel lucky to have gotten out of alive. But the song is more than a cautionary ballad about a corrupt, social-disease-ridden border town. It describes a state of mind. I never once taught at a summer writers' conference without becoming obsessed with a line from that song, about someone named Angel, just arrived from the coast, "Who looked so fine at first/ But left looking just like a ghost." I'd hear it the way Dylan sang it, with a full stop after words: Just. Like. A. Ghost! And then I'd look at my pale face in the mirror.

I started listening to Dylan when I was in high school, when he was a folk singer and not yet famous. It was fine with me when he "went electric." I'd advise anyone who wants to see the gifted, angry kid with whom my generation fell in love to watch "Dont Look Back," D.A. Pennebaker's documentary film about Dylan's 1965 British tour.

I've always been partial to "Blood on the Tracks," from 1975: to "Simple Twist of Fate," "Shelter From the Storm" and especially "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" -- so much compressed narrative, such a profusion of catchy rhymes. Dylan has written many of our most beautiful love songs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.