Bob Dylan's Dilemma: Which Blonde?

By Karwowski, Michael | Contemporary Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Bob Dylan's Dilemma: Which Blonde?


Karwowski, Michael, Contemporary Review


Bob Dylan has always identified with the outlaw. The iconoclastic singer has even written a song entitled Outlaw Blues, included on the 1965 Bringing It All Back Home album, which contrasts the wealthy and successful establishment figure with the outsider: 'Well, I might look like Robert Ford/But I feel just like a Jesse James'.

He also has two albums to his name which honour those other American outlaws, John Wesley Hardin and Billy the Kid, the latter containing one of his most famous songs, Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

None of this, however, relates to the image of Dylan as the protest singer of the early 1960s, with which some people still identify him. He is, after all, in his early 60s himself now, having celebrated his 60th birthday at the end of May! No, what the persona of the outlaw means to Dylan is probably best summed up in his song Absolutely Sweet Marie on 1966's Blonde on Blonde album, where he writes: 'to live outside the law you must be honest'. For the significance of the outlaw to Dylan is less that of the rebel and more the solitary who rejects established religion for the direct inspiration of truth.

In fact, Bob Dylan's history as a songwriter can perhaps best be interpreted as a constant debate between, on the one hand, mysticism, and, on the other, religious belief, whether represented by Judaism, Dylan's childhood religion, or Christianity, which he openly espoused in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This lifelong debate has its first major and, arguably, most memorable expression in Blonde on Blonde. This was the first double album in rock history and one whose duality is no accident. Indeed, it is the contention of this article that a basic understanding of Blonde on Blonde would clear the ground for an exploration of Dylan's entire oeuvre.

The album title refers to Chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation: 'And I saw, and behold a white horse: and...a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering, and to conquer...And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him'.

Having been brought up a Jew, Dylan has naturally taken a great deal of his imagery from the Bible and this is a particular instance. The 'blondes' of the album's title, then, represent two of the horses of Revelation, the triumphant 'white horse', which conquered, and the 'pale horse of Death', which leads to Hell. And they tell us that the songs on the album are the record of a spiritual conflict between Life and Death.

At that time, the established religion with which Dylan was flirting was Roman Catholicism. The Catholic Church, in fact, is the subject of the song Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, which takes up an entire side of the album. It has often been stated that Sad-Eyed Lady is 'about' Dylan's then-wife Sara because, in Sara on the 1976 album Desire, the songwriter refers to writing the song 'for' her. But 'for' is not 'about' and any understanding of Blonde on Blonde and subsequent albums suggests strongly that the song is actually 'about' the Catholic Church.

In the first instance, there is the song's imagery. This makes much of conventionally Catholic terminology such as 'missionary times', 'silver cross', 'holy medallion', and 'saintlike face'. More importantly, however, the song asks two fundamental questions, which relate to Dylan's interior spiritual struggle. The first rhetorically answers those who would argue that an organisation that has so often been accused of involvement in worldly power-plays cannot be accepted as a repository of divine truth:

Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide

To show you the dead angels that they used to hide.

But why did they pick you to sympathise with their side?

Oh, how could they ever mistake you?

In Bob Dylan's songs, the 'farm' is always institutionalised society, hence 'I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more,' from 'Maggie's Farm'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Bob Dylan's Dilemma: Which Blonde?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.