The Life And Times Of Ryan J Finnigan: Hell Hath No Fury like a Zimmerman Scorn
Hell Hath No Fury like a Zimmerman Scorn
or: The Top 10 Lyrical Bitchslaps of Bob Dylan.
Throughout my love-affair with the lyrics of Bob Dylan, it has been with a limitless swooning sigh that I have realised that not only has Bob written consistently great lyrics, he has done so on every subject. A masterwork of epic weaving, I have had many a feeling pulled from my guts and for every thought an expression liberated from the tip of my tongue by the back catalogue of Dylan’s lyrics. To an aspiring writer, this is met with not only with great admiration and a glowing feeling of inspiration but also a depression of envy. As the great man himself said, “It’s a restless hungry feeling that ain’t doing me no good, when everything I’m saying, you can say it just as good”.
Within this great wealth of style, subject and emotional range, it has always stood out to me that the same man that can write tender and subtly observed love songs can also be a complete bastard. When Dylan has a cross to bear, his words are particularly cold and ruthless, whether it is for condemnation of injustice, or simply sweet revenge. So here, I attempt a little bit of a top 10 of those “Oh no he didn’t!” moments.
Assuming that the entire world is familiar with the chronology of the transmutations of Zimmerman the activist, the philosopher, the cowboy, the evangelist, the gruff boozy Santa, then I shall push on in roughly (but loosely) these periods.
Young, idealistic Bobbo. Sticking it to the man, to the villains and the twisted ideologies! He’s popped his head back in now and again over the decades with one-off’s like Hurricane but it was earlier that his bile spewed against the system.
The Cold War, The Vietnam War, The Kennedy Assassination and the Civil Rights Movement were the political back drop that surrounded and sculpted Dylan, just as he would come to influence the events himself. Cold War paranoia and the Communist witch-hunt provided rich material for the satirical humour evident in his early songwriting. For innumerable, indeciphable, cryptic reasons in the labyrinth of IQ beneath ever increasing curls, Dylan would all but fully lose this style, seen here as an effective putdown technique to an entire society’s thinking:
“I wus lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere
I wus lookin’ in the sink an’ underneath the chair
I looked way up my chimney hole
I even looked deep down inside my toilet bowl
They got away . . .”
- Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues
As we shall see, Dylan’s critical and damning writing arguably continued instead down the path of the more frank, “Right on target, so direct” insults displayed in the anti-war classic Masters of War
“You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins”
The last two lines almost single-handedly bridge the gap between social ‘cause’ songs such as Oxford Town, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Only a Pawn in their Game etc. and the finger-pointing to the shortcomings of others displayed as Ray moved into the exploration of the self and the conveying of emotion, of the intangible.
It’s quite apparent that Dylan’s most judgemental character assassinations are reserved solely for the women in his life and largely, they take up the bulk of his most impressive and most disarming lines. If Dylan had been a comedian, it’s certain he wouldn’t have stood for a heckler.
The contempt towards lovers, ex-lovers, unrequited lovers et al has taken many forms from the puzzling one-liner to the song-long diatribe. Firstly then, we shall look at how a man may dole out heartbreak in possibly the most cruel of brush-off’s.
Picture the scene. Desirable Young R.J. repeatedly wafts away the advances of a persistent young nymph looking for his devotion, only to be met with the indifference of non-committal, navel gazing youth. Alas, the lassie continues to try against his will, testing his patience enough to have the following unleashed:
“Go melt back into the night, babe
Everything inside is made of stone
There’s nothing in here moving
An’ anyway I’m not alone”
- It Ain’t Me Babe.
That’s some cold shit, Mom. Still, you can feel for the poor boy as he “brags of his misery”. He’s dead inside! Get off his back you bunny boiler…. Or at least, that’s his side of the story. Another Side of B.D.
Dylan’s writing of the period (and essentially, in any period since in which he has made decent records) became deeply autobiographical. You can try and work out your Edie’s from your Joan’s and Sara’s but that’s just parlour games. Largely, it is enough to know that what you’re hearing is real. It might not always be the truth but it is a truth. This is evident from the songs themselves, not just apocryphal tales from rags, lending the songs and the scenarios the weight with which any listener can feel an insult land.
Consider then, to have formed a relationship with the prodigy himself. To have aggrandised and mentored the pipsqueak from café busker to International success and then to get this in the tits:
“Now when all of the flower ladies want back what they have lent you
And the smell of their roses does not remain
And all of your children start to resent you
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”
- Queen Jane Approximately
Politely, that would be an invitation I would send back. All of my children start to resent me?! You cheeky chain-smoking chump!
Similarly, like Brian Wilson’s Caroline, No, how could you be somebody’s partner and receive such a subtle hint that you might not be ALL THAT in popular song form and not go ape:
“Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place”
- Visions of Johanna
I’m just near. Like a dog and a leg, thanks. Visions of Johanna, however is a colourful palette of bittersweet beauty, longing and complexity and cannot be viewed as clearly as some of the other unforgivable body-blows. Yet, the basic human insecurity that we are all, or will somehow be recognised as being, just not Johanna, is a heart-breaking thought.
Alas, it’s alright to have a lizard tongue, lashing out whips to the faces of your lovers but it’s probably why you’re gonna find yourself single and scorned (a lot), which will form the next look at Dylan’s rants.
Written By Ryan J Finnigan