Bob Dylan’s so-called “Never Ending Tour” has been shut down due to the worldwide coronavirus epidemic, so what does he do? Records two new songs–his first release of original material in 8 years–and puts them out free to the world on video.
And after three albums covering Frank Sinatra and other crooners, the 79-year-old Nobel Prize winner has come full circle, returning to the style of his youth: a stream of enigmatic but compelling and thought-provoking lines and imagery.
The most recent is “I Contain Multitudes.” The title is a quotation from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” And that’s what Dylan has written, a song of himself. He “contains” such personalities as Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, and the Rolling Stones. Love and hate. Tenderness and firearms. Sin and grace. As he says,
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes
Don’t we all?
Pete, a longtime commenter and member of our Cranach community here, organized a Zoom discussion of this song and kindly brought me in. He also noted intimations of Jesus.
Here are the lyrics. Here is the song:
A few weeks earlier, Dylan released a magnum opus: An epic 17-minute song about the Kennedy assassination entitled “Murder Most Foul.” That too is a literary quotation. This one is from Hamlet: “Murder most foul, as in the best it is,/But this most foul, strange, and unnatural” (Act I. scene v. lines 31-32). The lines refer to the killing of Hamlet’s father, but it applies well to the Kennedy assassination, and Dylan shows us how “foul” and “strange” it was.
That event was a defining moment for those of us of his generation. He makes the shooting in Dallas the center of a wide-ranging meditation on American culture ever since, including the music that he was so much a part of and puncturing the hyped-up ideals of the Sixties. Consider, for example, these lines:
I’m going to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age
Then I’ll go over to Altamont and sit near the stage
Altamont, of course, being the music festival in which the Peace and Love of Woodstock was replaced with the Hell’s Angels murdering a member of the audience as the Rolling Stones sang “Sympathy for the Devil.”
This song is rife with religious imagery. Like this:
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son,
The age of the anti-Christ has just only begun.”
Here are the lyrics. And here is the song (again, it lasts 17 minutes):
Dylan offered this song to the public with a coronavirus virus blessing: “Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.”
For a very good discussion of both of these songs, go here.