Monday, June 30, 2014

Man Gave Names To All The Animals

Gospel-phase Dylan, SF 1979
Jann Wenner's 1979 Rolling Stone review of Slow Train Coming makes the following bold statement about this new phase in Dylan's career: "It takes only one listening to realize that Slow Train Coming (Columbia Records) is the best album Bob Dylan has made since The Basement Tapes (recorded with the Band in 1967 but not released until 1975). The more I hear the new album — at least fifty times since early July — the more I feel that it's one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest."

Wenner's review seems to diss his late 70's work (which many fans -- including myself -- consider rich and underrated) but without doubt Slow Train did reverberate in ways that nothing else had since the mid-Sixties. No one questions the production values of this first of Dylan's three "Gospel" albums. His passion for this work comes through in its attention to detail throughout.

When he took it to the road, this shift to a Christian viewpoint may have been off-putting to many of his fans that year, but it wasn't the first time he encountered boos. My brother and his wife attended a Philadelphia Dylan concert at the time in which their third row seats were directly behind a row of drunks who spent quite a bit of energy hurling abuse toward the stage.

This song came to mind last night while I was doing a series of pen, brush and ink illustrations for a logo my daughter had asked me to design. After completing the farm animals it was a simple matter to make the bear and the snake.

Though the song has had its detractors, in the grand scheme of things Dylan must have liked it as he performed Man Gave Names in concert 155 times from 1979 at the Warfield (where the photo above was taken) to Stockholm, Sweden in 1991.

For me the song was fun the very first time I heard it, and is fun to this day. As in all his songs it isn't just the words, but how he sings them that makes them enjoyable or thought-provoking or whatever. In this case, fun. "He saw milk comin' out but he didn't know how. 'Ah, think I'll call it a cow.'" That little "ah" pause makes it hilarious. Like Adam is thinking about all this, deliberating the way a child would. Maybe we have to be like little children to appreciate its reggae-inspired simplicity.

A number of artists have covered Man Gave Names To All the Animals including Townes Van Zandt. It's based, obviously, on the creation story found in Genesis 1:19-20. The manner in which Dylan leaves the last creature unnamed is a nice little zinger to walk away with. In a light-hearted way the story leaves off with a reminder that there is real danger in the world. Innocence isn't forever.

Man Gave Names to All the Animals

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago

He saw an animal that liked to growl
Big furry paws and he liked to howl
Great big furry back and furry hair
“Ah, think I’ll call it a bear”

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago


He saw an animal up on a hill
Chewing up so much grass until she was filled
He saw milk comin’ out but he didn’t know how
“Ah, think I’ll call it a cow”

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago


He saw an animal that liked to snort
Horns on his head and they weren’t too short
It looked like there wasn’t nothin’ that he couldn’t pull
“Ah, think I’ll call it a bull”

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago
He saw an animal leavin’ a muddy trail
Real dirty face and a curly tail
He wasn’t too small and he wasn’t too big
“Ah, think I’ll call it a pig”

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago


Next animal that he did meet
Had wool on his back and hooves on his feet
Eating grass on a mountainside so steep
“Ah, think I’ll call it a sheep”

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago


He saw an animal as smooth as glass
Slithering his way through the grass
Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake . . .

Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music




Photo courtesy Bill Pagel, November 8, 1979
Setlist for that night at the Warfield Theater. This song was fifth on the setlist that evening.
Illustrations courtesy Ed Newman

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