Sunday, December 7, 2008

Neighborhood Bully

In 1983 Bob Dylan released his 22nd album called Infidels. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. Mark Femrite, a friend and Dylan fan, invited me over for the first playing of his new vinyl. Dylan's previous albums were a trilogy of evangelical/gospel albums through which he had declared his Christian faith and explored, in his own original manner, the meaning of that faith.

The meaning of this album title then took on an intriguing aspect in light of this context. The word infidel has several definitions. (1) An unbeliever with respect to a particular religion, especially Christianity or Islam. (2) One who has no religious beliefs. (3) One who doubts or rejects a particular doctrine, system, or principle.

Dylan's ambiguity is legendary, so that it would be near impossible to declare emphatically in favor of one definition over another, or whether he is referring to himself or his enemies, especially in light of song number three on side one, Neighborhood Bully.

The songs on this album cover a range of geopolitical themes. Neighborhood Bully is an polemic regarding Israel. The song is a defense of its controversial stance in the world, especially as regards how the media has painted it.

As is often the case, Dylan distills his theme to its essence, and then explores the implications or meanings of that essence. The song is delivered in volleys of rock force. Its lyrics present a vivid and concise world view that may be worth further contemplation.

Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized daily for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, supposed to have thick skin,
Supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
He's the neighborhood bully.

He got no allies to really speak of.
What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.
He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.
To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one's command.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
He's the neighborhood bully.

What's anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin', they say.
He just likes to cause war.
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.
He's the neighborhood bully.

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers?
Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
Running out of time, time standing still,
Neighborhood bully.

Copyright ©1983 Special Rider Music


LEWagner said...

The Jews have been a cruelly persecuted race throughout history, and I don't think there is any question about that.
The government of the country of Israel, however, is not the same thing as the Jewish race.
It angers me when the right wing deliberately confuses the two, and says that anyone who disagrees with Israeli policy is "anti-Semitic". It is a perverse twisting of the English language, like saying that anyone who didn't like Chairman Mao, hated the Chinese.
As to the question of who is the neighborhood bully, I think it is true that the Zionists forcibly moved onto land that had belonged to the Palestinians for centuries, and displaced those people.
I remember reading a book written shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, of which event the author was very happy.
He interviewed some of the first Jewish settlers, one of whom was a displaced, formerly very well-to-do, European Jewish lady, whose family had settled into a house that formerly belonged to a Palestinian family. (The Palestinians had had to leave in haste, of course, in fear for their lives, taking with them only what they could carry.)
The lady who was being interviewed criticized the fact that the house she had moved into was dirty. "Just filthy."
Another indicator of who is the neighborhood bully might be the casualty statistics.

Please note that these statistics do not include future victims that will undoubtedly result from Israeli use of cluster-bombs. (Use of cluster-bombs, which are well-known to kill mostly civilians, and mostly children, is nearly universally condemned by the world community.)

TIBU2.COM said...

What's a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?

LEWagner said...


ENNYMAN said...

LEW: TIBU2 was citing a line from a different song from the Infidels album.

As for your original comment... I am not in agreement with (political) "Israel Right Or Wrong" just as I am not in agreement with "America Right Or Wrong."

You obviously believe in a moral universe and that some things are evil and some are good. That's a good thing.

The song, to me, brought me to at least see some of the feelings that exist for Jewish peoples and I shared it here because the tragic incident in Mumbai at Chabad house brought it to mind.

LEWagner said...

Innocent civilians have suffered the most, on all sides of the world's religious conflicts.
I'm not sure who's killed more of whom, or who uses the cruelest and most immoral methods of creating mayhem.
All I can list is casualty counts. These do not seem to prove that Muslims are the most violence-prone people in the world, though the western media certainly tends to portray them as being so.

ENNYMAN said...

>>>Innocent civilians have suffered the most, on all sides of the world's religious conflicts.

I would re-word this to say "Innocent civilians have suffered the most, on all sides of the world's religious and political conflicts."

I would also suggest that if one were to read the entire scope of my thoughts and writings, I lean toward a pacifistic persuasion. You rightly challenged my pacifism by citing the need for an armed resistance to Hitler.

Ultimately, I believe violence begets violence.

In sharing Neighborhood Bully, I was striving to give a measure of credence to Israel's stance, and the truth is somewhere in the dialogue.

It is my understanding that the Jews fleeing Hitler were refused sanctuary in the U.S. and Britain due to back room deals in which Britain ceded Palestine as their "safe zone"... from pogroms in Russia, German genocide and anti-semitism elsewhere.

The song does capture something that resonates with a part of me in regard to the hostility that has historically been heaped on Israel, the people.