Friday, March 11, 2016

Love Minus Zero/No Limit Is A Beautiful Equation

The concept of infinity is an effort to describe the abstract notion of something without boundaries. In numbers infinity is always bigger than anything. If you have infinity and you add other numbers to it, it is still infinite. It's a very strange idea.

So, too, is the title of the song Love Minus Zero/No Limit, the fourth cut on Bringing It All Back Home. It's a strange way to title a song, with a slash in the middle. Until you realize that this is not a normal title per se. It's an equation, like 4/2=2. In mathematics the forward slash represents "divided by. Four divided by two equals two.

So what's Love minus zero divided by no limit? Well, no limit equals infinity. It is infinite. Ten divided by infinity would be an infinitely small number. In fact, any finite number divided by infinity would be an infinitely small number.

However, if one's love is infinite, and you subtract zero from that, the equation now reads "Infinity divided by infinity." Which equals One. If each human heart is an infinity, it is through love that the two become one.

And so it is that the Bootleg Series, Volume 12 opens with this very intriguing song, a song which had special for me personally because last summer. It's a beautiful equation. And like the title itself, the lyrics are allusions, images and abstractions that require "solving" to extract the best flavors that they contain.

Dylan has played the song 365 times in concert, the last time being Broomfield, Colorado in 2012.

Love Minus Zero, No Limit

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

In a chapter titled Temperance Dr. Christopher Ricks devotes 15 pages to dissecting these lyrics in his book Dylan's Visions of Sin. Likewise John Hinchey devotes a section of his Like A Complete Unknown to the song.

Despite its mysteries the song has always been a favorite,  but now has special significance, as it is now associated with a specific moment in time. That moment occurred last summer, as this was the song my daughter selected to be sung as I walked her down the aisle to be wed to her mathematician husband. That was a beautiful equation indeed.

Do you have a Dylan song that is especially meaningful for you? I'd like to hear about it.


Anonymous said...

It's nice to see that somebody has tried to do something about the meaning of the title of this gem, but from a methematics point of view there are some things you missed in your writing.
First, infinity divided by infinity can be a number (not only one, but anyone in the Real numbers set) or even the own infinity.
And second, you're accepting the fact that the way the title is written is right.

My approach is: the title must be wrong. The right one should be:
Love divided by cero equals No limit (Infinity). Love/Zero=Infinity (No limit). This is absolutely right in mathematics terms. Always something divided for something really small, an infinitesimal amount, would give us a huge amount, ie infinity, unlimited amount of Love.

All the best


Tulip said...

I think love minus zero/ no limit alludes to the roulette wheel where the house takes all if zero comes up so if you take zero away you can bet all on love!

Regards, Tulip

Peter Elliott said...

Yes my special song is Love minus zero/no limit as well. Thank you for the post about this glorious song which is one of the greatest songs ever.

Mani said...

... look here:

Gruss ;)

Ed Newman said...

Thank you for the thoughtful comments. If my math is bad here, it was fun to contemplate. Another equation that I like is 1 + 1 = 1, which is also bad math. Alas.

Mani, thanks for the very interesting excursion there in the Value of Love, Using the Dylan Model link.

Anonymous said...

Hi and thanks for this charming post about this wonderful and timeless tune. To avoid responding in temptingly disparaging terms about your mathematician correspondent who presumes to suggest that "the title must b wrong" could I just say that on (at least) one occasion in the live situation Dylan introduces this song with (something vey like) ..."The name of this song is a fraction; Love Minus Zero is on top of the fraction and No Limit is underneath the fraction. It looks like that. I wrote the title before the song".

Kind regards,

John David Chesterman

Music of Bob Dylan said...

Hello there, Thank you for posting this analysis of a song from Bob Dylan's Music Box: Come and join us inside and listen to every song composed, recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, plus all the great covers streaming on YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and SoundCloud plus so much more... including this link.

Unknown said...

I have always been fascinated by the way this song melds so well with If Not For You which George Harrison covered so well on All Things Must Pass.

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