Wednesday, April 25, 2018

All Along the Watchtower All Around the World... with Echoes

Ten years and 1.5 million pageviews ago I wrote a blog post about Dylan's enigmatic All Along the Watchtower. In re-reading it today it dawned on me that the title of the album Love and Theft might even be an echo of these two characters, the Joker and the Thief.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to the video below, Playing For Change. It's a fascinating way to interweave cultures, to visibly show us -- as well as dramatically and aurally -- how diverse we are as a human family, yet can simultaneously be united through song and through music.

Shortly after Paul Simon released his Graceland album a documentary was produced showing how Simon incorporated South African sounds and other influences into the rich fabric of his music for this production. At one point in the film he is giving a workshop to youth about how to write a song. He said, "Begin with one true thing," and then add another and another.

I can't help but hear this approach to songwriting in many of Dylan's songs, especially this one, which begins, "There must be some way out of here." Which (after introducing the characters) is followed by, "There's too much confusion. I can't get no relief."

Many have called the song apocalyptic. It is certainly enigmatic and like the Joker, it is a perpetual riddle without resolution. "And the win begins to howl." (Does anyone else here see a tie between that line and the opening of Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem,  "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness"? Or a reference to another Dylan classic, "Blowing in the Wind"?)

How many of these layers of connective tissue are intentional and how many serendipitous?

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An Amusing Anecdote
Two or three years ago we were at Carmody's for Dylan Trivia on the second night of Duluth Dylan Fest. One of the questions pertained to this song All Along The Watchtower. When the scoring was taking place at the end of the contest, as the MC read the answer, someone at the next table said, "I thought Jimi Hendrix wrote that." Our table of Dylan Fest friends laughed.

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Related Links
The Musicians on Playing for Change
Buy the Album here


Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

Oh Ed, what a powerful video of "Watchtower"! I'm glad I didn't miss it. Big thanks to you.