- 08 May 20
The Song And Dance Man Knows How To Work A Captive Audience
Following on from ‘Murder Most Foul’ and ‘I Contain Multitudes’, Bob Dylan has released a third lockdown single, ‘False Prophet’, and announced his first album of original material in eight years, Rough And Rowdy Ways, which is available from June 19th.
The album surely takes its name from Jimmie Rodgers’ 1929 lamentation for his own laddishness, ‘My Rough And Rowdy Ways’, Dylan being a long time admirer, putting together a tribute album back in 1997 that roped in Bono, Van, Willie, amongst other bobcats. That song is about a guy who, though he tries, just can’t settle down, the call of the barroom and the road is too strong. Dylan has been answering that call all his life. It took this goddamn virus to get him to actually stay home for a couple of months. The forthcoming album will be a double, and it would have to be to accommodate ‘Murder Most Foul’s full seventeen minutes, in a similar way to how Blonde On Blonde needed some extra real estate to house ‘Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands.’ And hey, there was a sad-eyed prophet in that one too.
The first bit of good news about ‘False Prophet’ is that Dylan has given his drummer something to do after the interesting but dirgey recent singles. The music of this lolloping, almost stumbling blues could have come from the monumental lobes of Willie Dixon - by way of 'Minnie The Moocher' - hawking his latest to the Chess brothers. The stinging guitar breaks could be Hubert Sumlin stepping forward, giving the mighty Howlin’ Wolf a breather.
What about the title? Whose shadow is hanging from a noose in the background of that cover art? Who’s got hair like that? Is that a syringe full of bleach in the well-dressed skeleton’s hand? Couldn’t be, or could it? When he was talking about a dead president in ‘Murder Most Foul’, maybe Kennedy wasn’t the president he was thinking about? Dylan has been referred to as a prophet since he got off the bus, even Pope Benedict had a pop at him for it, but all Dylan wanted to be was a song and dance man. He “opened his heart to the world, and the world came in.” He ain’t no false prophet, he just knows what he knows.
Ricky Nelson’s Mary Lou and Jimmy Wages’ Miss Pearl are the psychopomps on this spiritual journey, but perhaps we’re dealing with Jungian claptrap, where the women are the doorkeepers between the halls of the unconscious and the conscious. Either way, they mean business. The artist is the “enemy of the unlived meaningless life”, going where “only the lonely” go, so the rest of us don’t have too, but he ain’t no false prophet, he just knows what he knows.
Just like ‘I Contain Multitudes’ there’s some bragging that would make Muddy Waters or Kanye West blush – “I’m first among equals, Second to none, last of the best, you can bury the rest” He’s got a point though, who’s coming after him? Who else is left? He ain’t no false prophet, but he knows what he knows, his own worth.
Is the cool breeze the wind of the Holy Spirit that blows where it wishes, which we hear but know not from where? Or is it just wind? Didn’t Adam and Eve hear the Sound of God walking in the garden when a cool breeze was blowing, or is Dylan talking about the Agony In The Garden, where Jesus asked God to let this cup pass him by? Wasn’t the Holy Grail just a cup, the cup of Christ, the Christ whose story was a song of love ended by a song of betrayal? Are we the poor devils who should look up and remember that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world, and a city of god on a hill cannot be hidden. Alternatively, vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the lord. He ain’t no false prophet, but he knows what he knows.
Or maybe I'm the one with the poison brain, shot with tombstone bullets and a ball n’ chain. Dylan “can’t remember when I was born, and I forgot when I died” He already told us, he sleeps with life and death in the same bed, he contains multitudes. He ain’t no false prophet, but he knows what he knows.