I’m just putting it out there right now: Bob Dylan has got to be one of the most tremendously talented songwriters of the last 50 years. In my unending journey to discover new and wonderful music, I’ve come across dozens of songs performed by other artists yet written by Dylan that blow me away. And when I searched for the original versions, I found them to be different enough from the covers and yet still possessing that same magic that inspires me in my writing.
For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of 60’s music. There was even a point when I “disliked” the Beatles. [I love them now! It’s different! Don’t come after me!] But that all changed about four or five years ago. I was introduced to Nina Simone, Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake, Joan Baez, and of course, Bob Dylan. A lot of those original 60’s songs are treasures, with lyrics written to make us observe the things in our everyday lives more closely. They are moody, sometimes fiery, sometimes calm jewels that are forever entrenched in our history. And when I throw on my Bob Dylan station on Pandora, I know that I’m apt to come up with great stories, no matter what song pops up. Today, I’d like to share 6 of his songs with you and what I see when I listen to them.
Like A Rolling Stone: I can see a character who has always been dependent on someone his entire life. He’s used to being the life of the party, of being one of the crowd. Now he’s out on his own and he has no contacts, no one to lean against when he needs help. But after all of the initial panic and worry, he discovers that he enjoys the solitude, the fact that he can decide to do whatever he wants on his own and that he can go where ever he wants. This in someways fits with the character I wrote for Night Time, Dotted Line. He’s just learning to see things in a different way and he finally feels a sort of freedom in it.
Times They Are A-Changin’: This is a slightly sadder version of the song I’ve come to love ever since seeing the dark, brilliant movie, “Watchmen.” This plays over a montage of scenes in my head. Several characters are undergoing major changes in their lives. Some are uplifting; a couple buying their first house, another couple brings their baby home for the first time, and a recovering alcoholic lands a job as a firefighter, something he’s always wanted to be ever since he was a little boy. At the same time, there are a handful of bad things happening. A woman watches as her drug dealer son is arrested by the police from her apartment window, a father drives across country away from his abusive ex-wife with his two young boys screaming and rough-housing in the backseat, and a woman’s winning lottery ticket is torn from her hand by the wind, and flits down into a gutter hole in the street.
Positively 4th Street: This is a character who has big ambitions and has been on a road to victory over the last couple of months. Only recently, he’s discovered that the people closest to him, the people he thought were on his side helping him have actually been keeping secrets from him… a couple of them are actually trying to ruin his plans to succeed. He’s shocked and doesn’t know what to do from here. Now, he’s got a paranoid outlook toward everyone around him, not sure who he can really trust. And, he’s getting fed up. The more that goes wrong, the more frustrated he becomes. All it will take is one more problem for him to snap.
Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts: I always love it when a song tells a story. This is one of my favorites, a gem that I hadn’t known about until recently. It’s a long song but to me, it also works as a character theme for someone who has a reputation, is known for being a charmer, a ladies man, and a skilled gambler. But he’s also arrogant and makes the wrong decisions without thinking about the consequences. This eventually puts him in between the attention of two women and their husbands/fiance’s. The story works for me as a western, a romance from the early 20’s, or even something from the 60’s. No matter what the decade, the song and the story an work.
Maggie’s Farm: I was introduced to this song while watching “Lady in the Water,” which is one of my favorite films by M. Night Shymalan. The song was a cover done by Silvertide and I instantly fell in love with it. But listening to Bob Dylan’s version definitely inspires me more than the hard rock version that Silvertide did for the movie. The main character is a farm hand who has fallen in love with the titular Maggie, who is the daughter of the man he works for. He and the daughter have snuck off to the hayloft to kiss and are inadvertently interrupted by Maggie’s father. This song cues and our main character runs for his life as the father chases him about the farm. To me, it’s a humorous song of ill-advised decision-making in the lives of two young people in love.
One More Cup of Coffee: A coffee shop in a quiet little town. A drifter enters, having just arrived by train. He orders a coffee and sits in a booth in the back corner and glances over the paper for the little town. Soon, through the door walks a tall brunette. The drifter is star-struck as he recognizes her almost immediately. He tries to hide behind the newspaper and peeks out in time to see the woman ask the man behind the counter a question. As he points to the drifter’s table in the corner, she turns toward it and yanks a gun out of her purse. With his hand still around the cup of coffee, the drifter leaps up from the table and plunges through the door to the kitchen nearby, missing the first bullet. Coffee sloshes over his hand from the mug as he ducks around cooks and waiters. Just as he slams the backdoor open he hears another shot go off and the bullet ricocheting off of metal pots and pans. He should have known better than take his ex-wife’s money and run.
Next week on Inspiration Through Music, we’ll be taking a look at an artist I discovered while writing “Vox” who’s work has been one of my core inspirations ever since! Sarah Fimm is next week! Stay tuned!