The Poet and His Mistakes



“Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it

Hope I don’t blow it”

That’s Bob Dylan on “I Shall Be Free no. 10”, from Another Side of Bob Dylan. Another Side really is the album where the poet blows it. There are three absolutely awful songs on this album, and now that we’ve reached the end of 1964, I can’t put it any other way – even Dylan was fallible. Perhaps, Dylan was especially fallible.

We spent the day snowboarding in Fernie, BC today, and I had time to listen to every single Dylan 1964 recording I had one last time. I set the playlist to go at the beginning of the day and didn’t skip anything (too much hassle to take off my gloves, unzip the jacket, turn on the phone – hit skip…). One final chance to make an impression.


Here are the three songs that just absolutely do not work.

“I Shall Be Free No. 10”. A disaster. As Dylan moved towards the impressionistic lyrics that would define his mid-1960s period, there was inevitably going to be some trial and error, but there was no need to put it out on the album. This is a potential six way tie for worse verse of all time, but let’s give the nod to this rumination on the greatest boxer of all time:

I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day

I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay

I said “Fee, fie, fo, fum, Cassius Clay, here I come

26, 27, 28, 29, I’m gonna make your face look just like mine

Five, four, three, two, one, Cassius Clay you’d better run

99, 100, 101, 102, your ma won’t even recognize you

14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen

That probably only narrowly beats out:

Well, I set my monkey on the log

And ordered him to do the Dog

He wagged his tail and shook his head

And he went and did the Cat instead

He’s a weird monkey, very funky

I get the fact that some of these songs might not have been written while sober, but presumably they were released in the cold hard light of day.

“Motorpsycho Nitemare”. This is a story song in which Dylan is at a farm, pretending to be a doctor, milking the cows and singing about Tony Perkins and Fidel Castro. It concludes:

Me, I romp and stomp

Thankful as I romp

Without freedom of speech

I might be in the swamp

 Finally, “Ballad in Plain D”. This is the worst song Dylan has written so far in this project, and it’s going to be tough to top for worst of all time. Basically a rewriting of the traditional English folk tune about lost love, this song details the final night of Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo. His biographers all point to a knock-down drag-out fight between Dylan and Carla Rotolo, Suze’s older sister. People were called to intervene. It sounds like an ugly scene. It is a ridiculously ugly song. Dylan is abusively uncharitable, mean spirited and self-pitying. It sounds like exactly what it is: the raw nerved ramblings of a bitter and immature twenty-something going through his first real break-up. Even the meter is off in several places. If it was therapeutic to write, it probably shouldn’t have been recorded, and it certainly shouldn’t have been released.

Another Side of Bob Dylan has some great songs (“To Ramona”, “I Don’t Believe You”) but it also has some dreadful ones. Listening to both this and The Times They Are A-Changin’ in quick succession today, it is impossible not to note how much stronger Times is in almost every single respect. That’s the last Dylan folk album and it is Dyaln in total control of his craft. Another Side is his first rock one (although it is not yet rock) and he is not yet sure in what he is doing The birth pangs are pretty pronounced.

(Photo not from 1964, but how could I possibly not use it?)

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