Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

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Dylan’s language in the song is as naturalistic and everyday as Robert Wilkins’s easy-going blues, but there is a sense of urgency from the outset that feels very different to the steady rhythms of the Delta. The singer has something important to say and ‘No time for poetry’. He constantly asks questions (‘Didn’t you?’ ‘How does it feel?’) but the woman he sings to is given no opportunity to respond, and he confines and constricts her in his short staccato lines, as if he is saying that this is finally something she can’t wriggle out of, something she has to hear. The listener would not necessarily expect any structural depth in this linguistic locale, but ‘dressed so fine’, for example, is not just a cliché. The past tense indicates there is a twist or parody element at work in this song that begins ‘Once upon a time’: it is a ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ fairy tale of riches to rags, not the traditional rags to riches. The arrogance of ‘Threw the bums a dime’ echoes ‘Buddy can you spare a dime?’ and suggests the world of the Great Depression when thousands were forced to become ‘rolling stones’, falling to the bottom of the pile as ‘bums’, even if they had once been at the top, in their ‘prime’. That expression suggests ‘in the prime of life’, revealing that this is something past – that things have changed. Miss Lonely’s ‘fall’ seems to have been inevitable, always a part of her, and others could see it when she wasn’t able to: ‘“Beware doll, you’re bound to fall.”’. Her defence against their unwanted warnings was to live a life in which she took nothing seriously. Laughter isn’t wrong, but Miss Lonely’s laughter sounds hollow. Her reliance on its easy defence explains why she believes ‘People’ were just ‘kidding’ her; it’s why she ‘laughs about’ those who loiter without purpose, hoping for someone to throw them a dime. Somewhere inside, she knows that sooner or later she will have to join them.

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the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul