Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

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Four years after arriving in New York, Dylan had developed a complex enough musical and lyrical vocabulary to return creatively to this pivotal period of his life. The transformation of 1961 is at the heart of Highway 61 Revisited; its songs revisit the road he had taken metaphorically in that year. But the album is not an autobiography, or even particularly personal in its scope. Dylan’s experiences – as with any artist – nourish its creative roots, but the words of its songs, even those that may in fact be personal, are always directed outwards towards unnamed others, identified only by the loose associations of descriptive phrases. ‘Placeholder’ tags such as ‘Napoleon in rags’ or ‘Einstein disguised as Robin Hood’, sketch out characters’ qualities in a kind of shorthand and appear to hint at some true identity known only to the singer. In most cases, this is more rhetorical than real, but commentators are often drawn down the rabbit hole of trying to discover which ‘real individuals’ are hidden in his songs. For example, Edie Sedgwick, famous at the time for her association with Andy Warhol’s Factory, is frequently identified with Miss Lonely from ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, even though such an assertion is impossible to prove and tells the listener almost nothing useful about Edie Sedgwick or the song. As Dylan sings in ‘Desolation Row’, ‘I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name.’ He was, and is, a very reserved and equally shrewd creative artist; it can be reasonably assumed that he will have shuffled the cards thoroughly when referencing individuals he knew. The point about these placeholder characters is rather that they could be us, or those we know or have heard of, or even – and this is surprisingly often the case – Dylan himself in one of his many guises.

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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