From Another Year

Like Desolation Row
Like Desolation Row

With Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday, I started looking around in my archives for something that felt like a song. Yeah. Sure. I have pictures of Dylan onstage and off, but everybody knows what he looks like. Even if you don’t, with Google Images, his pictures are a keystroke or two away.


This. From the man’s very own website.

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging. They’re painting the passports brown. The beauty parlor is filled with sailors. The circus is in town. Here comes the blind commissioner. They’ve got him in a trance. One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker. The other is in his pants. And the riot squad they’re restless. They need somewhere to go. As Lady and I look out tonight.

From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy. “It takes one to know one,” she smiles. And puts her hands in her back pockets. Bette Davis style. And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning. “You Belong to Me I Believe. ” And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend. You better leave.” And the only sound that’s left. After the ambulances go. Is Cinderella sweeping up.

On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden. The stars are beginning to hide. The fortune-telling lady. Has even taken all her things inside. All except for Cain and Abel. And the hunchback of Notre Dame. Everybody is making love. Or else expecting rain. And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing. He’s getting ready for the show. He’s going to the carnival tonight.

On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window. For her I feel so afraid. On her twenty-second birthday. She already is an old maid.  To her, death is quite romantic. She wears an iron vest. Her profession’s her religion. Her sin is her lifelessness. And though her eyes are fixed up. Noah’s great rainbow.  She spends her time peeking.

Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood. With his memories in a trunk. Passed this way an hour ago.With his friend, a jealous monk. He looked so immaculately frightful. As he bummed a cigarette. Then he went off sniffing drainpipes. And reciting the alphabet. Now you would not think to look at him. But he was famous long ago. For playing the electric violin.

On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world. Inside of a leather cup. But all his sexless patients. They’re trying to blow it up. Now his nurse, some local loser. She’s in charge of the cyanide hole. And she also keeps the cards that read. “Have Mercy on His Soul.” They all play on penny whistles. You can hear them blow. If you lean your head out far enough.

From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains. They’re getting ready for the feast. The Phantom of the Opera. A perfect image of a priest. They’re spoonfeeding Casanova. To get him to feel more assured. Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence. After poisoning him with words.  And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls. “Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know. Casanova is just being punished for going…

To Desolation Row

Now at midnight all the agents. And the superhuman crew.  Come out and round up everyone. That knows more than they do. Then they bring them to the factory. Where the heart-attack machine. Is strapped across their shoulders. And then the kerosene. Is brought down from the castles. By insurance men who go. Check to see that nobody is escaping.

To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune. The Titanic sails at dawn. And everybody’s shouting. “Which Side Are You On?” And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Fighting in the captain’s tower. While calypso.  singers laugh at them. And fishermen hold flowers. Between the windows of the sea. Where lovely mermaids flow. And nobody has to think too much.

About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday. (About the time the doorknob broke). When you asked how I was doing. Was that some kind of joke? All these people that you mention. Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame. I had to rearrange their faces. And give them all another name.  Right now I can’t read too good. Don’t send me no more letters, no. Not unless you mail them.

From Desolation Row.”

Copyright © 1965 Bob Dylan/ Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

Long song, huh? Even though it was written in 1965, it seems like it speaks directly to right now. Believe it or now, I can sing the entire song. With help. My voice? Oh, it’s never been that good. I sound like later Dylan and John Prine. Consider that Dylan can no longer carry a tune. His vocal strength is in his phrasing. And, John Prine had serious surgery for cancer. In a gland, next to his throat.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot.

The picture. I made this picture a long time ago. On film. Fuji Velvia. In Temple Bar. In Dublin. Ireland. I was on a so-called press tour. We were escorted everywhere. We saw a lot of stuff. But, good touristy stuff. Every now and then, we could go out on our own. We broke free. I went to Temple Bar. The neighborhood that gave birth to the band, U-2. Even back then, I had my own view of stuff. Oh, don’t worry. I made all the pictures the fulfilled the tourist board’s idea of Ireland.

That’s what you do. One for them. One for me.


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