Category Archives: Sunday songs

Love Sick and Pilgrim’s Progress

(Some content previously in this space has been moved to my newer website, The Cinch Review. It may be read at this link: Christopher Hitchens on Ricks, Bob Dylan and Bach.)

Thanks to David H. for his e-mail relevant to Bob Dylan’s song Love Sick:

Recently, I was reading Pilgrim’s Progress and came upon the following towards the end. I’m not sure if you have commented on this in the past. Seems as though the lyric in Lovesick references Bunyan. I was hoping that you might have some comment.

From Section 2.46 (John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress)

Now as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound; and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was builded of pearls and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold; so that by reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore, here they lay by it a while, crying out, because of their pangs, If ye find my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.

But, being a little strengthened, and better able to bear their sickness, they walked on their way, and came yet nearer and nearer, where were orchards, vineyards, and gardens, and their gates opened into the highway. Now, as they came up to these places, behold the gardener stood in the way, to whom the Pilgrims said, Whose goodly vineyards and gardens are these? He answered, They are the King’s, and are planted here for his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims. So the gardener had them into the vineyards, and bid them refresh themselves with the dainties. He also shewed them there the King’s walks, and the arbours where he delighted to be; and here they tarried and slept.

That was a new one on me, because I confess I have not read The Pilgrim’s Progress. (Wikipedia summary here, and full text available here.)

As I wrote back to David, I was aware that a similar sense of being “sick of love,” in reference to love of the Divine, appears in the Song of Solomon (aka the Song of Songs). And this certainly provides a way to reflect on Dylan’s song Love Sick, especially if one hears the album Time Out of Mind as a song sequence inspired by the singer’s relationship with God (as Ronnie Keohane has written on at length).

Looking more closely at this particular line, however, it turns out that Bunyan was actually quoting the Song of Solomon here, rather than coming up with his own usage. Chapter five, verse 8 goes (in the King James): I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.

And the phrase also appears in chapter two, verse 5: Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.

Some other translations, naturally, use the term lovesick instead. (And then there are others which use sick with love or faint with love.)

So knowing Dylan’s familiarity with the Bible, I guess we could assume that his sense of the phrase is more likely to have come directly from the Song of Solomon, although (who knows?) he could have had it brought to his attention again in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress.

It’s all wonderful food for reflection, in any case.

Sometimes the silence can be like the thunder
Sometimes I feel like I’m being plowed under
Could you ever be true? I think of you
And I wonder

I’m sick of love; I wish I’d never met you
I’m sick of love; I’m trying to forget you

Just don’t know what to do
I’d give anything to be with you

A question that I won’t even begin to speculate upon, however, is what this all tells us about the Victoria’s Secret commercial.

Addendum: Well, others have speculated! Thanks very much to Steve who suggests this interpretation of the VS commercial:

I also have thought about that Victoria’s Secret commercial. With the way Bob throws his hat down in the commercial and ends up walking away, I think he was saying he was sick of that kind of “love” (lust) that is so prevalent from someone neither one knows nor has the right to be that way towards. Plainly speaking, it was immoral. I’ll have none of it . . . . I think he says. While he may like to be with her, he can’t the way she is. As for the clothing company, just as long as Dylan the legend did their spot, they were going to let him do it his way. And I think he sent a message, too. (What is also interesting is at the beginning of the commercial, the distance shot looks somewhat like a religious altar area with this “angel” dressed the way she was. Fallen angel?)

Wow. I honestly figured the VS people just came up with some storyboards and Bob signed off on it. But there you go, more food for thought if you like.

Steve also forwarded some notes on the Hebrew for that expression “sick of love.” You can find it at this link.

Spirit On The Water: A return to Paradise

Bob Dylan’s song Spirit On The Water from his album Modern Times has been mentioned a few times on this website. It’s difficult for this listener to hear the tune any other way but as a kind of playful love song to God, or perhaps more interestingly as a playful dialogue between the creature and the Creator. I don’t think there’s any need (and at any rate this writer doesn’t have the appetite) to go down line by line and impose a rigorous intepretation. Each time I hear the song I hear something a little different, and that’s one of the great joys of Dylan’s work, after all.

One verse that has gotten close attention here previously, however, is the penultimate verse, the lyric of which goes like this: Continue reading “<em>Spirit On The Water</em>: A return to Paradise” »

Bobs & Ends

Tonight, Bob Dylan and his band, continuing on their European tour, are set to play in la “Halle Tony Garnier” in the town of Lyon, in France. Tony Garnier is of-course the name of the bass player in Bob Dylan’s band, and he has been the mainstay of that band for over twenty years. Nevertheless, the French did not actually name that concert hall in Lyon in honor of Bob Dylan’s bass player, but rather in honor of the architect Tony Garnier (1869 – 1948). He designed the hall, in fact, which opened in 1905. Still, one can imagine that Bob’s Tony Garnier will be smiling even more than usual at tonight’s gig, and the situation might even coax a joke out of Dylan himself, who doesn’t seem to have been terribly talkative in a while.

Today’s show is the sixteenth performance of this tour, which has nine shows remaining, ending on the 4th of July in Limerick, Ireland. (After a one month break, a U.S. tour will kick off in Austin, Texas.) With most of the shows to date being in Eastern Europe, it seems there hasn’t been as much in the way of news and reviews as there usually is, at least for us English-speaking types. Looking at the set lists, there hasn’t been any tremendous departure from recent tours. Forever Young has returned as an encore number. There is one little-heard song which has shown up twice so far, however, having not been played live by Dylan in over ten years, and that is What Good Am I?, a song from 1989’s Oh Mercy. I would think it’s a pretty fair guess that it occurred to Bob to pull this one out after having heard the recent version by Tom Jones.To a songwriter like Bob, I bet it’s a treat to hear his song sung by someone with those kind of chops. Sure: Tom Jones is not exactly Frank Sinatra, and he is 70 years old now, but he’s a seriously musical singer all the same. It’s some kind of compliment when he picks your song and gives it the full treatment, I would think.

Bob performed What Good Am I? on June 3rd in Sofia, Bulgaria, and on June 12th in Linz, Austria. A clip of the latter performance might be heard at this link. It’s good stuff, and I do think it owes quite a bit to the arrangement by Jones, although the song by its nature really has to be done in this kind of slow, reflective manner. Still, maybe Bob has decided to do What Good Am I? just like Tom Jones from now on, kind of like he does All Along the Watchtower à la Jimi Hendrix …

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

Simon says

Although there’s still a fair bit of unofficial Dylan content on YouTube, a whole lot seems to have been deleted recently, including entire accounts to which I had subscribed. Well, easy come, easy go, and so it goes. Them’s the breaks. Insert whatever cliché signifying a spirit of philosophical resignation which seems most apt.

And a change is as good as a rest. Below are the King’s Singers, performing Paul Simon’s great tune, Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy. Continue reading “Simon says” »

Bedtime tune

Bob Dylan recorded a version of In My Time of Dyin’ on his eponymous first LP. There have been many iterations of what is basically the same song, with Blind Willie Johnson’s Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed being, apparently, the earliest recorded version. There is also a version by Charley Patton, called Jesus Is A Dyin’ Bed Maker. I kind of like that expansion of the thought. Jesus is a dying bed maker, and so he’s going to make up my dying bed. It’s kind of a gospel of grim realism, but then there are times when nothing else will do. Continue reading “Bedtime tune” »