T for Tom

Day 2 – Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – 1963

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on June 24, 2016


I am intimately familiar with this record, as it was the first Dylan record I bought at the age of 15. I just don’t think I knew where else to start, and I remember seeing it featured in Vanilla Sky. At the time I was enamored by seeing this man, then only a boy, walking sweetly down a snow-covered street with his love, thinking it emblematic of an America I never knew, the America that may have last fostered endless possibilities and true love. The record reflects this in melody, in contrast to the doomed first release. But true to title, Dylan already knew what I’m just learning.

Freewheelin’s legacy exists in giving us his most cherished, and closely relatable, protests – Masters of War, Blowin’ In The Wind, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – which over the years have become the mantel for 60’s nostalgia. Forty years later these tracks were the reason this record was the only American musical recording accepted in full into the Library of Congress National Audio Archive’s inaugural collection. Likewise, Girl From The North Country remains his sweetest romance. For these and others, Freewheelin’s is scattered and scattershot, and only now I recognize the power of the name.

The artist was exploring his music.

I do not think he was exploring any thematics. After offering only two original songs in the first release, the second album contains 11 originals, many of which top 5-minutes in duration. Further, there is little change in Dylan’s fears – we are Talkin’ World War III Blues, and get Bob Dylan’s First Dream. It’s only through his developing craftsmanship as a musician that he grows stronger.

Only the strongest conviction could make a man sing, without subtlety, to his politicians: “the money you make cannot buy back your soul, and I hope that you die.” Think, will you, have you ever heard someone directly sing for someone’s death? How even in the worst moments of political history, we’ve rejoiced with hope as much as we have with mourning? But never before had I heard this kind of curse, in earnest. I believe Dylan said what he meant.

This is all, for me, in hindsight. I was not there when he said it, and can only imagine the power he thought, or had hoped, to wield. I’d never really listened the other 100 times I’d heard him say it, but then I wasn’t engaged with the meaning nor cared to agree. This appears to be the case fifty years over for all those that ever listened. But now as an older man, I’m frightened to hear the words as truth, and more frightened to think that it did little to change the world, then as now.

Dylan knew this before he said it. While there still exists clearly the man who wants to change the world, we’re greeted by Corrina, Corrina and long away the gravity of death-wishing subsides to facsimile, metaphor, satire, and absurdity. Only Bob Dylan can call his closing epic I Shall Be Free and sing Well, I took me a woman late last night / I’s three-fourths drunk she looked alright / ‘til she started peelin’ off her onion gook / She took off her wig said, “How do I look?” / I’s high flyin’, bare naked, out the window… / Well, sometimes I might get drunk / walk like a duck and smell like a skunk / Don’t hurt me none, don’t hurt my pride / ‘cause I got my little lady right by my side / she’s a tryin’ a-hide pretending… she don’t know me…

Freewheelin’ indeed.

Song pick: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

When so much of the world’s music is about making love, it’s exceptional to hear such a lovely melody about being in love instead with ramblin’.


One Response

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  1. Robert Zimmerman said, on June 24, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Great column. Keep it up! I’ll read every single one! Don’t Think Twice is such a solid track as is Girl From the North Country. Interested to see what, if anything, you write when you get to Boots of Spanish Leather, as it uses the same, wonderful chord progression as Girl From the North Country, but the lyrics are even more sorrowful and profound. Cheers!

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