Dylan Pimps The Beatles
“4th Time Around,” a droll delight, is a send-up of Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.”
On May 27 Bob Dylan’s undeniable masterpiece, Blonde On Blonde, will be performed at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn by various artists, including me. I only mention this event because it benefits a good cause, Alzheimer’s research. With that disclaimer, let’s dive into one of my favorite deep cuts on that especially deep album.
“4th Time Around” (in this remarkable live take) shows up near the end of Blonde On Blonde. There’s only two more songs after it, and one’s a tome — he devotes all of the last side to “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.” The loose, manic Bob, the one who could sleepwalk and still write good songs, was about to go away after this record. Frazzled and burned by fame, he had a date with a motorcycle accident that would force him into a life saving sabbatical. He had a lot on his mind before that catastrophe, the evidence is in the tracks on this album. But on this particular song, he takes a lighter approach, paying tribute while taking the piss out of his pals, The Beatles. With obvious echoes of “Norwegian Wood,” a song made possible to some degree by Dylan, it’s masterful in its sweetness and absurdity.
This was another transatlantic dialogue for The Beatles, one that precedes their famous response to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds. It was that record that wrought Sergeant Pepper. Dylan seemed less interested or intimidated by anything British and never aped the Beatles. They approached their mutual obsession, American music, from different angles. But he did have ears and had to sense these guys were going straight up, artistically and commercially. Lennon was the more Dylan-ish Beatle, prone to word play and more cynical; he also wrote “Hide Your Love Away.” He played harmonica and for a time wore a fisherman’s cap not unlike the one on Dylan’s head. “Norwegian Wood,” as clever and tender a folk song as anyone might wish for, was a reverie. Not so much unrequited love song as unconsummated, it’s wistfulness perfectly expressed. It’s said that the title was a Lennon pun for “knowing she would,” and he claims it was his way of writing about an affair without tipping his wife off. John was a naughty boy, but Bob was naughtier. When he responded to the Lennon’s affectionate tribute, his lyrics were a funhouse reflection of the delicately crafted Lennon/McCartney song:
When she said, “Don’t waste your words, they’re just lies,”
I cried she was deaf.
And she worked on my face until breaking my eyes
Then said, “What else you got left?”
It was then that I got up to leave
But she said, “Don’t forget,
Everybody must give something back
For something they get”
I stood there and hummed,
I tapped on her drum
I asked her how come.
And she buttoned her boot
And straightened her suit
Then she said, “Don’t get cute.”
So I forced my hands in my pockets
And felt with my thumbs,
And gallantly handed her
My very last piece of gum
She threw me outside,
I stood in the dirt where everyone walked
And after finding I’d forgotten my shirt
I went back and knocked
I waited in the hallway, she went to get it
And I tried to make sense
Out of that picture of you in your wheelchair
That leaned up against
Her Jamaican rum
And when she did come, I asked her for some
She said, “No, dear”
I said, “Your words aren’t clear,
You’d better spit out your gum”
She screamed till her face got so red
Then she fell on the floor
And I covered her up and then
Thought I’d go look through her drawer
And when I was through
I filled up my shoe and brought it to you
And you, you took me in
You loved me then, you never wasted time
And I, I never took much
I never asked for your crutch
And I don’t ask for mine
© Bob Dylan
Black, absurd, but not really mean. This song isn’t about a girl or an encounter, it’s about the Beatles. He could have written a fan letter and popped it in an envelope, but he didn’t. Or he did, in his own way. Taking the premise and riffing on it at length, it’s a gentle parody and acknowledgement of his friend’s undeniable greatness. There are examples elsewhere of these kind of collaborative friendships, but this one is exceptional. It’s an answer to an answer and one you imagine could have gone back and forth for a long time, had they wanted to continue.
This song, as well as “Hide Your Love Away” and “Norwegian Wood,” are waltzes. The waltz as an art form is right up there with cave paintings when it comes current taste. That’s too bad. Dylan talks about the magic number three in his memoir, Chronicles, a book that’s as open to interpretation as his songs. In it he claims he rekindled his career in the 80’s based on the concept of “three.” He doesn’t quite explain, maybe it’s the inherent swing in that number. Three is not a number that can be accented evenly, it’s a terrible metronome when compared to two or four. Waltzes can accent any of the three beats, but they’re lopsided by definition. Shuffle and swing rhythms stress the offbeat, sometimes so heavily they give them names like “the flat tire shuffle.”
Waltzes only get lovelier as they fade into the sunset. An anachronism from Grandma’s time, but when written and performed by a dark wit like Dylan, balanced precariously between droll and mean as he creates a new kind of beauty, and a few months away from his own nasty fall, they’re a delight. This record would put the cap on one of the most amazing creative streaks in the history of popular music. In three albums, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde (which I just now realized is and acronym for BOB and maybe part of the reason for that mysterious name), he moved the world more than a couple degrees off its axis. Of course there would be more great work to come, but the changes he brought about became the norm and as he pushed into new areas and concerns, his approach varying so much from record to record, he became hard to track and moved back into the crowd, ever so slightly. This was probably OK with him; being a deity is hard work.
Blonde On Blonde Revisited
Saturday, May 27, 9 p.m. at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn 1001 E. Locust St.
A performance of Bob Dylan’s classic album Blonde on Blonde. Performers will include John Sieger, Peter Roller (Robin Pluer, Paul Cebar, Steve Cohen), Chrissy Dzioba, Devil Met Contention, Alex Ballard and Sugarfoot, Matthew Davies (Thriftones), Jack Juraska, and The Blinding Lights.
And later on some of the musicians will perform sets of their own music.
$7 cover. All proceeds to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.