Thursday 31 August 2006

Bob Dylan's Modern Times: some highlights from the lyrics

Best image
I’m as pale as a ghost holding a blossom on a stem.

Best chorus
Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore,
And my happiness is o’er,
Winter’s gone, the river’s on the rise.
I loved you then, and ever shall,
But there’s no one here left to tell;
The world has gone black before my eyes.

Most audacious rhyme

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches,
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages.

Best eschatological image
The judge is coming in, everybody rise:
Lift up your eyes.

Best image of forgiveness
In you, my friend, I see no blame,
If you want to look in my eyes, please do.

Funniest biblical allusion

If it keep on rainin’, the levee’s gonna break,
Everybody’s sayin’ this is a day only the Lord could make.

Funniest lines about women
I’m flat out spent, this woman she been drivin’ me to tears,
These women so crazy, I swear
I ain’t gonna touch another one for years.

Funniest lines about love

I’ve been sittin’ down studying the art of love,
I think it’ll fit me like a glove,
I want some real good woman to do just what I say.

Funniest lines about sex

Ain’t nothin’ more depressing
Than trying to satisfy this woman of mine.

Most peaceful lines

I’m trying to feed my soul with thought,
Gonna sleep off the rest of the day.
Sometimes no one wants what you got,
Sometimes you can’t give it away.

Best lines about faith
I practise a faith that’s been long abandoned,
Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road.

Best lines on unfaithfulness
Sometimes I wonder why you can’t treat me right
You do good all day, and then you do wrong all night.

Best lines about violence

Well, I don’t wanna brag, I wanna wring your neck:
When all else fails I’ll make it a matter of self-respect.

Best lines about a relationship

I got the pork chops, she got the pie,
She ain’t no angel, neither am I.

Best image of universities

Well the world of research has gone berserk:
Too much paperwork.

Best lines about life
I laugh and I cry, and I’m haunted by
Things I never meant or wished to say.

Best lines about ageing

I can see for myself that the sun is sinking –
How I wish you were here to see.

Best line about dying
But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.

Finally, my own favourite:
Well, I’m listening to the steel rails a-hum,
Got both eyes tight shut.

Note: See also my review of Modern Times here; and see this site for a full annotated set of the album’s lyrics.


Brannon Hancock said...

This post is a sufficiently awesome tribute to this awesome album. I like you, Ben.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, Ben. Hey, you're not one of those devotees who's been through Dylan's rubbish bin, are you? :)

Ben Myers said...

Well, I might draw the line at rubbish bins. But I once heard someone say that he would even buy an album of Bob Dylan breathing heavily -- and I found it easy to identify with that....


Anonymous said...


Breathing - or just muttering.

In September 1995 Dylan performed at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The caustic comedian Don Rickles, a fellow guest, took the piss by telling Dylan, "You know what your problem is? You gotta stop mumbling when you sing."

Brannon Hancock said...

See, that's just silly...way to easy/obvious a thing to say. That would be like raggin' on Aaron Neville for having that mole on his forehead. Come on, comedians, work a little harder!

Anonymous said...

Raggin' on Aaron might not be such a good idea. You ever see him in person. He's got arms like oak trees.
How that voice could come out of that body, God only knows.

Anonymous said...

I thought Dylan intended to "recruit an army from the old religions." That would make sense alongside the St. Hermes reference, as well.

Anonymous said...

old religions, orphanages... i believe its a reference to the teenage mutant ninja turtles nemisis Tyrant Orpa and his ninjas. now those would be some tough sons of bitches.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben - lovely blog and you brought it home to me how many brilliant lines are sprinkled around the place on Modern Times.

You missed one heading however: Best Catholic Verse.

It comes in Ain't Talkin':

They say prayer has the power to heal, so pray for me, mother.
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell.
I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others,
But oh, mother, things ain't going well.

Alongside Ring Them Bells - which he still performs - I wonder if Bob is hiding something! God bless!

Anonymous said...

It comes in Ain't Talkin':

They say prayer has the power to heal, so pray for me, mother.
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell.
I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others,
But oh, mother, things ain't going well.

Alongside Ring Them Bells - which he still performs - I wonder if Bob is hiding something! God bless!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:54:01 AM

Anonymous said...

Except it's "pray FROM the mother", which would be in keeping with mishaberach, the Jewish prayer for healing from the Torah service. When Bob was sick some years back, he was prayed for in synagoues across the world with this prayer, whch, rather than being called by his patriarch -- the case in most circumstances -- his mother's (in keeping with tradition) was used: Shabtai Zissel ben Rachel Riva (if my memoery serves me well).

Anonymous said...

Another candidate for the album's best line:

"They say whiskey will kill you, but I don't think it will."

Anonymous said...

I think for favorite line,
it's not "I love listening to the steel rails a-hum/
Got both eyes tight shut"...but, instead, it's "I’m listening to the steel rails hum/
Got both eyes tight shut"...apologies in advance if I'm splitting hairs (but the other quotes are so accurate, that it seemed worth a mention).

I'm surprised that the verse about not being able to go back to Paradise (because he killed a man back there) didn't get a mention...that's a line over which I don't know whether to laugh or shudder...

Ben Myers said...

Good point -- I think you're right that it's "I'm listening" rather than "I love listening" (and "I'm listening" is much better as well!).

pf said...

'When the deal goes down' is not an original phrase.

It is a wonderful end of life song but the hook line seems to pay homage to the old spiritual Golden Game, recorded by the Incredible String Band as Job's Tears.

See a discussion on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin Grossman,

Are you sure? Listen closely - he clearly sings "So pray () me mother", which fits in with the next line, which are clearly about trying to be a better Christian, and the 4th line shows that this verse is addressed to "mother".

I know that the lyrics quoted extensively on the web say "pray FROM the mother", but it wouldn't be the first time he's been misheard, eh?!


God bless..

Anonymous said...

This is such a thoughtful post - thank you! Bob is a continual source of inspiration. I am particularly struck by Workingman's Blues #2.

Thanks once again!



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