Sunday, September 03, 2006
Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain"
Download or stream "Thunder on The Mountain" on hype machine here (or iTunes)
What's that? Is that the sound of Dylan laughing at us all trying to make sense of the seeming absurdity of the song (a standard three chord shuffle) and its lyrics? Well maybe, but I think this is the sound of Dylan laughing -- and condemning -- his critics and the people who have put words in his mouth or tried to make him -- and others -- into something he isn't. A few years ago, the press went gaga over Alicia Keys, declaring her, like Dylan, Springsteen and Prince, the great saviour of pop music. She was black, gifted and a woman and came out of poverty in Hell's Kitchen -- and seemed to be of that Rolling Stone - Boomer mindset. Keys encouraged all this - or more likely Keys PR team encouraged it by declaring that she had an "old soul." Shit like that makes white rock critics go nuts. This of course, is dumb - there are no Saviours in pop music, only good song writers and bad songwriters -- and good musicians, engineers, and so on.
As of late, all those critics are obsessing over the references to Alicia in this song -- one wonders why the reference to Hell's Kitchen and then he's looking for her in Tennessee - it's quite funny and ironic as they are missing what I think Dylan is saying here. I wonder if all this hype regarding the Keys references in this song were planned all along by Dylan. Alicia didn't turn out to be anything like a saviour of pop music - she's a decent songwriter, I guess, and a talented musician but "Ghetto Story, Part 2? Unbreakable?" -- woman, please.
Throughout the song, Dylan makes allusions to his past and the things he has done to confound the critics, fans and so forth - his turn towards Christianity, his (and likewise Alicia Keys') "sell-out" phase, his critics' obsession with his personal life (at least during his divorce) and so forth. As he says "she aint no angel and neither am I" (bit of a reference to Victoria's Secret commericals there, too, eh?) - and he goes on to condemn everyone who look towards him for guidance or whatever - saying he "doesn't give a damn about your dreams." Part of the song also seems sung in the voice of these critics, fans and people who looked towards him as their saviour - their false bravado, piety - secular and otherwise. They raise orphan armies and take vows of priesthood.
In the end, the yammering and blather amounts only to "Thunder on the Mountain." Dylan even universalizes (or nationalizes?) the sentiment expressed in this song by comparing it to the ceaseless shit talk of the pundits and politicians on cable TV and so forth - "all the ladies of Washington scrambling to get out of town." It's ironic that a recent interview with Dylan was taken so out of context by the rock press making him sound, well, moronic - when you actually read the interview in context you could say that his basic notion was dead on (current recording techniques suck). At any rate, Dylan sums it up for us in the last line - "for the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself."
adapted from my posting at Songmeanings.net