(photo by eotiv (cc))
I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the Pixies. It's either really cool, or really not, depending on who you ask. Anyway, my encyclopaedic knowledge of the musical backgrounds and influences (here, for the masochists) covered many genre reference points and was generally a lot of fun to put together. And meant listening to a lot of Pixies = a good thing. I put a quote from Black Francis/Frank Black/Charles Thompson at the front, along the lines of, I wish someone would do their doctorate thesis on the Pixies one day. I didn't, I did my undergrad thesis on them, but what he was actually referring to is his wish that someone would take the time to fully analyse the Pixies' often highly cryptic lyrics. A minefield of generous proportions, I'm sure you'll agree.
I mention this because if I ever considered that to be a task beyond anyone's abilities, then Bob Dylan is instant head-explode territory. Are these lyrics completely literal? Completely figurative? Somewhere in between? So many metaphors, analogies, similes, subtilties. They're beyond my comprehension, and unfortunately I can't claim to be a big enough devotee (or any sort of devotee) of Bobby Zee to be sufficiently interested. I didn't even realise the scary depths his fans go to until looking at the words to today's track and the matching comments. Dissections for Shelter From The Storm, from Blood On The Tracks, cover subjects such as religion (including Judaism, Christianity, paganism), war, drugs, divorce, prostitutes and Bakuu-Met, the one-eyed Persian God of death and dying. Riiiiight.
Anyway, it's an interesting song, and when you read the lyrics, ripe for debate. Typically apocalyptic, it's told like a story, each stanza ending in "'Come in', she said, 'I'll give you shelter from the storm.'" It's also a veritable cornucopia of evocative phraseology: "a world of steel-eyed death;" "Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn;" "the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn;" "I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn."
What seems like the preferred interpretation is that the song relates to Dylan's divorce from his wife Sara Lownds, and when taken as an overall theme it's poignant, even heartbreaking - something that, when compared to my own experience of Dylan, surprises me somewhat in it's heart-on-sleeve, confessional openness. I've always got the impression that Dylan plays on his arcane lyrics and obtuse statements, maybe political, maybe philosophical, but tends to avoid the personal. As the debate shows, the song could probably be taken to mean a lot of different things, but looked at in context, it seems like he's taken a break from polemic.
The cover I've chosen is not the well-known Manfred Mann one, but rather that by my new favourite singer/songwriter du jour, Steve Adey. It's more stark and upfront vocally than Dylan, unsurprisingly given Adey's wonderfully rich voice and Dylan's notoriously awful drawl. Adey manages to pull it off and it becomes bleak and beautiful in his hands, with less of the storytelling style of the original, and more of the personality and soul of the singer. Maybe Adey's had similar circumstances in his life that can be related to the lyrics here, we'll probably never know, but given that his debut album also contains a cover of Will Oldham's morbid classic I See A Darkness, it's probably safe to say he's no easygoing balladeer or crooner.
Bob Dylan - Shelter From The Storm
Steve Adey - Shelter From The Storm
Artist: Bob Dylan/Steve Adey
Recommended: Blood On The Tracks/All Things Real
Label: Columbia/Grand Harmonium
Buy: Amazon BD/SA
More: Hype Machine BD/SA; elbo.ws BD/SA
Tags: Bob Dylan; Blood On The Tracks; Steve Adey; Shelter From The Storm; cover; divorce