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Spring 2024


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Bob dylan basement tapes
New in Representations
Bob Dylan in the Country: Rock Domesticity and Pastoral Song

In a new essay for Representations, Timothy Hampton, author of Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work, writes about the historical context of pastoral song in Dylan’s canon. Click here to learn more about Hampton’s book. Click the button to the left to read the full essay. An excerpt appears below:

‘‘Escape and movement are, of course, frequent in Dylan’s early folk songs, where he takes to the road at the drop of a hat. Yet here he repurposes the imagery of escape in order to invest it with reassurance and pleasure. The escape in ‘Day of the Locusts’ is not to the uncertainties of riding the rails, but to a fun vacation in the Dakotas, with his sweetheart. It’s a domestic idyll, complete with diploma. ‘Went to See the Gypsy’ ends with the narrator in a small town in Minnesota—reminding us of the biographical Bob Dylan’s own midwestern small-town roots. There he waits for the sunrise that will offer illumination in a way that the gypsy could not. Going home is better than going to Vegas. This reworking of scenarios of escape, to home and love rather than to ‘‘the road,’’ indicates how Dylan is appropriating the superficial vocabulary of movement and travel—themes relevant to the newly restive generation of fans I mentioned earlier, hitchhiking here and there—for an ethos of domestic life and groundedness. The songs use a rhetoric of movement to project an ideology of commitment. He traces out a new geography of domestic emotion. At the same time, the pseudobiographical register means that these songs are, in a very real sense, about their own genesis and composition. Dylan’s persona doesn’t evade uncomfortable situations in order to point an accusing finger at authority, as he might have done five years earlier, but, rather, to recount anecdotes of illumination that generate the songs we are experiencing. In this regard, he points back to the high pastoral tradition, in which poets write poems about shepherds in the fields who are also poets singing about their flocks, and about other poet-shepherds. Here, the poet in the country occasionally ventures out long enough to pick up material to tell the story of his venturing and reaffirm the value of the country setting.’’