The second of the new books that are now in from the printers, and will be on sale in bookstores in the next couple of weeks, is Mark Polizzotti’s about Highway 61 Revisited. You can pre-order the book on Amazon.com here.
It’s possible that we’ve overdone the Dylan on this blog in the last few months, but Mark’s book is a fresh and incisive piece of Dylan writing. Mark is an accomplished translator and wrote an acclaimed biography of Andre Breton. Here’s a sample of what he has to say about Bob:
A leftover from the Bringing It All Back Home sessions, “Barbed-Wire Fence” is built around a standard twelve-bar blues structure – normally the first two lines identical, followed by a third, “answer” line – which Dylan immediately subverts by playing with the absurd specificity of his opening:
Well, I paid one million seven hundred thousand and fifteen cents
Yes, I paid twelve thousand one hundred and nineteen dollars and twenty-two cents
To see my bulldog bite a rabbit and my hound dog sittin’ on a barbed-wire fence
Needless to say, Dylan further confuses the issue in the next take by singing an entirely different set of numbers.
One number remains constant, however: in the second verse (or third, depending on the take), Dylan laments, “This woman I got she’s killin’ me alive / She’s makin’ me into an old man and man, I’m not even twenty-five” (in Lyrics 1962-2001, this inanely turns into “she’s filling me with her drive” and “thrillin’ me with her hive,” which doesn’t match either recorded version or even make good nonsense). Apart from that rare bit of autobiographical exactitude – Dylan was twenty-four when he recorded this – the “woman he got” opens another intriguing possibility. Futile as it is to play “who is it,” it’s not too much of a stretch to hear behind this line yet another swipe at Joan Baez, who as recently as a few weeks earlier was still trying to turn Dylan into an old man with her dogged fidelity to his protest material – apparently not having heard that he’d been so much older then, but not now.
“Barbed-wire fence,” in many respects just a warm-up exercise, is notable as an early example of the band members figuring each other out, and even more of Dylan happily revisiting his old Elston Gunn persona. (It is also sometimes cited as an early draft of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” because of its reference to an Arabian doctor who “wouldn’t tell me what it is that I got” – though apart from the lyric, the two songs have little in common.) The earlier of two known complete takes sounds like nothing so much as a garage band pounding out “Louie, Louie,” with copious amounts of harmonica and Dylan’s clunky piano standing in for the Kingsmen’s organ. Behind him are Al Gorgoni with some electric strumming and Bloomfield tryiing out some standard-issue blues riffs (“that B. B. King shit”). By the next complete take, the band was following the song with more conviction, providing a much stronger bass-and-drum rhythm section (this version, in fact, starts off with yet another Gregg snare shot) and a strong two-beat organ accent playing off Gorgoni’s rolling guitar licks. Bloomfield, meanwhile, had found his way into the song, and by midway was burning through a frenetic solo that anticipates his scorching fills on “Tombstone Blues.” After this take they moved on to “Rolling Stone.”