Rock Commentaries Chapter II: Early Love Songs and Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

   II Electric Folk and Blues

I. The Precursors: Early Love Songs and Bob Dylan                       (29-38)

The Kingsmen     Louie Louie                                                           (30)

Elvis              I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You                                (35)

Dylan                  Tomorrow, Hard Rain                                                 (36)


Early Love Songs and On Love in Music

How did the change in music come about, and what were the first signs that it was occurring? When Elvis first began to swivel his hips, the tradition was concerned about the liberation of sex which in hindsight we see was to follow. To the critics of the previous generation, this shocking surface appears first and foremost. Bloom presents a summary of the content of the poetry of popular music:

Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and explicitly describe bodily acts that satisfy sexual desire and treat them as its only natural and routine culmination for children who do not yet have the slightest imagination of love, marriage or family.

For Bloom, this premature exposure makes marriage more difficult later. Bloom sees rock music as especially exemplified in Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger. In the video for Thriller, Jackson, who knows his fans are about age 12, stood atop a car thrusting in sex-dance motions, and it is astonishing how well the media received this performance, as with the video in which Madonna playfully whipped her multiple gentleman slaves. The most popular strain of our music has become astonishingly corrupt, in the eyes of nearly any other age, and we blink, while the media joins the bandwagon.

Bloom found that students who pretended to have no heroes actually wanted to be like Mick Jagger. As Bloom describes Jagger …

A shrewd middle class boy, he played the possessed lower class demon and teen aged satyr up until he was forty, with one eye on the mobs of children of both sexes whom he stimulated to sexual frenzy and the other eye winking at the unerotic, commercially motivated adults who handled the money.[1]

Bloom may be the only educator of our age to provide the attentive student a critical basis from which to view his own culture. But is the liberation of sex what is most serious about what is occurring in the music revolution? The sexual revolution, as it came to be called, was prepared for by the intellectuals, as in Freud, Weber, and Margaret Mead, and by the victory of modern science, as in the Kinsey report. The growth of enlightenment science throughout the nineteenth century led to a more general turn to science to understand the human things, as in Biology, Sociology and Anthropology. Freud taught us that repression was harmful, Kinsey that appetites thought perverse were common, and the relativism imported into the social sciences, that there was no way to tell right and wrong in these matters. The cure of Syphilis, in the 1920’s, and the birth control pill in the 60’s worked to free sex from the ancient consequences. It is at least plausible that the liberation of sex is a part of a more general liberation of eros including the higher erotic pursuits, and that the loosening about sex precedes and allows for the emergence of love, in both society and in the lyrics of our music.

In this brief section, that is just what we will attempt to show, in two instances. First the song Louie Louie, we will compare what the words do say with what the inquisitors thought they heard the words say, as is most revealing. Second, we will take up an Elvis Presley song that is held to be one of the best love songs of all time.

Louie Louie: 1955 Richard Berry

 Written by the blues man Richard Berry, who performed the piece as rock blues in 1989, Louie Louie may be the best candidate for the first Rock song. The 1955 version rocks as much as the Kingsmen, and the lyrics are audible, after the fifties style that reminds of the Platters. A version by Rockin’ Robin Roberts from 1955 adds the comment introducing the rockabilly guitar solo, “All right, now you give it to ‘em.” (You Tube). The Berry performance at J. J’s Blues Cafe indicates yet un-mined possibilities for a Classic Rock version yet to come. Iggy Pop performed the song in Europe, giving the one lyric people usually know, “Me gotta go now” a political, suicidal and punk meaning, making this in a way the punk song, and continuing the tradition of protest against the obvious illiberties of our very modern world, like “America is filling the world with garbage.” (Granted, but Berlin is closer to Chernobyl, where the people have no say, and pollution is worse.) When the Kingsmen released “Louie Louie” in 1963 there was a fury of protest which included bizarre guesses as to what the lyrics, difficult to decipher, might be. Famously, the F.B.I., following the Indiana Governor (who in turn was following the gossip of girls and women) investigated the song for the supposed obscenities which outraged parents imagined that they were hearing in the garbled words of the song. The actual lyrics were written and recorded by Richard Berry in 1955, and recorded in a less famous but arguably superior version. The lyrics tell a love story in three parts:

Fine little girl she waits for me

Me catch the ship for cross the sea

Me sail the ship all alone

Me never thinks me make it home.

(Chorus) Louie, Louie, Oh, no baby, Me Gotta Go

 Three Nights and Days me sail the sea

Me think of girl constantly

On the ship I dream she there

I smell the Rose in her hair.

(Chorus, guitar solo)

 Me see Jamaican moon above

It won’t be long, me see my love

I take her in my arms and then

Me tell her I never leave again

Louie, Louie, (oh no, baby,) me gotta go

Louie, Louie, (oh, baby,) me gotta go

(Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

The song is not perverse in the least, but is in fact a rather simple and beautiful Jamaican love song. As will be addressed momentarily, it is about true love rather than the animal appetite, and has of course nothing to do with the perversions imagined by those complaining to the F.B.I. But first, something profound appears from reflecting on Louie Louie. It is written in the most common lyric structure of three verses of four lines with a Chorus in between, making up five parts, or six if the Chorus is repeated at the end. The chorus or refrain, the part repeated amid the stanzas, ought to contain the principle of the song, while the stanzas elaborate the principle by showing its unfolding in the particular. It contains a drama or story in the simplest way possible, abstracted, leaving a great many things out to distill the essential experience of the soul. In its dramatic setting, it is sung by a Jamaican man who has a girl, or, is in love. In his circumstance, she waits for him while he catches a ship aiming to journey across the sea. It is not clear where he is going, but the reason he goes may be how the refrain connects to the three verses. It seems to mean something like “oh, boy, I gotta get out of here.” The circumstance is an example of the content of what Carl Jung might call an “archetype,” indicated by a pattern common to the structure of myth and symbol in many, if not in every, culture of mankind in many places and times. The truth about true love, at least of one sort, is that the lover sets off on a journey of the soul that is compared to the sailing of a ship across the sea, aiming at the transcendent “other shore.” Sometimes the princess is found on the other shore, and this is a different kind of love. Examples are found in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Nights Dream (II, i, 126-127), and many other places. The pattern of land-sea-other shore, or “leaving and returning,” as Steven Rowe took this up,[2] is also found in the quest for knowledge, and is either the same as this quest or a natural image of it, occurring on a lower level in a pattern that is the same or similar. It is evident too in the journey of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain then there is” is a similar three part expression, borrowed apparently from Buddhist teaching, by Donovan. Five parts to the journey can be seen, if one could include the return across the sea and the return home.

In this case, though, our sailor does not seem to arrive at the other shore, but has an experience of missing her that makes him return home determined never to leave again. It turns out that the ship he caught is a single person sail boat in which he sails all alone. He apparently gets lost, since he thinks he will never succeed at returning home. So ends the first verse.

At the start of the second and central verse, our sailor, in despair of ever returning and thinking he will die, is found sailing the seas for three nights and days. This period of time is the same, for example, as the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection, or the time Jonah spent in the belly of the whale. He thinks of his beloved constantly, and has a hallucinatory dream experience in which he thinks that she is there with him on the ship. The experience is so real that he believes he can smell the rose flower in her hair. The near apparition might be called by Jung an image caused by that in the soul which he calls “anima.” The word derived from Latin simply means soul or life, but it has here a more particular meaning, such as that in “you’re my soul and my inspiration.” The lover, who has never seen any of the higher things before, sees this in the beloved. Jung is the modern authority on this, and introduced the idea, with that of the archetypes, into modern psychology.[3] He was attempting to understand the permanent structures of the human psyche and the spiritual nature of man that is the cause of the notable similarities in the products of the human imagination. He introduced an understanding of the unconscious deeper than the Freudian repository of repressed memories, a living source of myth and symbol, often emerging to compensate the one sided conscious mind. The anima is the feminine unconscious of a man projected in love, the cause of the numinous manifestation and exaggerated beauty of the one loved, as Aphrodite casts her aspersions. The corresponding function in a woman is called by Jung animus, after the Latin word for spirit, and so every love is a dance of spirit and soul. Animus is more the understanding of the hero, as knights would once perform labors for their ladies. Jung writes: Every real love relation consists in the woman finding her hero and the hero his soul, not in dreams, but in palpable reality.” There is, then, a knowledge of the things of love within the human soul.

In the third verse, he has not yet arrived home, but has at least found his bearings again. He sees the Jamaican moon above, indicating that he is on a rout headed home. He has resolved that when he returns, he will take her in his arms and tell her that he will never leave again. The conclusion is then something like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who concludes that there is no place like home. The song expresses the things about the soul that might be involved for example in a man who leaves his beloved to play the field a bit before marriage, learning what he needed to, that is, how much he really wants his true love permanently. Yet the expression is anything but common. Through the symbol, the particular becomes an image that connects us to the universal human experience, through something like the knowledge in the human soul about itself. According to the ancient teaching, the soul contains knowledge, especially of human things, and if we try and do not give up, it is possible to remember or recollect all things,[4] or to recollect the access to the contemplation of all things, in a certain sense (Plato, Meno, 81). This knowledge in the soul of man is both the cause of the images produced by the soul and of the numinous attraction that is characteristic of transcendent beauty.[5]

Finally, in an astonishing late note, The lead singer for the Kingsmen, Jack Ely, has said in an interview on the web that the song, or the phrase “Me gotta go,” is sung to a bartender on this shore, by one who was once a sailor, about returning to his love in Jamaica, in Rasta dialect out of affection for the land of his love. This gives the image a five part structure, and makes the song much better, with a successful crossing rather than an aborted crossing of the water, whether he is Jamaican or American. “Me gotta go,” or to sing Louie Louie, is to leave America, or to leave the bar or the gathering of gold here on the other shore, to set off for love and home again, and this, unconsciously, is the most essential rock phrase.

The supposedly obscene rock lyrics are actually a simple love song. As will be shown, when the soul produces a love song, it tends to expresses and uphold true love. These things are difficult to discuss in words, let alone in science, yet we cannot discuss music unless some effort is made. Love is of course different from the animal appetite for sex. It is a human thing, and tends to be disinterested in all others except the one loved, at least for a time. Hence the lover is called “true” or faithful and this sort of love distinguished, as a great blessing, from false love, which only appears to be genuine, and is characterized by infidelity. We, the lovers, surely note that the vast majority seem incapable of true love, though their lives stability depend upon love’s semblance. One astounding thing found in the present study of contemporary music is that, especially among the classics, the love songs about true love outnumber the songs about sex by ten or one hundred fold. Apparently the soul does not write much inspired poetry about the old rock and roll, but rather, writes about love, since this is where the human touches on the immortal. As Socrates tells Phaedrus, beauty is the only one of the eternal forms to be allowed visible manifestation (Phaedrus, 250 c). Even so, beauty must hide and be hidden (Herodotus, I.16). To see for example wisdom in the visible, would overwhelm our natures. This is surprising, and even a bit embarrassing, but as we will see, our study of the best music lyrics will become in part a study of love, and the things that can be learned from lyric poetry about love. As Socrates tells Glaucon, “Surely music matters should end in love matters that concern the beautiful” or “noble,” (403 c5) as the Greek word means both. And would it not be “the fairest sight, for him who is able to see,” “if the noble dispositions that are in the soul and those that agree and accord with them in the form should ever coincide in anyone” (402 d 1-3). It is extremely difficult for us to speak in prose, as distinct from poetry, regarding the things of love, and a prose writer must, like the interpreter of lyrics, beg allowance for a certain awkwardness. We must for example, speak of “lover” and the “beloved,” or the one loved, using a word rarely heard in American English except surrounding funerals. Our only apology is that if we could find less awkward words or ways to describe these things, we would. And we will try not to be too much like one explaining a joke. As Jung writes, in every love, one is more the container and the other the contained by the love, and to varying degrees.[6] The lover is naturally inclined to be faithful or to stay, while the one loved must be persuaded to stay rather than wander. Sometimes the male or masculine, and sometimes the female or feminine, is the lover, and vice versa, so that the attempt to understand love or any particular love is from the beginning very complicated. Yet in each relation, lover and beloved are recognizable. The male as lover is different from the female as lover, and so on for the one loved. Not all people do love, though most can inspire love in some other. Males who do not love see love itself as effeminate, while women who do not love use the things of love for their economic or household advantage. Love has its own morality, or set of ethical principles that pervade common sense, though none are able to give an account of why these principles are everywhere assumed. The study of love and justice, or justice in love, beginning with the things said in middle schools (that one is only “using” another, etc.) would be a worthwhile undertaking, though we lack the theoretical basis that would make the inquiry possible.

Throughout history, it has been difficult to distinguish true love from the mere animal appetite, since these two occur together, and are even mixed in varying degrees. Romeo and Juliet was once seen as a warning against the excesses of passion. There has always been a tradition that is unwilling to admit the distinction, and so there is a perennial conservative position evident in both religion and philosophy that condemns love along with sex as immoral. The princess is to shut up and marry by the convenience and arrangement of the kingdom. The erotics of Socrates, a study that takes the things of love quite seriously, was always questionably received, and nothing like this is to be found in Aristotle, or anywhere else in the tradition of over two thousand years of human study and writing. Augustine left wife and family for his priesthood. The Christian saints generally see love as a temptation away from the life of dedication to God, and it is only with the poetry of the Romantics and Shakespeare that there is an argument for the principle of the Song of Solomon, that love is the life of the soul in the image of God. True love is a rare thing, though it may occur more often than appears. One would like to think it is possible for each once in their lives, but it is more likely that is possible for no more than one in ten. Yet it is the truth of every love that does commonly occur. It is the participation of two in the Edenic harmony, the same as that entered alone and in fullness by the rarest of singular souls. Romeo and Juliet are like the two hands of a praying saint (Romeo and Juliet, I, v 98-112). Hence it is experienced as a divine condition, and the lover wishes that this joy would fill the earth, or that this love would appear everywhere. The agony and anguish of the lover is that this harmonious state is only temporary, subject to our mortality. Either it grows into something different, in the full partnership of the parents in a household, or it sends the lover on a lifelong journey to find again this lost harmony, and be a sending off through pain onto the solitary quest that is philosophy. Maybe it is sometimes both, though this seems unlikely.

When the highest inspiration hits the California Music scene, for example surrounding the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, it is the inspiration to permanent monogamous unity, the lover calling the usually unattainable beloved to walk with them through life and forever, and the wonder of what might be should this happen. The examples abound, but some of the first to come to mind are Neal Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.” attempting to persuade her that she is old enough to take one lover and change her name, or Heart of Gold. What happens in a sense in the history of rock, at least in one strain, is that the liberation of sex leads the musicians to discover love. The pioneers are burned by the freedom of the women they seek, and this collision with reality nearly destroys them in some cases, but permanently changes them. But the natural love is the permanent love that is the basis of the foundation of the family, and so stands at the foundation of all political society, if each family is a pillar. The image of the living oak tree in the home of Odysseus, used to make his bedpost, and so it is here that the natural and conventional meet in human society (Homer, Odyssey XXIII, 183-229). The early song Who Put the Bomp asks who it was that put these irrational elements of rhythm into the music (Who put the bomp in the bomp shu etc.):

“Who was that man

I’d like to shake his hand

He made my baby fall in love

With me

The words, he says, “went right into her heart,” and made her say they’d “never have to part,” and continue to set her heart aglow.[7]

Love is very difficult to talk about, let alone to write about, which is why no one does it, and a part of why the meaning of music is so awkward to discuss. To this day, the best theoretical writings on love are the Greek discussions, which assume homosexual love. Nowhere except Shakespeare has heterosexual love been discussed in any way comparable. Yet the discussion of popular music assumes a theory of love, and this can be outlined or introduced, as the topics emerge. Love pertains to the political or human rather than the animal part of man, involving the passions of the soul rather than only the appetites of the body. In love, the body goes with the soul, or the two move together. One is tempted to say that the soul draws the body forth. This is a great mystery of man. But from our earliest post-pubescent days, growing up as a fashion hippie of the sort that arose in the seventies, even while growing up without much of the traditional society and its limitation of sex to marriage, we always upheld, even as a point of morality, the belief that love, not appetite, justified lovers. We didn’t think of marriage, and no one we knew was married, but the equivalent of adultery for the adult was infidelity to one’s designated girlfriend or boyfriend, which was synonymous with breaking up, because it means definitively that they do not love you. This is in a way the natural opinion of common sense, even to this day. Even while sex is rampant, (if dampened by the STD), it is still common in every junior high and high school to uphold the distinction between the promiscuous, called “sluts,” and the ladies, who are at least more discreet, holding out on their treasures awaiting the persuasion of the male, the winning of her heart. Love has its own persistent and natural morality that is commonly assumed, and heard daily in the things people say, though no one can really explain the assumptions involved. The assumed injustice of infidelity is an example. One is tempted to say, though, that the world is divided into lovers and non lovers, because those “cheating” do not believe in the common assumptions about love and justice, and do not believe that truth is owed. Many love songs are courtship songs, calling the one loved to come and be together. These songs remind of the mating calls of birds, and can be especially beautiful in this way, as clues to the mysteries and mysterious details of human courtship. These may awaken the beloved to certain conditions or ways of life that are possible, or incite admiration. C. S. Lewis, citing Chesterton, writes, “Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves with promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.” The promise is… “to be true to the beloved as long as I live.”[8] This seems as true today as in 1943, though for many, it is not so. One part of the drama is the triumph of love over the animal appetite for sex, which is indiscriminate, or not attached particularly to the one loved. This drama occurs in the soul and in life, and is visible through some very common symbolic expressions. One simple example will appear if we consider the early video game Donkey Kong, in which a plumber avoids obstacles and ascends levels of a structure in trying to rescue a girl from an attacking ape. The image is similar, or the same archetype is at work, in the story of King Kong. The ape is a part of the hero himself that he meets as if outside himself, and in every common marriage, the struggle for the male is in part to rescue the woman from the barbarity of his own appetites. The slaying of the dragon for the princess is a similar image, and if this work does not occur, happiness in the household will not be possible. It may be that there is a natural hierarchy of the parts of the soul, and a corresponding natural hierarchy of the priorities of human life. So the passion of the plumber is a part of the very “passion” that is behind the genuine marriages, uniting the couples at the founding of families more permanent than those based on more transitory motives. It is on these marriages that the health and stability of the republic, and the strength of the economy, depends. Even the tradition of courtly love failed to appreciate the significance of love to marriage, because marriage was then so highly conventional that it almost never had anything to do with love. To true love, marriage is the assumed goal, but the conventions are indeed secondary. What occurred, though, is that the breakdown of the traditional morality that secured marriage and family was precursor to a divorce rate of over half the population. Nor can our education, concerned only with science and economically useful technology, prepare our characters so that our loves are more permanent. Traditional marriage was like a trellis or buttress that held families together through the tough times, though admittedly it seems to have been too frequent that the households were private despotisms It is not clear, though, whether any society can survive such a circumstance– it has literally never occurred before, even in the worst degeneration of the old Roman empire, and this we hardly notice. As we accepted the appetites, and lost contact with the symbols and images that take us “higher,” the diffuse tendencies of the appetites destroyed the traditional family.

Yet it is astonishing to consider how often the most popular songs uphold the true and lasting love that is the reason for the teaching of monogamy, that we ought have only one beloved with whom we share even our bodies and natural appetites. So many blues songs are about the pain of the lover at the infidelity of the beloved that if one were to judge from the lasting music of the sixties, he would hardly be able to tell that there was such a theme as “free love.” Consider for example The Kinks “All Day and All of the Night,” which begins by shocking the sixties with a date after hours, but soon rises to “I believe that You and me’d last forever/ Oh yea, all day, and night I’m yours, leave me never.” Cream’s “What you gonna do” off Disraeli Gears, or better yet, the many songs of Led Zeppelin based on the old blues songs written from the agony of the lover, such as “Heartbreaker,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused,” etc…The agony of the lover is the tragic obverse of the assumption of love that leads to the promises of courtship: The experience of the Edenic harmony carries with it the desire that it continue forever, and hence the desire for immortality, though it is first a desire not to live forever, but to be with the beloved forever. Consummation solidifies the attachment, so that separation disturbs the soul itself. Even songs like “Foxy Lady” and “Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire,” where the rock energy is an expression of the goal of sex, ends up saying she’s “got to be all mine,” and “let me stand next to your fire” means something more than intercourse. He wants to be warmed by her hotness, as our more contemporary slang would put it, but this is also to be made alive by her beauty by being near to it. The blues expresses, and helps us to live with, the otherwise inexpressible anguish that can come with love, shared as the somewhat universal experience of our fellows as well, in the blues and in the sad ballads. Similarly, as in the song “Thank You,” it is the lasting love that inspires the most beautiful poetry. “God only knows what I’d be without you,” is the Brian Wilson song McCartney calls his favorite of all songs. The theme can be heard in nearly every love song, calling the one loved to be faithful and true in love. The rock stars seem a bit embarrassed at the beauty of their love songs, somewhat, as it sometimes seems to me, as Plant was embarrassed before Page, and tried to hide the high classical beauty of his lyrics. He seems to get away with it because Page cares more about the sounds, and will tolerate the good so long as it is deep. Somewhat like the majority in matters of romantic fidelity and justice, most music assumes the things also upheld by common sense, on which the sexual revolution quickly finds its limit. The soul sings not about sex but about love, and love has a nature, or is a certain way according to nature. (I have just heard “Take it on the Run” on our local classic rock station, another example). The list is long, and the examples countless, new and old, while the songs about sex are for the most part transitory, and among classics, rare. The heart sings the song of hearts, even when free to sing rather the song of the body and its rhythms, so that the songs which become popular and lasting are or tend to be those which speak to the hearts of the millions. That a true lover would not leave his love to care for their child alone, nor conversely sleep with the neighbor and have her beloved raise the offspring surreptitiously, need not be said, but is assumed. For all our biological-based psychology about reproductive drives and genetic advantage, it is entirely plausible that the things of love are natural to the human soul, and of primary importance in the founding of happy families. The liberation of the passions and the rhythms of sex seem to have coincided with a near genuine cult of love among the poets: “the lovers will rise up (Cohen);” Children of the sun begin to awake (Led Zeppelin).” It is as though the tradition had become ossified, and it was needed to “Rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.”[9]

I Can’t Help Falling In Love with You: Elvis Presley

Written by Hugo Paretti, George Weiss, and Luigi Creatore

Old Swivel Hips Elvis has a song that is yet another example of profound meaning regarding love emerging through the supposedly vulgar medium of rock and roll music. This song has recently been rediscovered in popular remakes, and lines from it are included in Townshend’s last great song, “That’s a Real Good Lookin Boy.” “I cant Help falling in Love with You” is about the point in the beginning of love where the passion overcomes all the barriers that are apt to sift out the true lover, like the stone fence of Capulet’s orchard in Romeo and Juliet. The lyrics read:

 Wise men say / Only fools rush in

But I can’t help / Falling in love with you.

Shall I stay? / Would it be a sin?

If I can’t help / Falling in love with you?

 Like the river flows / Surely to the sea

Darling so it goes / Some things were meant to be

Take my hand / Take my whole life too,

For I can’t help / Falling in love with you.

(Sony / ATV Music Publishing LLC; Anidraks Music, Gladys Music, EMI April Music ML, Stephen Michael Music)

 Like “Louie Louie,” the song is reduced to its bare essence in an extreme simplicity that adds to its beauty and perennial status. Wise men, so the song says, caution against love, especially against rushing into love too rapidly. Cattullus, the ancient Roman love poet, and after him, Campion My Sweet Lesbia, said similar things about the advise of wisdom in their dialogue of head and Wisdom tempers love until true love leaps all reasons, as Romeo leaps the wall of Capulet’s orchard. The song in our version comes from a French poem of the 1700’s called Plaisirs de Amour, the pleasures of love, by Martini, who got it from de Flouraine (Wikipedia), who no doubt got it from Catullus. It is important though that false love be kept out, by barriers of wisdom, law and reason, so that true love is possible. The lover then wonders, if he should stay, would it be a sin- as the lovers apparently lack the legal sanction of marriage. Yet “rush in” recognizes the irrevocable result of the deepening of the relation should he stay. The setting of the song reminds of the Bowie song “Stay.” and “That would be crazy tonight.” The lover calls, somewhat like a male bird in courtship, arguing that their love proceeds by an irresistible force like gravity, that is fate, as the river must flow to the sea, and the lover experiences this–the compulsion not of appetite but of true love– as something that is intended by fate. And this turns out to be the natural passion that leads the male to submit to marriage, as the lover proposes and gives himself to his beloved through this passion that leads to the connection to the permanent things. The song captures the moment when love is chosen because it is fated. That is why, despite the apparent disregard of marriage, the song is one of the best to be played at weddings, depicting as it does the submission to love by nature. Love songs that are very great, well known, and can be played at weddings, or are not tragic or sad love songs, are a bit rare, and this is one.


Bob Dylan

Growing up in the seventies, less than half aware of what had taken place in the previous decade, we had not begun to appreciate Mr. Dylan. The Dylan we heard on FM radio were things like “Like a Rolling Stone,” which seemed a bit too vengeful, and “everybody must get stoned,” which seemed to be some kind of circus party song, silly at best. The message had become passe, while at the same time much more dangerous for us than it was for them. By 1975, we could not understand what it was to say this in 1965. Later, it occurred to us that he might mean something more: stoned in the sense of the biblical punishment of community derision, and possibly the turning on or the party atmosphere as a voluntary communal acceptance of communal derision. Like a Rolling Stone is addressed to a once successful one who has since fallen to join those who lived like rolling stones. The bluesmen sang about being like a rolling stone. Muddy Waters used the phrase, as did Leon Paynes in “Lost Highway,” sung a month before Dylan wrote “Like a Rolling Stone.”[10] From Dylan, the phrase was taken up as the name of a leading band and the rock and roll magazine, since “rock” and “stone” fit together so well.

Dylan wrote the Woody Guthrie style folk song “Blowing in the Wind,” which became an anti-war anthem. When the song was redone by the Mama’s and the Papas, Dylan became a pop star. It was assumed from this that he was a leader of the antiwar movement, though he tried continually simply to be himself and a musician. When the Byrds remade ”Tambourine Man,” Dylan became a “superstar.” Tambourine man is another song about music, how it transports the soul as if to elsewhere: ‘Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship…”etc., “far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow…” Like the similar song “Mr. Bo jangles,” the beggar musician is extraordinarily beautiful. My personal discovery of Dylan began from my falling in love with Judy Collins. With her ear and eye for lyrics, she does lots of Dylan songs, but got me with her Tambourine man and a 1962 song called “Tomorrow is a long Time:

If today was not and endless highway

If tonight were not a crooked trail

If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time

The lonesome would mean nothing to me at all

I cant see my reflection in the water

Cant speak the sounds that show no pain

I cant hear the echo of my footsteps

Can’t remember the sound of my own name

Yes and only if my own true love was waiting

Yes if I could hear her heart softly pounding

If only she was lyin’ by me

Then I’d sleep in my bed

Once again

There’s beauty in the silver singin’ river

There’s beauty in the sunlight in the sky

But none of these and nothing else can match the beauty

That I remember in my true loves eyes.

(Copyright 1963 by Warner Music, Inc.; renewed in 1991 by Special Rider Music)

In the story told by Clinton Heylin,[xi] Dylan wrote the song when Suze Rotolo left for Europe. He left his home, and didn’t want to return until she came back. He sang the song over and over in the Von Ronk’s apartment in New York, where he stayed, and recorded it in the home of Tony Glover, where he played it for his friends. He thought it uncharacteristically soft, but at the same time he considers it his first true song, saying that what he wrote before was “bullshit songs,” by which he means not really his own muse. What we have here, then, is the brokenhearted love song of the first of the classic rock poets. We will collect a few of these in what follows, as for Bowie, Page, and Plant. It is possible that in each case, the failure of a certain kind of essential love stood at the portico of their entrance into the finest lyric poetry. As Jung might say, the anima is the door of dreams, the gateway to the collective unconscious.

The lover is confused, and cannot perceive himself, or even his reflection, having lost the one loved. In her eyes he saw the unparalleled beauty, and will not return to himself or his own bed until, at the end of the endless highway, he finds her again.

Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

 One of the most perfect of all American folk songs, “Hard Rain” approaches the prophetic, calling our nation to repentance regarding race, wealth and poverty, and pollution. The song is set in the action of a parent, a mother, asking her troubadour son a series of questions about his travels in the world and in America. The ensuing dialogue fulfills the purpose of folk music that verged on socialism, aiming to make humanity and our nation more just regarding certain issues (We usually do not think of the socialist-leaning implications of songs like “This land is your land” when we hear them. It is ironic in our love of America, because of our free market and individualism, that concern for the common good can be confused with socialism. For those who disdain American folk for this reason we can indicate that these are not politicians but musicians, and to ask, “Where, then are your prophetic poets?”

Now the year is very early, 1962, and yet here we already see the generational theme that was to become central to the late sixties, as found in the Who song “My Generation” and elsewhere. Gordon Lightfoot would later repeat the dramatic scene of troubadour son to parent in his song Sit Down, Young Stranger, almost making this a folk theme category. As has been noted, the pattern and the first two lines are suggested by a ballad out of the collection of Child, “Lord Randall, but Dylan blows away anything in lyric tradition, period. He has already written “Blowing in the Wind.” There is an interview statement from Dylan himself that he wrote the song in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, but Clinton Heylin figured out that it was written before then, and there is nothing in the song that suggests a concern with nuclear annihilation or foreign policy. “Hard Rain” is rather a domestic policy song. Dylan commented that “it doesn’t really matter where a song comes from. It just matters where it takes you.” And so, we do interpretation rather than music history, although again important clues are often suggested by the work of the historians. In any case, foreign policy is inseparable from domestic. The song is timeless, and so prophetic.

On the liner notes to the album Freewheelin, Dylan himself wrote of Hard Rain: “It is a desperate kind of song, every line in it actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all these songs, so I put all I could into this song.” This is like the teachings on which it is permissible only to give the chapter headings, emphasised by Maimonides. In the best theoretical writing, too, each sentence could be a chapter. But here, each line could be a whole song, as each is an image and, like a child beside a dead pony, implies a story.

The questions introducing each of five sections are “Where have you been ? What did you see? What did you hear? Who did you meet, and What will you do now? Each question results in a flurry of cryptic images in answer.

 Oh where have you been, my blue eyed son?

Oh where have you been, my darling young one?

 I ’v stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains.

I ’v walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways,

Slept in the middle of seven sad forests.

I ’v been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,

Been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,

 It’s a hard / And it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s gonna fall

He has journeyed over mountains, highways, forests, oceans and graveyards. The places he has been are all over the nation and beyond, including the spiritual realms called mountains, forests and oceans, the heights and depths. He returns to these things at the end of the song, in the last set of lines, so that they then have become clearer through the song: “reflect from the mountains so all souls can see it,” and “stand on the ocean.” “Forest is especially interesting in the last set of lines. The journey is what allows him to “know my song well before I start singin.'”

From his travels he concludes and reports that “a hard rain’s gonna fall.” A section of the Scorsese biography of Dylan showed a host suggesting that “hard rain” was a cryptic reference to acid rain, then falling from U. S. industry onto Canada. Dylan famously answered that it is not acid rain, “its just a hard rain.” Later, introducing the song at a performance, he says it means “something’s gonna happen.” He restores the literal meaning, and won’t comment on the higher meaning regarding what it is that is going to happen.

Recalling too the question of “acid rain,” it is a good occasion to introduce a teaching of Jung regarding symbols. Jung writes: “Symbols are not signs or allegories for something known; they seek rather to express something that is little known or completely unknown.”[xii] They are meanings that we do not yet have rational categories for, that the contents might be integrated into a comprehensive understanding, and so of great value to learning or the philosophic quest. Does anyone care if the hard rain is spiritual, and an invisible thing that results in many literal political manifestations, like the race riots that were then about to occur, or the murders of Abraham, Martin and John and Robert, national sins for which we have yet to atone? Other things might have occurred, and still the hard rain would be prophetic of these.

The hard rain that’s gonna fall is like a judgment of heaven coming on our nation, much like the prophecies of the civil war indicated by Mason, Jefferson and others, and acknowledged by Lincoln, when in his second inaugural address he said: “…Till every drop of blood drawn by the lash is paid” with the blood drawn by the sword. This is the blood of Lincoln and the soldiers dying in the Civil War, as well as that of Saint Martin and the Freedom Riders. One sees in hindsight that the most important thing for the health of a nation, including its foreign policy, is justice. The judgment for all the things, the injustices, that he saw in America and among humanity are to be the direct cause of the hard rain or the time of tribulation that is to come upon America in a way similar to that which is to come upon humanity in the tribulation. Folk prophecy, like that in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” from the civil war, is directly national, and only apocalyptic by analogy. Sean Wilentz writes, “The apocalyptic themes in Dylan’s early songs had appeared chiefly as metaphors of social redemption.” And if we pause to consider, should the apocalypse occur a generation or two after ours, what matters is the injustice right in front of our faces, as we write our deeds into the book of life. And for America, the events that followed were the escalation of the war, the consequent division, the sixties assassinations and riots in the cities, and more. We must ask the unjust, the mob and the KKK, if they are satisfied with the result of the ways they spent their days. The places he has been are the reason that he will know his song well before he starts singin,’ a line toward the end of the song in the Gaslight version.

The second section, after “Where have you been?” is “What did you see…”

What did you see my blue eyed son?

What did you see my darling young one?

Saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it,

Saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it.

I saw a black branch with blood that kept dripping.

Saw a room full of men whose hammers were all bleeding.

I saw a white ladder all covered with water.

Saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,

 And it a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s gonna fall.

The images are akin to dream or prophecy. So reading images is similar to attempting to see something like Nostradamus or the Biblical prophesies unveiled. Progress occurs, if for us only a bit at a time, and we will consider possibilities for each that are in the end contradictory, though one or another may be on the right track.. Intelligible realities beyond our present comprehension are described by the soul in images which it, the soul, produces spontaneously. The images occur because the reality they describe is yet unknown, or, they refer to concepts that are above us, or thoughts we cannot yet contain. Hence the song makes many people cry, though they cannot say why. For this reason the images call us to the ascent toward knowledge, and demonstrate that knowledge is somehow in the soul from which they were produced. He sees a newborn surrounded by wolves, a luxurious, empty highway, and these seem to be paired. This reminds immediately of the strange increase in the number and size of Coyotes around here lately, so that we were just saying yesterday that one could not leave a baby in the back yard unattended. This is something new and strange in nature in the metro areas, and we would regret the reintroduction of hawks and wolves if civilization declined just a bit. Children are unattended, left prey to all sorts of crime, as in fact occurred in American society. The human or American condition is one in which wolves are allowed to threaten the vulnerable innocent, or even the child that is the image of the newborn thing in man, similar to the poet allowed to die in the gutter. The wolves threaten to devour the precious future, while a highway of diamonds was built that is seen empty, as might in fact be seen in a nation-stopping oil crisis, or after the destruction of our nation, like looking back on the ruins of a past civilization. Sean Wilentz, in Bob Dylan in America (p. 178) writes:

 “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” although in part apocalyptic, is also a song of a quest that leads through sights, sounds, and scenes of everyday misery as well as of a blasted, scorched and bleeding earth. And unlike Dylan’s other early songs of destruction, it concludes not with justice or redemption but with the singer vowing to sing to all the world of what he has seen and heard.

The image too may rather be about the pointlessness of our scurrying about the highways spread out over America in an explosion of construction after the war. The diamond highway, too, might be a spiritual way, empty because no one goes on it, while everyone travels the crooked highways which the poet too has been on. He sees something black, a branch that is dripping with blood, and a room full of men whose hammers are bleeding, in two images that are again connected. Black and white in this song evoke our guilt about race in America, and in this song, we must always consider a racial meaning as a leading possibility. Black branch, and perhaps also white ladder, remind of lynchings. The bleeding hammers may be because they have murdered the black branch, or it may mean that their labor is the condition of spiritual misery. The image evokes a memory of the mural by Degas at the Detroit museum, inspired by the labor union movement. Then he says he saw a white ladder covered in water and a room full of speakers with broken tongues. In “The lonesome death of Harriet Carrol,” the ladder is the ladder of the law, as has been suggested in connection with this song on authority. Dylan may understand “philosophy” in the way it is spoke of in this song, prior to the emergence of the great Socratic Jewish philosophers of the Twentieth century, Leo Strauss, Jacob Klein, and Allan Bloom. Too late to cry for Harriet, for those who “philosophize disgrace and criticize our fears.” What can philosophy do about the murder of a servant woman and the corruption of justice that, in hindsight, allowed her beating with a cane to occur? The white ladder may also be the way of spiritual ascent, similar to that seen by Jacob stretching up to heaven. It may be submerged in water because those speaking are not making it apparent or bringing it into consciousness for a people, perhaps because their tongues are all broken. The song “Hard Rain” is an attempt to remedy this condition, or to show something that makes the white ladder emerge from the unconscious mind of America and mankind. He tries to do better than the talkers whose tongues are all broken. He does do better, because he has spent ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard, which speaks of those killed by injustice. He carries the report of the graves of those like Ms. Carrol.

What did you hear, my blue eyed son?

What did you hear, my darling young one?

Heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warning

Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a blazing

Heard ten thousand whispering and nobody listening

Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughing.

Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter,

 And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s gonna fall.

 After describing where he has been and what he has seen, the poet describes what he has heard. What is the difference between seeing and hearing in the song? Are the things seen past, and the things heard, in the central section, prophetic of the more distant future? He heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warning, and he tries to tell us about this, for the warning of the thunder (one of the seven thunders?) is of a wave that could drown the whole world. This is not necessarily a prophecy of a giant tsunami, though that may be what would happen if the poles were to shift as is said of December 21, 2012, when we cross the galactic center. The wave may have more to do with the human and political world, an ominous movement, similar to the wave of communism that could be said to have submerged one third of the globe. This direction may be confirmed by the audio-vision of one hundred drummers drumming, which indicates war. The terrorist part of Islam now wishes to become something like this. Something similar was seen in the drum show in China at the start of the 2008 Olympics. Like the dance of a host tribe at an inter-tribal feast in Africa, this show was meant to be “intimidating.” As the television commentator noted, it was intimidating. Ten thousand were whispering about this, and no one was listening. These are compared with the ten thousand talkers whose tongues were broken. That is, while the talkers could not make the white ladder accessible, those who whispered the truth were not heeded. In the future scene, the talkers are not completely mute, but do not speak loudly enough. He heard one starve while many laughed, and this one is the same as the poet who died in the gutter. (This could be me, if my books do not sell!) The many laughing in their warm houses do not care about the starving poet any more than they care about the others starving, and the deafness is related to the social injustice none move to remedy. The talkers are our teachers, and the whisperers our poets. One of two original lines that have been removed from the later, edited version, is “I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of small children.” Someone on the internet, at, has accurately related this to the children made soldiers, in the African militias, for example. It may be a thing future, though, a thing heard, and so does not quite fit. A clown who cried in the alley is a thing heard that is removed. Watching the video from the early performance, it is a wonder the singer can contain himself, and he must have practiced hard to avoid breaking out in tears. Often, as when performing Tambourine man, he is crying, and we, the spectators, hardly care enough to notice. The tears and fluttering, which almost interfere with the performance, is because the poem is inspired, and this means that the poet himself does not fully know or contain its meaning.

The fourth section is not about places he has been or things he has heard and seen, but about people he has met:

Who did you meet, my blue eyed son?

Who did you meet, my darling young one?

I met a young child beside a dead pony.

I met a white man who walked a black dog.

I met a young woman whose body was burning.

I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow.

I met one man who was wounded in love,

I met another man who was wounded in hatred.

It’s a hard, its a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s gonna fall.

Hence, the section is not so much political as psychological. The “who did you meet” section breaks the pattern that would take us through the five senses following sight and hearing with touch, taste and smell. It is the more rational question to follow from the parent, leaving us to explain why the previous section was “what did you hear.” Hearing is different from seeing. The warning of prophecy comes through a faculty that is more like hearing, and is different from our perception of the things around us that we can see for ourselves if we look, the things that have already occurred. The hearing section is central of the five sections of the song, which again underlines that the song is centrally a prophecy. But here, in answer to the question of who it is that he met, the young traveling poet answers, again in two lines that are paired, that he saw a child by a dead pony, and a white man walking a black dog. A child by a dead pony is a very sad sight, yet we are immune to the sorrow of racial injustice, whites treating blacks often worse than the love and compassion shown for the pets of their children.

The next two images are also paired, as images of love and lust, a young woman in lust and a young girl that inspired him or gave him a rainbow. His tears flow here, though like us, she cannot care. She gave him entrance to imagination through the colors of refracted light. The last two are again obviously paired, a man wounded in love and another wounded in hatred, and we conclude for sure that this pairing of the lines is a key to reading the song. The child with the corpse of the pony is also wounded in love and the man who enslaves the black is wounded in hatred. Pivoting around the two central lines, we see that these are the two different kinds of wounds of the soul, related to the difference between love and lust, or between the things of the body and the things of the soul. Race hatred is based on or flows from the principle of the body or the animal, but human beings have a natural compassion and love for the animals, because of the soul. Cruelty to animals outside is a sign of inner faction, and the master holds over the slave an authority that is fitting to that of man over the animals, rather than to men over one another.

What’ll ya do now, my blue eyed son?

What’ll ya do now, my darling young one?

I’m going back up ‘fore the rain starts a falling

I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty

Where the pellets of poison are flooding our waters

Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison

The executioner’s face is always well hidden

Where hunger is ugly and souls are forgotten

Where black is the color and none is the number

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it

Reflect from the mountains so all souls can see it

And I’ll stand on the ocean before I start sinkin’

(Copyright 1963 by Warner Music, Inc.; renewed in 1991 by Special Rider Music.)

To the question of what it is that he will do now, he concludes that he will now return to his travels, and the song becomes a song about that activity of music and poetry, or the purpose of the poet. He’s going back up, i. e., returning to the spiritual ascent that led him along the sides of all those mountains, and quickly, before the rain begins to fall. This line clearly sets the time frame, for the rainstorm that will become the hard rain has not even yet begun. He will also return to the depths of the forest, which, as he said, he had slept in. A reader on the internet suggests that this dark too is racial, the forest like the ghetto, as would fit with the next line. Here the people are seen to be many and in need, empty not only of material wealth (and this would not even be seen in the depths of the literal forest) but empty of what the talkers could not give them and the whisperers could not make heard. Here the poison is seen in pellets entering our waters, which may refer not only to our polluting our nation but to the poisoning of the source of poetic inspiration. Again, this is before there was an environmental movement. Silent Spring was only published by Rachael Carson in 1962, the same year that Hard Rain was published. The one line, in fact, that Dylan has explained what he had in mind is that the pellets of poison are “all the lies on the radio and in the news.” We see from this the way the images, which may be quite literal, also function especially in analogy, as poetry is inclined to do. Here he sees the place where the luxury of the valley meets the misery of our prisons. In another paired line, the explanation and comment is given in the image of the hidden face of the executioner, and direction to the reason for this. The source of punishment by the government is not apparent, but they live in the valley and cause the conditions of those in the prisons. Indeed, the people in the suburbs do not care about prison injustice, which they could end with their votes, and might, except that it is hidden from them. “Where hunger is ugly and souls are forgotten” may be the most literal line of the whole song, and needs no comment, but its couplet is “Where black is the color and none is the number,” or, blacks count for nothing in the poverty and injustice of the America that the poet sees from the depths of the forest. What he is going to do now is to continue the work of folk music, which is summed up in the next three lines, for he will “Reflect from the mountains so all souls can see it,” tell and speak of all these things that he thinks and breaths, the very mountains now mentioned twice explicitly and once implicitly. These are the mountains of the theoretical or contemplative heights. Going there allows the things of the forest, regarding man and our nation, to be seen in their natural light, or in the light of high truth. His final image is striking and beautiful, for as if to say he will do this with every bit of his mortal strength, he says he will stand on the ocean until he starts sinking. The ocean appeared earlier in the line that said he had been out in front of a dozen dead oceans. Unlike a sea or lake, an ocean is universal, and the things he sees concern not only America but the world. There are not even a dozen oceans now alive, but where he has been is out in front of a dozen dead ones, his frightful vision of a future time that need not happen were it not for human injustice. The image is meant to remind us of Peter the Apostle, called out from the boat to walk on the sea of Galilee, when his faith wavered and he began to sink (Matthew 14:22-29). The activity of the folk musician is a kind of walking on water, from where he can tell it, but only until his mortal faith begins to faint.

We, who live now in a much different world, underestimate the problems of poverty and race in America. Dylan as a folk poet works successfully to alleviate these problems, as now there are extensive networks for distributing food to the poor and racial injustice has been toppled, at least in law and in majority opinion. Yet our national sin remains, and we must agree that the rain has already begun to fall, and a Hard Rain is indeed coming, because we will not repent. We do not even know how, or know how to listen to the poets who can show us where to begin, or what to repent.

[1]    Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, p. 78.

[2]    Steven Rowe, Leaving and Returning,

[3]    See for example Aion, pp. 11-22, and Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious pp, 3-72. The Jungian understanding of the anima and its projection in love as an image, and the challenge of its reintegration seems to us the highest understanding of love achieved in the modern era.

[4]    Plato, Meno, 81.

[5]    There is an implicit theory of Aesthetics with an objective basis, based on what Socrates says to Glaucon at 402d: beauty is experienced when the things that come to be are like the knowledge in the soul. Socrates says that the fairest sight for those who can see is when the dispositions of a noble character correspond to that “in the form.”

[6]    Jung, “Marriage as a Psychological Relation,” in The Portable Jung, p. 170.

[7]    Barry Mann & Gerry Goffin, Copyright 1961 by Screen Gems- Colombia Music INC. Cited by Richard Goldstein, The Poetry of Rock, pp. 32-33.

[8]    C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp.97-98.

[9]    Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV. I, 85. See also Jung, Symbols of Transformation, on the stomping of the ground in Native American dancing, and Neil Young, p. 315

[10]  Trager, Keys to the Rain, p. 380.

[xi]   Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air, p.87-89.

[xii]  Jung, Symbols of Transformation, pgph. 332, p. 224.

One thought on “Rock Commentaries Chapter II: Early Love Songs and Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

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