Song of the Week: “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” – Bob Dylan

With Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan singlehandedly changed the face of popular music. With the addition of electric instruments and a new lyrical language, Dylan was rewriting musical history as fast as he could churn out songs.  Each song was so forward thinking that the album’s impact has not diminished over time.  American History was at a turning point, and in terms of popular culture, Dylan was leading the charge.

On the album’s wildest track, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” Dylan goes even further: he takes on past American History.  Dylan takes the listener on a surrealistic and hilarious trip through America, with each situation getting more and more ridiculous.  It begins with the sail of the Mayflower and ends with the arrival of Columbus’ ships.  But this is no history lesson.  The shipmates on the Mayflower aren’t Pilgrims but rather a bunch of misfits and its captain is the fabled Captain Ahab from Moby Dick (titled here as Captain Arab.)  And as for Columbus, Dylan asks him why he doesn’t drive a truck and then offers him a simple “good luck”.

By bookending the song with these two pillars of American History, Dylan deconstructs our own view of history in his own bizarre image. Dylan may have sang “it’s easy to see that no much is really sacred” elsewhere on the album, and here he proves it.  In between, Dylan also pokes fun at other events.  He takes on the purchase of the island of Manhattan  (“Captain Arab he started, writing up some deeds, he said, “Let’s set up a fort, and start buying the place with beads”), the whaling for industry (“this cop comes down the street crazy as a loon, he throw us all in jail, for carryin’ harpoons”), Captain Kidd as a wanted pirate in New York City (They asked me my name, and I said, “Captain Kidd”, they believed me but, they wanted to know, what exactly that I did).  Could Dylan be referencing France’s aid during the Revolutionary War and then subsequent War of 1812, when he meets a French girl who invites him up to her house, only to eventually throw him out?

Current events are also met with cynicism and hilarity as well.  Naturally, protesters are skewered when he jumps in a protest line and asks if he’s not late.  The British Invasion also gets similar treatment when a random Englishmen says, “Fab!” to him.

For all the sly (and not-so sly) references littering the song, it stands as Dylan’s most humorous outing. The song even begins with a false start where Dylan and producer Tom Wilson are heard laughing for a good 30 seconds, before starting again. Some of the other weird things things that happen to him include getting knocked over by a bowling ball, narrowly escaping an exploding kitchen and taking a parking ticket off of his ship.

“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” is one of Dylan’s forgotten gems.  I’ve never seen it mentioned among his greatest songs, and Dylan himself hasn’t played the song since the late 1980s.  But it totally fits in the spirit of Dylan circa 1965 – irreverent, funny and intelligent.

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