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DYLAN & THE LAW, a lyrical challenge
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DYLAN & THE LAW, a lyrical challenge
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Joined: 05 Feb 2012
Posts: 3
Location: San Fran

Post DYLAN & THE LAW, a lyrical challenge Reply with quote
Dylan & the Law: a zimmie-freak Challenge

Premise: Dylan has been obsessed (among other themes) with the inequities and irony of the Law. More particularly the criminal justice system.

THE CHALLENGE: identify songs, with lyric references that share this leit motif. How many are there? A handful? Dozens? More? I'll kick it off.


Drifter's Escape

“Oh, help me in my weakness”
I heard the drifter say
As they carried him from the courtroom
And were taking him away
“My trip hasn’t been a pleasant one
And my time it isn’t long
And I still do not know
What it was that I’ve done wrong”

Well, the judge, he cast his robe aside
A tear came to his eye
“You fail to understand,” he said
“Why must you even try?”
Outside, the crowd was stirring
You could hear it from the door
Inside, the judge was stepping down
While the jury cried for more

“Oh, stop that cursed jury”
Cried the attendant and the nurse
“The trial was bad enough
But this is ten times worse”
Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while ev’rybody knelt to pray
The drifter did escape

Copyright © 1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music
* Only necessary to quote pertinent line(s) but I see no way to edit or excerpt Drifter

Don't think once
Thu Feb 09, 2012 6:45 pm View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail

Joined: 17 May 2012
Posts: 6
Location: Tennessee

Post interesting idea Reply with quote
When I listen to his music, I usually hear themes of good/evil and life/death and love/women. "Infidels" kind of pops to mind first with legal ideas and then obviously Hurricane.

But just pondering the few songs I know of the hundreds, I keep coming up much more often with the whole good and evil theme.
Hurricane seems to be about the justice system, but it can't be because it's also about what's good and what's evil, and the legal system isn't really about good or evil (Or really right or wrong).

I think the court system is really just a big paper machine that produces infinite postponements and delays to ensure that nothing happens on either side. Kind of like the trenches in WWI. Nobody is really supposed to get what's 'right'. There is no 'right'. The definition of that varies according to how long any side will pay.

So any song about a trial in a court or a mention of the legal system can only be about paperwork and money. That is a contained system. And I think he's often talking about something a lot more than what can be contained in any court in this country. Just from listening to the little bit of music I've heard and reading a few interviews (So I'm basically guessing on little information) he appears to believe that people will be heard, judged, made whole, helped, or pay in a higher court that he seems to believe exists that would eclipse what passes for a court of justice here---in other words, a real heaven and a real hell.

This is probably muddled, and frankly, the few times I've ever tried to discuss Dylan's lyrics or my understanding of them, I usually just have people laugh at me or disagree pretty strongly. His early music sounds funny and clever. Some of the stronger songs--he admits he doesn't know how he wrote them. Then he has his divorce and the break-up of his family that dominate his music, then strong religious themes. Where I usually get in trouble with people is that I think a lot of those ideas from that time still exist in his music today. "Thunder on the Mountain" is maybe what his own father would have written if he had his son's writing gift. but the ideas could be his dad's, maybe. It's a brilliantly crafted songs with so many layers of meaning (and I think he means them, too) that basically say we are heading to some REAL judgment in a REAL court.

Now. I'm new here. I hope I don't get blasted. I saw that nobody had took you up on your challenge and I thought it was a good one. I just think it encompasses a higher court, maybe.
Fri May 18, 2012 12:01 pm View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 05 Feb 2012
Posts: 3
Location: San Fran

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Your response is thoughtful. The “legal/criminal justice” themes are there. They occur and recur too often to be dismissed. I think the songs tend to be existential rather than morality fables. Paper and Money? We don't disagree what courtrooms are about, I'd put it: two kinds of justice. Most of us get that which is reserved for the 99%. Themes of Absolute Good and Evil? I don’t think so. But by intention “. . .nothing is revealed. . .”
A few examples:

Walls of Redwing.
Kids between the ages of 12 and 17
“Thrown in like bandits

And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls. . .

“Oh, some of us’ll end up
 In St. Cloud Prison

And some of us’ll wind up

To be lawyers and things

And some of us’ll stand up

To meet you on your crossroads

From inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing.”

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
“In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel

To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level

And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom

Stared at the person who killed for no reason

Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’

And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished

And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance

William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence. . .”

I Shall Be Released

“Standing next to me in this lonely crowd

Is a man who swears he’s not to blame

All day long I hear him shout so loud

Crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east 

Any day now, any day now
I shall be released.”

Percy’s Song

“ …his case it is sealed…
His sentence is passed

And it cannot be repealed…

‘But he ain’t no criminal

And his crime it is none…
 What happened to him

Could happen to anyone…'
And at that the judge jerked forward

And his face it did freeze… 
'Could you kindly leave

My office now, please'

Turn, turn to the rain

And the wind. . .”

Don't think once
Wed Aug 01, 2012 2:02 am View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
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