Bob Dylan’s 1st Bad Dream: “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”
Bob Dylan is my favorite singer/songwriter. Original, I know, and I’ll spare you the diatribe about his greatness as his standing among the 20th century’s greatest performers and personas is well established. He is immortal as far as the history of music is concerned and bears responsibility for some of the best musical and lyrical offerings ever produced. That being said, Dylan’s undertakings became more mercurial as his career went on, and in addition to having written some of the most powerful and groundbreaking songs of his generation (or ever), he may also have lashed together some of the worst I’ve ever heard. This ongoing series entitled Bob Dylan’s Bad Dreams seeks to bring those forgotten anti-classics into full view with naught but love and admiration. The idea is to keep this list going on a semi-regular basis until I run out of things to say.
Album: Slow Train Coming (1979)
I’m not sure if “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” is the worst song Dylan has ever recorded, but it’s certainly close. Coming off the earlier portion of his descent into Christian-themed music and through twelve verses of banal, unironic descriptions of — for the most part — farm animals, Dylan alludes to the story of Adam bestowing names upon all God’s creatures:
And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl in the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:19-20, King James Version
Dylan, however, tends to phrase Adam’s exploits in this regard with considerably less poetry than the indelible King James Version of the Bible. Take, for instance, my favorite verse of the lot:
He saw an animal up on a hill
Chewing up so much grass until she was filled
He saw milk comin’ out but he didn’t know how
“Ah, think I’ll call it a cow”
He couples his childish lyrics — and really, this song’s only legitimate home is within the disease-ridden confines of a Kindergarten classroom — with a hefty serving of backing Gospel singers as would be his wont for some time. (There will be other entries that deal with more egregious uses of the Gospel tradition, which I do like, by and large. It can, however, be abused and mutated to horrendous effect.)
To end off what amounts to a musical version of a See ‘n’ Say, Dylan concludes the song with an ellipsis as if challenging you to name the animal he is describing in the last verse. Go ahead. See if you can guess, but you have to actually listen to the roughly 4:20 that precedes this point in the song because I did, and it’s very lonely out here.
This article is cross-posted at Foolish Human.
August 31, 2010