Littwin: It’s alright, Ma, I’m only bleeding

If you read anyone who says that Dylan was the soundtrack of the ’60s, stop reading. Dylan transcended time and place and everything else he touched, which is how a blues/folk singer who changed rock ‘n’ roll, with a voice never heard before or since, came from Nowheresville, Minnesota to Greenwich Village to invent a new life and, at the same time, invent a new world.

Dylan’s story is the American story, lived as the American story should be lived, all lies and dreams, told the way Woody told it first, except that Woody wanted to make us better. Dylan just cared about the music.

He ripped his songs from headlines and from dreams and from magic and from the Bible — God said to Abraham, kill me a son — to tell the stories of hurricanes, of desolation row, of — God help us — the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Take the rag away from your face/now is not the time for your tears.

That Dylan would win a Nobel is, as David Remnick pointed out, a cosmic joke. That he would win this year, in the midst of this godforsaken political season, is a joke beyond even Dylan’s reckoning.

I am sympathetic to the notion that the Nobel Prize in Literature should be about real literature, and that Philip Roth must win one soon. I mean, is next year going to be Billy Joel? But Dylan is different. There is no one like Dylan. There will never be anyone like Dylan.

No one ever wrote and sang, in Dylan’s voice, words like these:

They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row.

When the news broke on Thursday, I tweeted that we should have a Dylan lyric a day for the remainder of this cosmic joke of an election. I chose first something from Masters of War: “All the money you made will never buy back your soul.” Today I’m going with “But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.”

Here are some of the many suggestions I got from the Twittersphere. All of them are great. Feel free to add your own.

Photo by Somvinil via Flickr, Creative Commons


  1. Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes

    You’d know what a drag it is to see you

  2. They say ev’ry man needs protection
    They say ev’ry man must fall
    Yet I swear I see my reflection
    Some place so high above this wall
    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east
    Any day now, any day now
    I shall be released

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