Macchars don’t wear sweaters

“All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

Posted on: February 16, 2007

The song begins ominously with a fast paced acoustic rhythm, soon joined by the freewheeling wail of a harmonica, and soon to follow rat-tat-tat beats of a drum. The tenor and mood of the song is ominous, like that of rolling thunder on a stormy day, even threatening, creating an atmosphere of inner conflict, restlessness and turbidity.

I really could not understand the lyrics in their entirety, and have been able to gather meaning, perhaps entirely personal, in snatches from sentences taken discretely. The words and word pictures of the song seem to communicate in the language of Freudian symbols, rather than conventional language, and words and expressions seem to accentuate the mood perfectly, that of a soul in turmoil, even if they might not make cohesive sense to a lay listener.

“There must be someway out of here, said the Joker to the Thief

There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief”

The opening lines, rendered in the characteristic Dylan drone, hit you instantly, adding to the tone already created by the music. It immediately strikes you that the theme taken on by the song is grand, though it is more of a feeling than a rational conclusion. “There must be somewhere out of here” is a desperate cry of someone unable to cope with the chaos and relentless pressures of life. “Joker” and “Thief” seem to represent two stereotypes, two attitudes towards life, or different shades of the self. What these two are, I don’t pretend to know, but they seem to have Shakespearean or Biblical connotations, adding to the general impression of grandiosness of theme.

“No reason to get excited, the Thief, he kindly spoke”

Quite surprisingly, it is the Thief who has assumed an elevated moral position, asking the distraught “Joker” to calm down. Usually the Shakespearean Joker is the one who amusedly looks down upon the follies of the world.

“There are many here among us, who think life is but a joke.

But you and I we’ve been through that, and it is not our fate”

Those of us with an existential bent, are suspect to believe sometimes that life is meaningless and futile. But the Joker and the Thief have passed that phase and realized its follies and that it is not the highest truth.

“So let’s not talk falsely now, because the hour is getting late”

My personal favorite lines in the song. Let’s caste off our pretensions and masks, let’s not give in to claims and pontifications of the world, let’s be as we really want to be, because there is not long left to live.

“two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howwl”

With “howwll” the freewheeling harmonica again takes over, and takes you along a few crazy rollercoaster curves before coming to an abrupt halt.


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