INSIDE GREY WALLS / DETRÁS DE LOS MUROS GRISES – GHOST STORY / RELATO DE FANTASMAS – CHRISTMAS/NAVIDAD 2020

This story came out of a family challenge at Christmas 2020 / Este relato es producto de un reto familiar de Navidad de 2020.

INSIDE GREY WALLS

The castle of the county’s chief family, still owned by that melancholy line, is shrouded in gloom, as if in a perpetual mist. Grey walls, grey turrets, grey buttresses: even the leaves of the creeper, grey-green, repeat the oppressive greyness. The lead-tinted windows are pinched and narrow, prison-like. Outside the grass gleams emerald, as if hope and joy still existed somewhere, but she lives immured on the inside of those grey walls, and many is the year since she last trod those lawns.

Sometimes she presses her brow to a window, and allows her weary eyes to take in the green expanse out there, filtered to a half-tone through the leaden panes. But green is not for her: she withdraws her gaze and returns to the four corners of her world. That high room with its vaulted ceiling is her universe. Four-poster bed, writing-desk and its chair, bookcase, dinner table, bathroom behind the curtains, and flap for receiving morning porridge, midday meal and supper: these objects have circumscribed her life in a procession of yesterdays. She is free to read and to write: without those distractions she might go mad. To interact with any other human being, there is only the deaf-mute woman of an uncertain age who comes daily to clean and bring food.

She has just finished her supper – clam chowder followed by braised lamb with onions, at least they confine her with decent food! – and returned the dishes to the flap. She sits at the writing-desk and picks up Traditional Ballads of Erin, bookmarked where she left off reading. Nothing has changed, nothing will ever change.

Her ears prick suddenly: somehow she feels an unaccustomed movement in the room. Or was it outside? She moves back to the window and gazes down: no sign of anyone out there. And then she feels a strange and unfamiliar chill at her heart. She turns round.

‘Here I am. I have kept my promise: have you?’. She hears those words, in that voice she knows from long ago. Yes, it is him. How could she not recognise the attraction of his tones?

She confronts him with her gaze and lets him speak. ‘Come’, he says, ‘Faery awaits us with open eyes and ears. All this time I was there. Come away with me. Listen: Just one more journey to the woods, the holes where spirits hide. That is our journey: come!’

She embraces him, with the acquiescence of surrender. He draws a circle around them and both take a deep breath.

The next morning, the deaf-mute maid sees to her consternation that the bowl with the breakfast porridge has not been taken in. She calls the butler on her bell: he forces the door. There spreadeagled on the four-poster bed, her limbs spattered with blood and a knife twisted into her heart, she lies, tranquil at last and unbonded to any being in this world or another.

DETRÁS  DE LOS MUROS GRISES

El castillo de la familia principal del condado, siempre la propiedad de esa estirpe melancólica, está amortajado en oscuridad como si en una bruma perpetua. Muros grises, torreones grises, contrafuertes grises: hasta las hojas del trepador, de matiz entre gris y verde, repiten el agobiante esquema ceniciento. Los vitrales, teñidos de color plomo, son puntiagudos y angostos, de cárcel. Afuera, el césped brilla esmeralda, como si en algún lugar aún existieran la esperanza y la alegría, pero ella vive reclusa en el interior de esos muros grises, y hace años que sus pies ya no pisan aquella hierba.

A veces acerca el frente a un vitral, y permite que sus ojos cansados asimilen los contornos del césped allí fuera, cuya brillantez se halla filtrada hasta un matiz semipastel por el vidrio de color plomo. Pero el verde no es para ella: retira su mirada y regresa a los cuatro rincones de su mundo. Ese aposento alto y abovedado es su universo. Cama de dosel, escritorio y su silla, librero, mesa de comer, baño detrás de la cortina, y apertura para recibir y quitar gachas de desayuno, comida de mediodía y cena: estos objetos han circunscrito su vida en un desfile de ayeres. Tiene libertad para leer y escribir: sin esas distracciones podría enloquecer. Para que ella pueda interactuar con cualquier otro ser humano, únicamente hay la mujer sordomuda de edad indeterminada que viene diario para hacer limpieza y traer comida..

Acaba de terminar su cena – sopa tipo chowder de almejas, seguida de borrego estofado con cebolla – ¡al menos en su confinamiento recibe comida decente! – y ha regresado los trastes a la apertura. Se sienta ante el escritorio y retoma su libro, Traditional Ballads of Erin, encontrando el marcapáginas allí donde lo había dejado. Nada ha cambiado, nunca nada cambiará.

De súbito su oído se agudiza: de alguna manera se da cuenta de un movimiento inusual dentro del aposento. O ¿sería allí fuera? Regresa al vitral y se asoma mirando hacia abajo: no hay señal de nadie afuera. Luego siente en su corazón un frío extraño e insólito, y se voltea.

‘Heme aquí. He mantenido mi promesa. ¿Y tú?’  Ella escucha esas palabras, en aquella voz que conoce desde un pasado lejano. Sí, es él. ¿Cómo no reconocer los acordes de su voz, tan atractivos?

Lo enfrenta con su mirada y lo deja hablar. Enuncia: ‘Ven. La tierra de las hadas nos espera. Nos ven, nos oyen. Todo ese tiempo estuve allí. Vete conmigo. Escucha: Sólo un viaje más al bosque, a los huecos donde se esconden los espíritus. Es ése nuestro viaje: ¡ven!’

Ella lo abraza, con la anuencia de la entrega. Él traza un círculo alrededor de ellos y ambos respiran fuerte.

La mañana siguiente la empleada sordomuda ve consternada que nadie ha recibido las gachas de desayuno. Llama al mayordomo, quien abre la puerta a la fuerza. Allí, tendida en la cama de dosel, con sus miembros salpicados de sangre y una navaja torcida en su corazón, ella yace, finalmente en paz y sin nada que la vincule a nadie, ni de este mundo ni del otro.

A GRAPHIC INTERPRETATION: EDGAR ALLAN POE ILLUSTRATED / UNA INTERPRETACIÓN GRÁFICA: EDGAR ALLAN POE ILUSTRADO

There is a fresh chapter open in the world of Edgar Allan Poe illustrations, in the shape of the Spanish-language volume Narraciones Extraordinarias, illustrated by the British artist John Coulthart and published in 2017 by Editorial Iberia (Barcelona) in their collection ‘Alma: Clásicos ilustrados’.

The volume consists of 32 tales and 4 poems. Each of the 36 texts is frontispieced by a single, black-and-white illustration. The Spanish translation is not credited (and is not the standard version translated by Julio Cortázar). The best-known texts (‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, ‘The Raven’ …) are all there.

It appears that this is an original Spanish-language market version (with no Anglophone precursor) and that the illustrations have appeared in print form nowhere else. They can, though, be found – all 36 of them – on-line on the artist’s personal site at:

Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

These are remarkable illustrations. Each is pertinent to the tale or poem it accompanies, but typically from an unusual angle, pointing up a less obvious facet of the text. Thus, the illustration to ‘Berenice’ focuses on the narrator’s Gothic library; that to ‘Usher’ frighteningly actualises the mansion’s ‘peculiar atmosphere’; that to ‘William Wilson’ features a sinister pack of playing cards; that to ‘The Raven’, the narrator immersed in his reading yet surrounded by multiplied beaked black shadows.

 

Each single image repays closer study and renewed attention to the text. I believe these illustrations deserve to be better known: my only cavil is a technical one, namely that the resolution is on the thin side and the images would benefit from being sharper. For the rest, I would suggest that Coulthart’s illustrations to Poe should already place him up there with the likes of Edmund Dulac and Gustave Doré!

**

Se abre un nuevo capítulo en el mundo de las ilustraciones a la obra de Edgar Allan Poe, con el volumen en lengua española Narraciones Extraordinarias, ilustrado por el artista británico John Coulthart y publicado en 2017 por Editorial Iberia (Barcelona) en su colección ‘Alma: Clásicos ilustrados’.

El volumen se compone de 32 relatos y 4 poemas. Cada uno de los 36 textos tiene como frontispicio una única lámina en blanco y negro. No hay detalles sobre la traducción española o quien lo hizo (y no es la versión de referencia de Julio Cortázar). Los textos más conocidos (‘La caída de la casa de Usher’, ‘Los asesinatos en la Rue Morgue’, ‘La barrica de Amontillado’, ‘El cuervo’ …) están todos allí.

Parece que se trata de una versión original para el mercado hispanófono (sin precursor anglófono) y que estas ilustraciones no han aparecido en forma impresa en ningún otro lugar. Se pueden encontrar, no obstante, en su totalidad en línea, en el sitio personal del artista en:

Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

Estas son ilustraciones de categoría. Cada una es pertinente al relato o al poema que ilustra, pero típicamente desde un ángulo inusitado, resaltando una faceta menos obvia del texto. Así, la ilustración de ‘Berenice’ nos revela la biblioteca gótica del narrador; la de ‘Usher’, una terrorífica manifestación de la ‘atmosfera peculiar’ de la mansión; la de ‘William Wilson’, una siniestra baraja de cartas; la de ‘El cuervo’, el narrador perdido en su lectura y rodeado sin saberlo por múltiples sombras negras con pico.

Cada imagen individual amerita ser estudiada de forma más detallada y deberá enviarnos de regreso al texto. Creo que estas ilustraciones merecen ser mejor conocidas: mi única reservación es de naturaleza técnica, en la medida en que la resolución no es muy alta y las imágenes beneficiarían de una mayor nitidez. De resto, sugeriría que las ilustraciones a Poe de John Coulthart  ya deberían ser colocadas en el nivel más alto, al lado de las de figuras como Edmund Dulac and Gustave Doré …

JOURNAL OF THE ODISHA ASSOCIATION FOR ENGLISH STUDIES, VOL. 10, NO. 1 (2020)

Now released despite today’s difficult circumstances is Vol. 10, No 1 (2020) of the always high-quality Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies, edited from Baleswar  by Santwana Haldar.

Among the diverse subjects featured in the articles are R.K. Narayan (Anindita Das), Jayanta Mahapatra (Debabrata Das), contemporary stories by Indian women (Nadjia Boussebha and Fewzia Bedjaoui), Native Canadian writing (Mahesh Kumar Dey), W.B. Yeats (Nandakishore Mohanty), George Lamming (Chaitali Gorai), Margaret Atwood (Dayanidhi Pradan), and secondary school English textbooks in Odisha (Satyashree Mohanty). Also included are creative writing (including poems by Sudasharna Ghosh, Jaydeep Sarangi and more) and book reviews (including three by Santwana Haldar of recent works of fiction by Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood and Nobel laureate Peter Handke).

The reviews also feature my own of Andrew Muir’s book of 2009, ‘The True Performong Of It : Bob Dylan and William Shakespeare’ (175-179).

FRENCH MAGAZINE ‘AMERICA’ INTERVIEWS SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTUMN 2020

In its autumn 2020 number, the French magazine AMERICA (devoted to literature and culture in the United States)  published a long interview with Salman Rushdie, conducted in New York by the magazine’s editor (‘Le grand enretien: Salman Rushdie, propos recueillis par François Busnel’ [‘The long interview: Salman Rushdie talks to François Busnel’, pp. 20-41]. The text is in French: I here provide English retro-translations.

 

Busnel introduces the interview with a clear statement of principle: ‘S’il y a un écrivain qui incarne le combat, inlassable, pour la liberté d’expression, c’est bien Salman Rushdie’ [‘If there is a writer who incarnates the unceasing struggle for freedom of expression, it is certainly Salman Rushdie’] – 21. The Indian-born author speaks on his latest novel, Quichotte, and on his acquisition in 2016 of US citizenship. He also touches on subjects including the (then upcoming) 2020 election, the merits of the Biden-Harris ticket (of whose victory Rushdie was, correctly, hopeful), race matters (recalling that ‘ce sont les immigrants qui ont fait ce pays’ [‘Immigrants made this country’] – 31), and social networks (he has all but given up Twitter).

Of particular interest are his views on the fashionable tendency to denounce ‘cultural appropriation’ in the literary context (i.e., approximately: writers should only write about people from the group they ‘belong to’ and not about anyone from any other group or culture), a notion which he roundly rejects. For Rushdie, such attitudes taken literally would end up eliminating literature: ‘Si vous devez etre une femme pour écrire sur les femmes ou si vous devez etre gay pour écrire sur les homosexuels, ou Noir pour écrire sur les Noirs, c’est la fin de la littérature’ [‘If you have to be a woman to write about women, or gay to write about gays, or Black to write about Black people, it’s the end of literature’] – 32. He nonetheless adds that to be credible, a work of literature needs to be properly researched and authors aiming to write about a particular group should do so duly informed. He cites as an example his own novel from 2017, The Golden House, which includes a male-to-female transexual character: ‘Je ne savais pas grand-chose de la vie d’un transexuel. J’ai donc rencontré plusieurs personnes qui ont fait cette transition .. puis .. j’ai fait de plus amples recherches sur le sujet’ [‘I didn’t know a great deal about the life of a transexual. So I met a number of people who had made the transition … and then I carried out wider research on the subject’] – 33. As a historic supporter of the left, Rushdie finds it worrying that today the attacks on literature come not only from the right, but also from ‘une certain gauche obsédée par l’idée de la pureté’ [‘a certain left obsessed with the idea of purity’] – 33.

Expressing himself on multiple subjects, Salman Rushdie minces no words, and this interview should prove highly valuable to anyone wishing to update their knowledge of one of our era’s most important literary figures.

BOB DYLAN, PARA NIÑOS EN ESPAÑOL / BOB DYLAN FOR CHILDREN IN SPAIN

Salió en este año el librito para niños ‘Pequeño y grande Bob Dylan’ (autora: María Isabel Sánchez Vegara;  ilustrador: Conrad Roset), el número 34 en la colección ‘Pequeño&GRANDE’ (Barcelona: Editorial Alba, 2020). En esta serie los libros originales son de lengua castellana, pero existen también versiones en lengua catalana, inglesa y alemana. Se trata de un proyecto algo similar a los conocidos libros norteamericanos ‘Cuentos de buenas noches para niñas rebeldes’ y ‘Cuentos de niños que se atreven a ser diferentes’, pues las figuras que se celebran son gente famosa que a los niños les pueden servir de modelos de vida, aunque en este caso es cuestión de libros en tema individual, enfocados en una sola biografía en vez de 100.

El librito ilustrado de Dylan cuenta la ascensión de un joven músico de un pueblecito de Estados Unidos a la fama universal, al estatuto de ‘la voz de su generación’ y a un premio Nobel, todo eso debido a su amor incondicional por la música.

Bob Dylan se suma a otras 33 figuras de la colección, de las cuales 23 son mujeres. En el área de la música, la poesía y las artes del espectáculo, también aparecen Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Carmen Amaya, David Bowie, Federico García Lorca y Rudolf Nuréiev. Según la evidencia que nos proporciona este volumen de Dylan, se trata de una iniciativa en el campo del libro infantil que bien merecerá ser apoyada y que tiene mucho potencial educacional.

**

Newly published this year in Spain is the children’s book ‘Pequeño y grande Bob Dylan’ (author: María Isabel Sánchez Vegara;  illustrator: Conrad Roset), number 34 in the collection ‘Pequeño&GRANDE’ (Barcelona: Editorial Alba, 2020). In this series the originals are in Spanish, although Catalan, German-language and English-language versions also exist (English version: ‘Little People, Big Dreams’, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, London). This is a project in some ways similar to the by now well-known volumes published in the US, ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ and ‘Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different’, as the figures celebrated are famous people who can be role models for children, though in this case each book focuses on an individual (one biography instead of 100).

The new Dylan book narrates the rise of a young musician from small-town America to worldwide fame, the status of ‘voice of a generation’ and a Nobel prize, all thanks to his unconditional love of music.

Bob Dylan joins 33 other figures in the collection, 23 of them women. Among those from the area of music, poetry and performing arts are Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Carmen Amaya, David Bowie, Federico García Lorca and Rudolf Nureyev. On the evidence of this Dylan volume, this is an initiative in the field of children’s books which deserves all support and has much educational potential.

TEXTO SOBRE BOB DYLAN EN MAESTRÍA ARGENTINA / TEXT ON BOB DYLAN ON ARGENTINIAN MASTER’S COURSE

Me alegra reportar que uno de mis artículos sobre Bob Dylan publicados en THE GROVE (Universidad de Jaén, España) acaba de ser incluido en una nueva maestría en Argentina:

posgrado.fahce.unlp.edu.

 

Se trata de la Maestría en Literaturas Comparadas de la Universidad Nacional de la Plata, y de su seminario ‘Literatura  y lenguajes musicales’. En la lista de lectura de la Unidad 2 del seminario se encuentra, al lado de escritos sobre Leonard Cohen, un libro del historiador Eric Hobsbawm y las Crónicas del propio Dylan, mi texto:

Rollason, Christopher. (2011). “Lorca Graves”: Presencias de la literatura hispana en la obra de Bob Dylan. The Grove: Working Papers on English Studies. Universidad de Jaén, España, No 18, pp. 165-185

A los organizadores de esta maestría les agradezco mucho el incluir este escrito mío y así participar en el desarrollo del estudio serio de la arte de Bob Dylan. Que este curso sea coronado de éxito!

Mi texto se encuentra en: https://revistaselectronicas.ujaen.es/index.php/grove

y véase también entrada en esta bitácora para 29 enero 2012.

**

I am pleased to report that one of my articles on Bob Dylan published in THE GROVE (Universidad de Jaén, Spain) has just been included in a new Master’s course in Argentina:

posgrado.fahce.unlp.edu.ar

The course is the Master’s in Comparative Literature of the Universidad Nacional de la Plata. As part of Unit 2 of this course’s seminar ‘Literature and musical languages’, the reading list features, next to writings on Leonard Cohen, a book by the historian Eric Hobsbawm and Dylan’s own Chronicles, my article:

Rollason, Christopher. (2011). “Lorca Graves”: Presencias de la literatura hispana en la obra de Bob Dylan. The Grove: Working Papers on English Studies. Universidad de Jaén, España, No 18, pp. 165-185

I am grateful to the organisers of this course for including this essay and for participating in the development of the serious study of the art of Bob Dylan., and I wish them all success with this venture!

 

My article can be found at: https://revistaselectronicas.ujaen.es/index.php/grove

See also: entry on this blog for 29 January 2012

ANTHOLOGIZING EDGAR ALLAN POE: NEW ESSAY COLLECTION

Now published is a ground-breaking edited collection of essays on Edgar Allan Poe:

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781611462586/Anthologizing-Poe-Editions-Translations-and-(Trans)National-Canons

ANTHOLOGIZING POE: EDITIONS, TRANSLATIONS AND (TRANS)NATIONAL CANONS
Ed. Emron Esplin and Margarida Vale do Gato
Rowman & Littlefield and Lehigh University Press, 2020

The eighteen essays examine multiple facets of editions and anthologisations of Poe’s writings from different periods and across the world.

My own contribution to the volume is:
‘Popular Poe Anthologies in the United Kingdom and France’, pp. 277-292.

The Dylan Review, volume 2.1

Now out is the third issue (Volume 2.1, summer 2020) of the Dylan Review, the open-access online journal launched in 2019 and dedicated to the academic study of Bob Dylan’s work, and of which I am an editorial board member. The new issue is available at:
https://www.dylanreview.org/vol-2-1-summer-2020
(for the earlier issues, see entries on this blog for 19 July 2019 and 10 January 2020).

I believe this new issue is of a very high standard. As is only fitting, several articles home in on Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways: Charles Hartman offers a review from a musicological perspective; Richard Thomas draws out in fascinating detail the album’s multiple references to the Greco-Roman classics; and Anne Margaret Daniel focuses on the album’s stellar track ‘Murder Most Foul’ and its legion of allusions. Another recent release, ‘Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 1967-1969’, merits an informed review by John and Tim Hunt. Graley Herren enters the long-standing debate on Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One and its status as autobiographical fact or fiction; and there is a revelatory interview with Mark Davidson, librarian of the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the future of Dylan studies in the archive and beyond.

The issue is available as a single .pdf, and the individual pieces can be accessed in both .pdf and webpage form. The quality of the various contributions shows that even with the Never-Ending Tour put on ice, Dylan studies are not only very much alive, but ever-expanding!

TANGLED UP IN QUOTES: INTERTEXTUALITY IN BOB DYLAN’S ‘ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS’

The Dylanite world, and the wider world beyond it too, have welcomed Bob Dylan’s new album Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) with open arms: it has given him his ninth number one in the UK and surely never before in the internet age have so many superlatives and five-star reviews circulated for a new Dylan release. In the wake of such a flood of opinion, my aim in this piece will be not so much to evaluate or interpret this Dylan’s latest song offering, as to home in on a specific dimension of the album. This will be: the complex and multiple interrelations between a text (song, poem, book, film or whatever) and other, already existing texts in the world outside it – in other words the phenomenon which goes by the name of intertextuality. This is far from being Dylan’s only work where that dimension is strong, but this time round the new album is so (to coin a phrase) tangled up in quotes that there is a good case for considering it as the most intertextual of all his albums – and its stellar track, ‘Murder Most Foul’, as the most intertextual of all his songs.

 

The album’s title already places it under the sign of intertextuality: ‘My rough and rowdy ways’ is a song hailing from 1930 by Dylan folk-blues favourite Jimmie Rodgers. The opening track, ‘I Contain Multitudes’, takes its title direct from Walt Whitman’s celebrated poem-sequence Song of Myself, while that of ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’ suggests a (forgive the pun) key poem by Wallace Stevens, ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’. References musical, literary, biblical and cinematic stud the album’s songs, incidentally providing further material in support of the recent affirmations of, respectively, Richard Thomas and Andrew Muir regarding the influence on Dylan of the Greco-Roman classics and of Shakespeare. For the classics, one need only point to the titles ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ and ‘Mother of Muses’ (highlighting Calliope, muse of epic poetry); and, for Shakespeare, to ‘the winter of our discontent’ from Richard III and the trademark phrase from Hamlet ‘to be or not to be’ (both in ‘My Own Version of You’), while the title of ‘Murder Most Foul’ itself comes from that same Shakespearean tragedy. Also reaffirmed is the already well-documented presence across Dylan’s work of Edgar Allan Poe, with his first-ever actual naming of the great Bostonian in a song text, in the line from ‘I Contain Multitudes’, ‘Got a tell-tale heart, like Mr Poe’.

**

Albeit the intertextual phenomenon is present right across the album, I will for the rest of this article concentrate on a single track, namely ‘Murder Most Foul’, for a number of reasons: first because I feel it is by far the best song on the album, second because it pushes Dylan’s intertextuality into unprecedented places, and third because it seems even officially to be set apart from the rest of the album. It was the first single (of three) to be released as an on-line trailer for the album, attracting massive interest as Dylan’s first new self-penned song since his Nobel (and indeed since 2012 and Tempest); the CD release places it in splendid isolation as sole track on the second disc; and the back flap of that same release features John F. Kennedy’s photo above the words in gothic script, Murder Most Foul. The song has the further distinction of being the longest-ever track to feature on a Dylan album (clocking in at 16:54 and dethroning ‘Highlands’ from 1997 and its score of 16:29), All this may justify a certain special treatment for this song.

As already widely noted, ‘Murder Most Foul’ falls into two distinct parts: a narrative of the Kennedy assassination, and a second part centred on the late DJ Wolfman Jack, consisting of what we may provisionally term a lengthy playlist replete with artist and song references. Dylan had mentioned John F. Kennedy before now, at least twice – in ‘I Shall Be Free’ on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan he imagines ‘President Kennedy calling me up’ on the phone, and the box set ‘Trouble No More’ includes in its DVD a live performance of the standard  ‘Abraham, Martin and John’. The Kennedy theme may also recall other Dylan songs which revisit US history (the Civil War in ‘Cross the Green Mountain’) or pay homage to the illustrious dead (John Lennon in ‘Roll on John’). For the song’s second part, however, while there is a forerunner in another medium, namely radio in Dylan’s fondly remembered show ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’, there is no precedent in the Dylan songbook.

The cultural references in this song are abundant to the point of plethora and have been keeping hardcore fans fascinatedly busy. Dylan’s naming and quoting takes in (mostly American) music, cinema, theatre, history, geography and more. The citations are almost all at the popular end of culture, though high culture is represented by Shakespeare (not only in the title as we have seen, but also in allusions to The Merchant of Venice and Lady Macbeth), and Beethoven (whom Dylan had made a character in ‘Tombstone Blues’ and has already referenced on this album in ‘I Contain Multitudes’). The cinema references include Marilyn Monroe, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and, notably, Abraham Zapruder’s film about the assassination itself – and, as we will see below, a number of film titles where one would not expect them.

It is music, though, that dominates the second part, thanks to the conceit of reanimating Wolfman Jack as Dylan’s personal DJ. The musical allusions, through song titles, artist names or direct quotes, embrace a whole multiplicity of genres in a gloriously disorganised journey through US (and occasionally UK) popular music: old-time (‘Marching Through Georgia’), jazz (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’), country (Patsy Cline), folk (‘Tom Dooley’, ‘Deep Ellum Blues’), soul (Etta James and her ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’), blues (Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, and ‘St James Infirmary’, the song which Dylan drew on for ‘Blind Willie McTell’), rock’n’roll (‘Mystery Train’, Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’), mainstream rock (the Beatles, the Who, Queen, members of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac), and fellow songwriters: Woody Guthrie, but also Randy Newman’s ‘Lonely at the Top’ and even, a shade surprisingly, the masters of suave cool Burt Bacharach and Hal David via their ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘Walk On By’.

In a few cases Dylan directly links song and artist (as with Etta James); in others he names the artist (Patsy Cline, Charlie Parker) but not any particular number. In the majority of instances, however, what we have is a vocal or instrumental composition with no artist name attached. It is here that we may suspect Dylan has sent out a challenge to his fans of the type: ‘pin an artist to this song’. A general element which I think is worth emphasising is the frequency with which a song turns out to have been recorded by one or other of the unchallenged greats of US popular music – Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley – those figures who we mention in the same breath as Bob Dylan himself.

The musical intertextuality includes Dylan quoting himself. The Hoagy Carmichael composition ‘Memphis in June’ had already been referenced in ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’, on Empire Burlesque; ‘blood in my eye’ echoes the Mississippi Sheiks’ ‘Blood in My Eyes’, covered on World Gone Wrong; ‘rising sun’ recalls another cover, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on Dylan’s first album. Woody Guthrie’s ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ has been both covered (on a tribute album) and quoted (on his first album) by Dylan. The phrase ‘they killed him’ recalls Kris Kristofferson’s ‘They Killed Him’, as covered by Dylan on ‘Knocked Out Loaded’, a precedent as a song about political assassination. Dylan even offers a self-quote of a quotation, having already used the title of Joe South’s song ‘Down in the Boondocks’ earlier in the album, in ‘Key West’). We may also note what must be the first mention in a Dylan song of Tulsa, the city in Oklahoma which now houses the Dylan archive: the line ‘Take me back to Tulsa, to the scene of the crime’ begins evoking a country number by Bob Wills and goes on to recall what must surely be the heinous crime that was the Tulsa race massacres of 1921.

Various Dylanites have posted online lists of the song’s musical allusions. Indeed I have done so myself, with a haul running to almost 70, on this blog on 19 May 2020. The range and depth of Dylan’s musical knowledge come over as remarkable, but the self-references in particular are, notably, for the most part to cover versions. The one significant exception is a bold metatextual gesture  by which ‘Murder Most Foul’ itself is  cited verbatim in the closing verse: ‘Play “Murder Most Foul” (!)’, thus placing the whole song under the sign of a challenging circularity.

That circularity pertains to what we may call a certain ludic dimension in this song. Some on the internet share my own impression that ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ was never recorded by ‘the great Bud Powell’ (though it was by Ella Fitzgerald) – in which case Dylan would be asking the Wolfman’s ghost to play a non-existent track. Equally, on several occasions Dylan puckishly demands that the DJ ‘play’ a title – ‘It Happened One Night’, ‘Merchants of Death’, ‘Lonely are the Brave’ – which research reveals not to be a song at all, but a film. Here we may recall Dylan’s description in his Chronicles of a library so inclusive it houses volumes such as ‘Sophocles’ book on the name and nature of the gods’, or The Athenian General by Thucydides, which do not exist. In ‘Murder Most Foul’, we may conclude, some of the time and despite the deep seriousness of the song’s main theme, Dylan is artfully playing tricks with his audience.

All this does not mark the first time that Bob Dylan has engaged extensively in song-within-song creation (we may recall how in ‘Sara’ he cited his own ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’). No Dylan composition, however, has ever before embraced this amount of musical intertext. The intertextuality of ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’, and of ‘Murder Most Foul’ in particular, combines deep collective emotions with the return of Dylan the trickster.  We can be sure that Dylanite research will continue on an album and a song that the fan community can only receive with gratitude, as an offering and reward for our loyalty that comes to solace us in hard times.

 

Note added 29 June 2020: This post reprises and updates material from my posts of 28 March and 19 April 2020 (on Murder Most Foul) and of 18 April 2020 (on I Contain Multitudes).

Note added 21 August 2020: This text has now been published in the Dylan zine THE BRIDGE, No 67, Summer 2020, pp. 37-41.

 

JOSÉ SARAMAGO CONFERENCE COIMBRA 2018: PUBLICATION OF PAPERS

Now published in Portugal, by the University of Coimbra press, are the collected papers from the excellent conference José Saramago: 20 Anos com o Prémio Nobel, held in Coimbra from 8 to 10 October 2018 (https://www.josesaramago.org/congresso-internacional-jose-saramago-20-anos-premio-nobel-coimbra-8-10-outubro/; see also entry on this blog for 19 October 2018). The keynote addresses will be published in a separate volume by the Fundação José Saramago.

The new volume exists in print and electronic form. Details are:

José Saramago: 20 Anos com o Prémio Nobel, ed. Carlos Reis, Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2020, 822 pp.

I took part in this conference and my paper (in English) is included in the proceedings: ‘The Reception of José Saramago’s O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis in the anglophone world: translation and criticism’, pp. 143-158. It is also on-line at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/SaramagotranslationRicardoReisPAPER.pdf