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Some 50 Years Later, Bob Dylan's 'Tarantula' Resurfaces...Chaos and All

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Jan 20, 2014 07:06 PM EST

"Darkness at the break of noon / Shadows even the silver spoon / The handmade blade, the child's balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon / To understand you know too soon / There is no sense in trying," prophesized Bob Dylan in "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleedin'," the penultimate track on 1965's Bringing it All Back Home.

The crushing weight of these words would spark a lot of ideas in the now resurfacing Dylan "novella," Tarantula.

These aren't the incessant babblings of a drunken jester or oracle; instead, they are the remarks of a then 25-year-old Minnesota rambler who brought art back to music.

I remember a professor of mine--during an after-class debate on the specifics of Dylan fandom--telling me that the ten-minute scowling of It's Alright Ma was the emblematic piece Dylan sought for. He clearly saw something hypocritical in everything we know and breathe and, thankfully, he had a chance to capture this in a moment of clarity. If Dylan wanted to sing for 18 minutes about this, then he damn sure was going to.

It wasn't until recently, when my oldest friend Andy left a copy of Tarantula in my apartment, that I was granted a first-hand look at what most have claimed to be a "work of indiscernible meanderings and deconstruction pretension." And maybe they're right. But there's one thing that all true Dylan fans understand: The man was too weird for the weird, and us normal folk looking into his art should always know that the surface is too normal to believe, even if it seems wackier than Georgia Sam not getting clothes from the Welfare Department.

The short, yet still verbose work of Tarantula contains the idyllic Dylan imagery that fueled the Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde albums, where Jesus Christ and Lord Byron shoot pool in the alleyway behind a rusty bar and Suzy Q. is crying with her book on ethics clutched between her fists.

The framework could certainly follow Jacques Derrida's theory of deconstruction. Dylan proliferated this similar idea along with major theories on hypocrisy and abandonment. But something I've learned through my Dylan debating is that you want to eliminate any specific connection-making. Much like Tarantula, there's a lot going on, a lot of wording and specific imagery that does not quite warrant an etymological exploration. No.

Instead, Tarantula, and from what I ultimately discovered about my ex-favorite title track "The Times They Are A-Changin'," is that Dylan was pressed by his managers, publicists and really anyone who had a handle on what was relevant at the time to conceive something like this to add to the Dylan canon. And it wasn't necessarily his call or claim to abstain from doing so.

"The Times" became a track Albert Grossman told Dylan to write because the Civil Rights Movement needed a voice and articulating something that wide-reaching in a song would propel him into stardom. And it surely did.

That's not to say Tarantula isn't a true work. Far from it. The book, though, is less a novel than a collection of short prose and Rimbaud-esque symbols. But it isn't to be analyzed to death. It's writing, and it's music--so let it breathe, already!

Please leave the politics out and just read the damn thing for yourself.

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TagsBob Dylan, Tarantula, Arthur Rimbaud, Bringing It All Back Home, It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleedin', The Civil Rights Movement, The Times They Are A-Changin', Alan Grossman, Norman Rockwell, I'm Not There, Highway 61 Revisited, Deconstruction Theory, Derrida, Lord Byron, Jesus Christ, Suzy Q, Georgia Sam, Welfare Department