Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier

(The above in answer to a request from John Salmon, for a better look at what he refers to as “A magnificent spark”)


by Michael Crimmins



Recently while visiting Loch Lomond in Scotland I came to realise in the most natural way possible why someone like Andrew Motion would regard Bob Dylan as one of the great artists of the last century. Not that I needed my own high regard for Bob Dylan and his many sided muse rubber stamped in any way, but lets face it is, at least, a comforting association to place alongside of Dylan and his work the words of praise from the great poets and scholars. I have been a long time admirer of two particular works by Dylan. Those being “Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie” and “Mr Tambourine Man” Both of these are well outside the realm of pop song, the first being an out and out poem and the second working quite well from paper as such also. Ironically “Mr Tambourine Man” with a little help from Roger McGuinn became one of the greatest pop songs ever! 

While at Loch Lomond “Lay down your weary tune” for no apparent reason was never out of my head during my week long stay. The unseen rhythm of the tune, a military tattoo was so insistent to me that I decided to pay the lyric a little more attention on getting home. While still in Scotland though I got a very strong sense that the tune was very much at home there. Now that feeling could have been influenced by something that I have read, whatever I was well on the way to realizing how great a song this one really is. I hear a Dylan symphony in the making here! After all he did talk of writing one and It is anyhow at least descriptive of one, and like all the great symphonies, to my ears anyway, it revels in pantheism. To regard “Lay down your weary tune” as such, a symphony in the making, would obviously mean that I also regard it as unfinished. Maybe the song remained unreleased for all of those years because even though Dylan may have regarded it unfinished he may have also intended it to be so. An example of the sort of thing that I mean is “All the tired horses” from ‘Self Portrait’ where a possible cinematic landscape of a song was left almost bare and yet partially explained in that one ambiguous line “All the tired horses in the sun how am I gonna get any riding done”. “Lay down your weary tune” relates its weariness to the listener with a deliberate dragging pace. The first stanza with it’s, only suggested, instruments, bugle and drums, besides the natural rhythm, place it very much in the military. The sadness expressed against, or in such natural beauty tells to me of a battle lost. The title of the song in itself, with its many connotations, is brilliant! “Lay down your weary tune.” 

Many thought it a reference to Dylan’s move away from protest, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the weary moan that I perceive, is that of a different battle, in any case the one thing that I am sure of is that Dylan is capable of writing songs with many different layers. Whether Dylan is in the Highlands or not with ‘Lay down’ the religious experience that is inherent in a lot of Dylan’s work manifests itself magnificently here, language is realised in heavenly proportions. Beauty and emotion go side by side as they are meant to. Dylan is the mediator of such because he is the poet, the artist. I see such great art and the clarity that it attains as little to do with drugs, no more than I need facts to act as an expression of faith. 

The dual nature of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” deals with existence on this planet as it is and always has been and, more likely than not, always will be. A harmonious world of nature, is set against the inharmonious brutality of war. It is a message contained in so many of Dylan’s songs. The word ‘prophet’ is an oft used in description of the poet, our poet, I prefer mediator. In Dylan’s case there has always been much controversy over the use of the word ‘poet’ in connection with him. I can’t call Dylan anything else but poet. I am grateful to the likes of Chris Ricks for placing the poet where he belongs; although I have to be honest and admit that much of what Chris writes is way above my head. Much of what Bob Dylan writes on the other hand manages to get INSIDE my head. Now that is the mark of a true genius!!


To get a more educated and coherent fix on what I’m rattling on about, you could do worse than get along to

Steven Heine, scholar of Eihei Dogen the great 13th century Japanese zen master and author, once remarked that he would like to be buried with the collected works of a great  spiritual writer  whose name has five letters beginning with ‘D’ and ending with ‘N’ but who was not Dogen… 

One wonders if Dylan really realises his own worth as he pens such stuff as:

Now wintertime is coming, the widows are filled with frost.
I went to tell everybody, but I could not get across.
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby, I don’t wanna be your boss.
Don’t say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.

I would have preferred the word ‘If’ to ‘When’ in that last line, it offers me more hope! But I am sure that Dylan slyly realised the dilemma facing the listener/reader as to whether the intended ‘your’ is the individual or the collective. If Dylan is though as I suspect the mediator. Who is the person that “went to tell everybody” if not the poet himself? As my narrative draws close to the slow train I need to change track, as it were, and head back to “Lay down your weary tune”.

When I said earlier that I got a strong sense that the song was at home in Scotland and that my thoughts were possibly influenced by something that I may have read, I was nearer the mark than I thought! Pulling Paul Williams ‘Performing Artist’ Book One 1960-73 down from the shelf with the intention of getting his take on things, I came across this on page 100 where he quoted Dylan from the ‘Biograph’ notes:

I wrote that on the West Coast, at Joan Baez’s house. She had
A place outside of Big Sur. I had heard a Scottish ballad on an old 78
Record that I was trying to really capture the feeling of, that was haunting me.
I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted lyrics that would feel the same way.

I could have easily changed what I had written earlier after rediscovering that quote, yet I feel that it only serves to emphasise the nature of Bob Dylan’s creative process and also his integrity as a songwriter. I realise that I may have placed my own integrity in danger by taking this course, but I can only ask you to trust me. Later Williams goes on, in his own words: 

“It is as close as we’ll ever come to Dylan describing one of his visions, in this case as auditory one-this tune is haunting him, he searches for words to put to it and when they come they come like a message from the universe, the creator, a release from his weariness, the offer of a stronger shoulder to lean on. And this protective being, this deity, is personified, and in fact experienced, as music. Later, for a while, Dylan will attach Jesus’s name to this mystery…”

It is early September as I write, the weather people are predicting an Indian summer. By the time that you read this you may have experienced six weeks of glorious sun. On the other hand…..


For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.