Changing Times: The Music and Lyrics of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is a poet and, as the world will gradually come to realize, a great one

...As a poet, at his best, he is arguably as good as [Walt] Whitman and [Emily] Dickinson,

which, in the American tradition. is as good as it gets.

--John Hinchey, Like a Complete Unknown

Ron Loftus

Walton Hall, 144 , x6275




I will be ably assisted by our Writing Center Consultant, Rebecca Joliff (rjolliff@willamette.edu)

By any measure, Bob Dylan is a remarkable artist whose career has spanned more than 45 years during which more than 50 records have been issued, 33 of them being new recordings.   In this Colloquium, through reading, careful listening to his music, and engaging in critical reflection on his lyrics, we will raise pertinent questions about how artists create and what connections exist between an artist's work and the society and times in which s/he lives.

In the College Colloquium, we learn by three central and related activities: critical reading, reflective discussion and clear writing.   In this sense, IDS 101 orients you to the whole approach to learning in the liberal arts college setting. Therefore, the goal for this course is to help students become more skilled at critical thinking, more effective writers, and more thoughtful and articulate participants in discussion. Since this is not a lecture-based course, you are expected to become an active, engaged learner and manifest responsibility for your own learning.  You are expected to engage with ideas--to think, talk and write about them. To accomplish this, you must do the assigned readings before class--and this includes listening to the appropriate selection of Bob Dylan's music while paying careful attention to the lyrics--and come to class prepared to engage in meaningful discussion of the material.   If you miss a class, you will need to submit a 2-3 page critical reflection on the material under review for that day. This paper must be submitted within a week of your absence.  

Your final grade for this course will be based on three (3) formal papers (55%) and on participation (45%) as measured by attendance, your role in class discussion, small group work, in-class writing, short response papers, and written peer responses to each other's work.   For each of the formal papers, which should engage some aspect of Dylan's work, you will be required to meet with me or with The Writing Center Consultant, Jade Olson, at the Writing Center. The first paper will be worth 15% of your grade; the second and third papers, 20% each.

Since writing is such an important part of this College Colloquium course, please be aware of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

Required Texts:

Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One (Simon and Schuster, 2004)

Nigel Williamson, The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan (Penguin Books, 2004)

Recommended: Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, 5th Edition

Plus numerous REQUIRED PDFs available on the WISE site under "Resources"


Opening Days Schedule

Aug. 27 4:15-5:30 pm

Questionnaire/Short freewrite on Dylan

Introductions, Getting Acquainted;

Resource: March on Washington Aug. 28, 1963

Watch DVD No Direction Home (about 20 minutes) Short response

Meaning of Liberal Arts Education and the role of Popular Culture studies



WISE and Course Overview

August 28 1:30-3:00 pm

Opening Convocation 10:30-12:00

Thinking about "folk music"

See this page: folk music revival and complete this short reading by Greil Marcus/Folk Music Revival


Watch DVD No Direction Home (approx. 25 minutes) Short Response


"Praised Be Man"(Jack Kerouac Poem)


Read Nigel Williamson, The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan, pp. 3-22;

Read Chronicles Vol. I, pp. 1-22;

Early Recordings: "Minnesota Tapes"

Aug. 29 1:00-2:30 pm

DVD: No Direction Home (c. 20 minutes--to 1:14)

Short Response, Discuss

"There was msuic in the cafes at night and revolution in the air"

"Tangled Up in Blue"


First Recording: Bob Dylan (1962)

"Talkin' New York"

"Song to Woody"

C. Ricks "Song to Woody" PDF

Chronicles Vol. I, pp. 25-51

Williamson, The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan, pp.23-29; 197-98


On Bob Dylan's "Voice"

Aug. 31 9:00-10:30 am

Video-clip from CBS 60 Minutes Interview

Short PDF on Poetry from Hinchey, Intro


DVD: No Direction Home (c. 20 minutes--1:15-1:28)



Second Recording: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)-Overview

Williamson, The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan, pp. 30-36 and 198-99.

Chronicles Vol. I, pp. 51-73



***Monday August 31, 10:30 am-3:00 pm First Year Student Academic Advising and Schedule Confirmation***

This will be a good time to sit down and talk, make changes to your schedule, and just get to know one another better, please sign up on WISE for a brief appointment and come visit me in my office.


Online Lyrics to Bob Dylan Songs arranged by Album (hint, the albums are listed chronologically starting at the lower right and moving to your left).

See also here, here, and here. (Note the albums are arranged in reverse chronological order--you have to scroll down to find the earlier albums.)



September 1 Second Recording: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Blowin' in the Wind, Girl From the North Country, Masters of War,

A Hard's Rain's A-Gonna Fall,


Christopher Ricks' PDFs on "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Hard Rain" Ricks PDF and also,

No Direction Home : DVD (16 mins) 1:28-1:44


3 Second Recording: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (finish)

Don't Think Twice It's Alright, Bob Dylan's Dream, Oxford Town (click for Ricks PDF),

Talkin' WWIII Blues, Corrina, Corrina

8 Third Recording: The Times They Are a Changin' (1964)

The Times They Are A-Changin', Ballad of Hollis Brown, With God on Our Side

North Country Blues, Only A Pawn in Their Game (See Ricks PDF)

Williamson, pp. 37-42; 199-200

Chronicles Vol I, pp. 73-104


10 Third Recording: The Times They Are a Changin' (1964)

When the Ship Comes In, The Lonsesome Death of Hattie Carroll (See Ricks PDF), Boots of Spanish Leather,

Restless Farewell

Ricks, PDF




short response paper due on DVD

Develop the First Paper Topic


Note: Sept. 15th is the Last Day to Add/Drop Classes!

15 Fourth Recording: Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

All I Really Want to Do, Spanish Harlem Incident, Chimes of Freedom,

To Ramona

Williamson, 42-48; 200-201

Nat Hentoff Interview

17 Fourth Recording: Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

Motorpsycho Nitemare, My Back Pages, I Don't Believe You,

Ballad in Plain D, It Ain't Me, Babe

See PDF by Mike Marqusee on "turning away" from politics

22 No Direction Home DVD -- finish Part I, Begin Part II.

Chronicles Vol I, pp. 225-293

24 Drafting first paper with Peer review


29 Fifth Recording: Bringing it All Back Home (1965)

Subterranean Homesick Blues, She Belongs to Me, Maggies Farm

Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

Williams, 49-60; 201-204

Hinchey, 77-106 PDF

Oct. 1 Fifth Recording: Bringing it All Back Home (1965)

Mr. Tambourine Man, Gates of Eden,

It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Ricks PDF on "Mr. Tambourine Man"


First paper due in class


Mellers PDF "Protest and Affirmation"


6 Sixth Recording: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Williamson, 63-66; 204-205

Greil Marcus PDFs: Like A Rolling Stone I, and Like A Rolling Stone II

Hinchey on LRS, 21-34 PDF


Bob Dylan Concert in Portland Oct. 7--See Sample Set Lists from recent tours, 2008-2009


8 Sixth Recording: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

From a Buick 6, Ballad of a Thin Man, Queen Jane Approximately,

Highway 61 Revisited, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues,

Desolation Row

Aidan Day, PDF on "Desolation Row"



13 Seventh Recording: Blonde on Blonde (1966)

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, Visions of Johanna, I Want You

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

Williamson, pp. 66-74; 206-209


15 Seventh Recording: Blonde on Blonde (1966)

Just Like a Woman, Absolutely Sweet Marie, 4th Time Around

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Second Paper Topic: What Kind of Songs are These?


20 The Basement Tapes (1967)

Odds and Ends, Million Dollar Bash, Goin' to Acapulco, Lo and Behold, Clothes Line Saga,

Apple Sucklin' Tree, Please Mrs. Henry, Tears of Rage, I Shall Be Released,

Sign on the Cross

Williamson, pp. 74-80; 209- 211



22 The Basement Tapes (1967)

Too Much of Nothing, Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bread, Crash on the Levee,

Tiny Montgomery, Quinn the Eskimo, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, Nothing Was Delivered, Open the Door, Homer,

This Wheel's On Fire, I'm Not There


PDFs: Sid Griffin on The Basement Tapes,

Mike Marqusee on The Basement Tapes,




27 Introductory Paragraphs for Paper #2


29 Eighth Recording: John Wesley Harding (1967)

John Wesly Harding, As I Went Out One Morning, I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,

All Along the Watchtower, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Williamson, pp. 80-89

Greil Marcus: "All Along the Watchtower"

Nov.3 Eighth Recording: John Wesley Harding (1967)

Dear Landlord, I Am a Lonesome Hobo. I Pity the Poor Immigrant,

The Wicked Messenger, Down Along the Cove, I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

Chronicles, pp. 107-141

Since that point, I more or less had amnesia. Now, you can take that statment as literally or as metaphorically as you need to, but that's what happened to me.

It took me a long time to get to do consciously what I used to do unconsciously.

--Bob Dylan (1978)


Williamson, pp.93-114; 211-215

DVD Night for Don't Look Back, etc.

Aidan Day, PDF, "Between Vision and Nightmares"

5 Fifteenth Recording: Blood on the Tracks

Paper #2 Due in Class


10 Fifteenth Recording: Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Tangled Up in Blue, Simple Twist of Fate, You're a Big Girl Now,

Idiot Wind, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, If You See her, Say Hello,

Shelter from the Storm, Buckets of Rain


12 Finish Blood on the Tracks (1975)/Start Oh Mercy (1989)

Political World, Everything Is Broken, Man in the Long Black Coat,

Most of the Time, What Good Am I?, What Was It You Wanted?

See some reviews of Tell Tale Signs

Develop Paper Topic #3: Bob Dylan and American Traditions


17 25th Recording: Oh Mercy (1989)/ Time Out of Mind (1997)

Political World, Everything Is Broken, Man in the Long Black Coat,

Most of the Time, What Good Am I?, What Was It You Wanted? Shooting Star

Chronicles Vol I. pp. 145-221

I've got to know that I'm singing something with truth to it. My songs are different than anybody else's songs. Other artists can get by on their voices and their style, but my songs speak volumes, and all I have to is lay them down correctly, lyrically, and they'll do what they need to do...Environment affects me a great deal. A lot of the songs were written after the sun went down. And I like storms, I like to stay up during a storm. I get very meditative sometimes, and this one phrase was going through my head: 'Work while the day lasts, because the night of death cometh when no man can work.' I don't recall where I heard it. I like preaching, I hear a lot of preaching, and I probably just heard it somewhere. Maybe it's in Psalms, it beats me. But it wouldn't let me go. I was, like, what does that phrase mean? But it was at the forefront of my mind, for a long period of time, and I think a lot of that is instilled into this record...I wasn't interested in making a record that took the songs and made them into a contemporary setting. My music, my songs, they have very little to do with technology. They either work or they don't work. Daniel and I made that record"Oh Mercy"a while back, and that was pretty good at the time. But these songs, I felt, were more all-encompassing...Many of my records are more or less blueprints for the songs. This time, I didn't want blueprints, I wanted the real thing. When the songs are done right they're done right, and that's it. They're written in stone when they're done right...We all know what the thing should sound like. We're just getting further and further away from it. I wanted something that goes through the technology and comes out the other end before the technology knows what it's doing...I can't help those feelings. I'm not going to try to make a fake Pollyanna view. Why would I even want to? And I'm not going to deny them just because they might be a little dismal to look at. I try to let it speak for itself, but I'm not emotionally involved in it. I can deliver the message. I learned a while ago not to get personally involved, because if you're personally involved you're going to go over the top...There's a lot of clever people around who write songs. My songs, what makes them different is that there's a foundation to them. That's why they're still around, that's why my songs are still being performed. It's not because they're such great songs. They don't fall into the commercial category. They're not written to be performed by other people. But they're standing on a strong foundation, and subliminally that's what people are hearing. Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book. All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from 'Let Me Rest on That Peaceful Mountain' to 'Keep on the Sunny Side.' You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing 'I Saw the Light.' I've seen the light, too...But when you get beyond a certain year, after you go on for a certain number of years, you realize, hey, life is kind of short anyway. And you might as well say the way you feel.

-- Bob Dylan (from the New York Times)

19 Recent Resurgence: Time Out of Mind (1997), and Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006) and





24 Final Reflections Together Through Life (2009)

Together Through Life Review

Another Review


Final Paper Due