The overall objective of this second writing assignment is to get you to engage the music and lyrics from the albums Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited . Well before the semester got underway, my initial way of thinking about a topic for this middle section of the course was to pose the question: "What kind of songs are these?" In other words, what makes them different from what came before? How has Dylan's writing changed? What does he now seem to be exploring in his music and in his lyrics?
A secondary and continuing objective of this writing assignment is to get you to define the topic your paper seeks to explore more clearly and effectively so that you can develop a clear "claim" or problem statement, one that will guide you in the process of writing a clearly focused, well-organized essay.
Alas, the task is not made any easier by the fact that Dylan stepped it up in these next three albums, and his writing has become considerably more poetic and complex, as well as capturing a different, more exhilarating type of energy. But then again, deeper and more complex means more interesting!
1."A poem is a naked person," wrote Bob Dylan in the liner notes to Bringing it All Back Home. According to Hichey's argument, the underlying "theme" of BIABH centers around "a single issue": "the assertion of artistic freedom." (80) He fids in Dylan "the voice of a self-possessed yearning that both provides its own answer yet remains full of unquenched expectancy." (99) Write an essay that takes a position on what you think Bob Dylan's songs and poems from 1964-65 are trying to express. Select an appropriate number of songs and analyze their lyrics and their impact on the listener in order to make your case.
2. How do the songs from Another Side of Bob Dylan depart from the songs Bob Dylan was writing on his second and third albums, and how do they anticipate the exuberant poetic expression of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited? Select some of the songs from Another Side such as "Chimes of Freedom," "My Back Pages," and perhaps others like "To Ramona" that seem to suggest a new direction for Dylan's writing and analyze them from this perspective. You may also want to bring in some of the BIABH material to enhance your argument.
3. Selected by Rolling Stone magazine as the best rock and roll song of all time, "Like a Rolling Stone" stands alone as a unique song in American popular culture. Drawing on some of the PDFs such as Hinchey and Greil Marcus, write an essay on LRS that positions the song in both the times and in the context of Dylan's writing. As you examine the lyrics and their impact, ask yourself if it is fundamentally a message song. If so, what does the song have to say to its listeners? Is the question of who the singer is addressing an important one? Does becoming "a complete unknown," someone who is on their own, "with no direction home" mean a loss of freedom or an escape into freedom from the socially and psychologically imposed identities that we have to live with?
4. On the Highway 61 Revisited album, the final track, "Desolation Row," looms as a major song or centerpiece of the album. At 11 minutes in length, it is a dense and rich look at some strange, surreal world populated by characters from all over literature and culture. Write an essay on this song, and the sigificance or "meaning" which we might attribute to it. On what kind of journey has Dylan been that would lead him from the "topical" songs of Freewheelin' and The Times to songs like "Desolation Row"? Who or what is he taking on in this song? Of course, feel free to bring in lines from other songs on this album, or from BIABH, as appropriate.
Thinking that his ideas might intrigue you or open up some ideas for your paper, I have thrown together a few notes and my own commentary that summarize some of the key points I think that Hinchey was making in his chapter on BIABH. If you are interested, please have a look but go ahead back to the original PDF and cite it if you want to use any of Hinchey's material in your paper.