Friday, January 22, 2010

Highway 61 Revisited

"Highway 61 Revisited" is the title track of Bob Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. It was also released as the B-side to the single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" later the same year.

Highway 61 runs from Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up in the 1940s and 1950s down to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a major transit route out of the Deep South particularly for African Americans traveling north to Chicago, St Louis and Memphis, following the Mississippi River valley for most of its 1400 miles.

The song has five stanzas. In each stanza, someone describes an unusual problem that is ultimately resolved on Highway 61. In Verse 1, God tells Abraham to "kill me a son". God wants the killing done on Highway 61. This stanza bears much resemblance to Genesis 22, in which God commands Abraham to kill his only son, Issac. Abram, the original name of the biblical Abraham, is the name of Dylan's own father. Verse 2 describes a poor fellow, Georgia Sam, who is beyond the helping of the welfare department. He is told to go down Highway 61.

In the third verse, a "Mack the Finger" has this problem: "I got forty red white and blue shoe strings / And a thousand telephones that don't ring". "Louie the King" solves the problem with Highway 61. Verse 4 is about the "second mother" and the "seventh son", both on Highway 61.

The fifth and last verse is the story of a bored gambler, trying "to create the next world war". His promoter tells him to "put some bleachers out in the sun / And have it on Highway 61". There is an evident political undertone in this absurd tale.

There is a pause in each verse while Dylan waits for some event in the story to finish; in the third verse, for example, the pause occurs while Louie the King attempts to resolve the shoestring-and-telephones problem. Between each verse Dylan is heard blowing an imitation police whistle, brought in by Al Kooper.

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