Friday, July 12, 2013

Mishearing Dylan

I, like many people, have always misheard lyrics in certain songs. I went through an adolescent phase when my mishearing of songs towards a homosexual bent almost made me question my sexuality: Hendrix's 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky' from Purple Haze still sounds like 'kiss this guy' to me; likewise, Joy Division's 'I need a guy to take me by the hand'  from their song Disorder is actually 'I need a guide to take me by the hand', to name just two.

But Bob Dylan, with his mumbling whine and cryptic lyrics, is ripe for mishearing. Often, my mishearings sound better than the actual lyrics, such as in Visions of Johanna what I always thought was, 'She's delicate and seems like Vermeer' (ie the 17th century Dutch artist), is actually 'She's delicate and seems like the mirror'. Likewise, Mr Tambourine Man's 'I promise to go under it' is better misheard as 'I promise to go wandering'. On All the Tired Horses From Self Portrait, Dylan sings 'All the tired horses in the sun / How am I supposed to get any riding done?' For years I thought it was 'How am I supposed to get any writing done?' – which seemed more appropriate on an album consisting mainly of bizarre cover versions.

But it's Dylan's 1974 album Blood on the Tracks that has inspired the most mishearing. In Tangled up in Blue, they split up on a 'dark, sad night' (aren't nights always dark? Aren't break ups always sad?); I always thought splitting up on 'the docks that night' was more atmospheric.

In Shelter from the Storm, 'In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm', I thought was more apt as 'In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be born'. Later in the song, the one-eyed undertaker who I thought blew a feudal horn, actually blows a futile horn.

In Idiot Wind, 'She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me'. I thought she inherited a million books (far more useful!). Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts contains the line, 'The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall'. I always thought it was 'except for the Dylan in the wall'. Just made more sense for some reason.


Caspar said...

Then there's "Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" from The Basement Tapes. All the lyrics are clearly enunciated and perfectly audible, and yet they sound like surreally misheard transcriptions. I think the operative word is "perverse".

Barnaby said...

Haha, that's a good way to sum up all the Basement Tapes..."sureally misheard transcriptions", especially with all the other unreleased bootleg songs such as I'm not there.

Caspar said...

Don't know that one. But to the best of my knowledge that's the title for the biographical film about Dylan, in which he was played by 6 (?) different actors, including Cate Blanchett. That perversity seems to stick to him like glue, even when he's not the one responsible for it.

Barnaby said...

Yes exactly! I love the film; it takes its name from the song I'm not there. Great song, makes no sense whatsoever.