Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dear God, who wrote this prayer?




A prayer as I put on my mask:

Creator,
as I prepare to go into the world,
help me to see the sacrament
in the wearing of this cloth -
let it be "an outward sign
of an inward grace" -
a tangible and visible way of living
love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.





Christ,
since my lips will be covered,
uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile
in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled,
help me to speak clearly,
not only with my words,
but with my actions.

Holy Spirit,
As the elastic touches my ears,
remind me to listen carefully -
and full of care -
to all those I meet.
May this simple piece of cloth be
shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds,
be filled with your love.
In your Name and
in that love,
I pray.
May it be so.
May it be so.





(Attributed to "unknown", but probably someone trying very hard to extract some sort of spiritual meaning from the blizzard of chaos that is 2020.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

NOT DISNEY! The Blue Danube, 1939


NO, not Disney, but a gorgeous seven minutes of old-time animation, drawn one frame at a time, yet fluid as the Danube itself. It took me years and years to track this cartoon down, and it has been up and down on YouTube more times than I can count. It`s so wonderful to see it again in its entirety! 

If Hugh Harman doesn`t ring any bells, don`t worry about it. Like Ford and Edison and Bell, Disney pushed his way into the public consciousness as the only ``brand`` in town. Meantime the artists in this studio turned out something as magical as anything Uncle Wally ever produced.

I was surprised to be able to find it. This was one of those mystery stories in which I had only a tiny fragment of memory of the thing, the scene where the little cherubs let loose the dam and the water cascades madly down the rocks and hills. I made a few grainy little gifs of it years and years ago, but then COULD NOT find the original cartoon anywhere. I even tramped through dozens of Silly Symphonies and everything I could find with little cherubs frisking around in it. Then I thought of Jerry Beck, the guru of traditional animation, emailed him with the gif attached, and he IMMEDIATELY gave me the title of the cartoon, which I quickly looked up and watched. The next day, it had been taken down, likely by Jerry Beck.

But it`s back now. . . until it isn`t. 



Sunday, October 25, 2020

It's Good News Week!



"It's good news week!" A sprightly announcement on my local news broadcast: "And there's some GOOD news on the mental health front! Suicide rates were actually DOWN during the first few months of the pandemic. Mental health experts are attempting to analyze this unexpected development and generate statistics for further study." So that means if you are suicidal, you are definitely in the minority.

BUT. . . I just had a thought. Perhaps there was no one in the mental health field who was available to KEEP accurate statistics, or even notice them. Suicides often fly under the radar as "accidents" anyway, to spare the family stigma and shame. Meantime, all the "professionals" were hunkered down at home, particularly in the first couple of months. There's a pandemic on, for God's sake - let's get our priorities right! It also seems to prove all those distressed souls actually do better without all that attention paid to them.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cinderella Rockafella




You're the lady, you're the lady that I love 
I'm the lady, the lady who 
You're the lady, you're the lady that I love 
I'm the lady, the lady who 
You're the little lady 
I'm the little lady 
Ooohhhh

I love your touch (Thank you so much)
I love your eyes (That's very nice) 
I love your chin (Say it again) 
I love your chinny chin chin

You're the fella, you're the fella that rocks me 
Rockerfella, rockerfella 
You're the fella, you're the fella that rocks me 
Rockafella, rockafella 
You're my rockerfella 
I'm you're rockerfella 
Ooohhh

I love your face (It's in the right place) 
I love your mind (That's very kind) 
I love your jazz (Razzamatazz) 
I love your jazz razzamatazz

Yeah, bring it money yeah

You're the lady, you're the lady that I love 
I'm the lady, the lady who 
You're the fella, you're the fella that rocks me 
Rockerfella, rockerfella
You're my rockerfella 
You're my cinderella 
Ooohhh

I love you

I love you

I love you

I love you

I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu


Monday, October 19, 2020

QUEEN BEE: a mystery worthy of Hitchcock

 


(I've been promising you a rose garden of triviality and fluff, but I rediscovered this post from years and years ago and wanted to re-post it.) 

Can I piece this together, or should I just leave it in its natural pieces?

Years ago, when the internet was still somewhat Jurassic and YouTube was all new to me, I kept trying to find something, anything, about an episode of a sci-fi TV show I saw in the '60s. Wasn't sure if it was Twilight Zone, Outer Limits or (my personal favorite, the one that scared the bejeezus out of me) One Step Beyond. 

I don't think I even saw the show, in fact. My much-older sister was reading a description of it out of TV Guide. "A woman doctor awakens to discover that she has become extremely obese." My sister said, "Oh, that sounds like me." I didn't even know it at the time, but she was pregnant and hiding it from the world, including me.

But that wisp of memory is ALL, I swear, that I had to go on.

I did find this on a message board, and thought: I think, I think she's talking about the same thing:




Does anybody remember an episode of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits about a Queen Bee? It isn't the one with the sexy queen bee trying to breed with a human male. This was about a woman who wakes up and discovers she is enormously fat because she is a queen bee and she is never allowed to do anything but breed and be fed. Program, episode and names of actors would be appreciated.

Update: Zzzzzzzz is the one about the sexy queen bee. I'm looking for the one about the morbidly obese queen bee.

Answers

Best Answer: Outer Limits: Zzzzzz 

Season 1 Episode 18 

Actors: Vic Perrin, Bob Johnson, Ben Wright, Robert Culp, Robert Duvall

It wasn't the Outer Limits, and I believe it was in black and white. I can see the actress, but I can't think of her name. She did a lot of stuff in the 60's and 70's. Sorry to be of no help. Good luck.





It wasn't Zzzzzz, I checked on YouTube. It wasn't even Twilight Zone or Outer Limits or any of those, I obsessively checked the synopsis on every single episode and watched the ones that were available, and no obese doctor. So I gave up. Every so often, every few years I mean, I'd take another half-hearted stab at it. THEN!

Then, just tonight, I found this - this description on IMDB, and bingo-bango.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV Series)

Consider Her Ways (1964)

Plot Summary

Dr. Jane Waterleigh wakes to find herself in an obese body, having just given birth to her fourth baby, and is called "Mother Orchis" and "Mother 417" by an all-female medical staff. The other Mothers, all of whom are corpulent and much larger than their helpers, the Servitors, tell Jane that there are no men, their only responsibility is to give birth, and Mothers neither read nor write.






Jane, however, remembers her past life as a physician and wife, so two policewomen try to arrest her for "reactionism." The Doctors refuse to surrender her, and send her to sick bay, then to Laura, the historian. Laura explains that all of the men died decades ago, when a Dr. Perrigan developed a virus to control the rat population, but the strain mutated, killing all male humans, but sparing females, who were immune.




Now only women survive, and they are sorted at birth into four classes--Doctors, Mothers, Servitors, and Workers--and raised in learning centers. When Laura tells Jane that she will now receive an hypnotic treatment, a drug-induced amnesia to remove all of her memory, she becomes hysterical, and returns to her earlier world. 

She is in the office of Dr. Hellyer, her boss and the Chief of Staff at her hospital, who reminds her that she volunteered to test a new narcotic, Sonadrin, which apparently took her to the fantastic matriarchal world from which she just escaped. She discovers that Dr. Perrigan is a real biologist, who is working on a myxomatosis strain to exterminate brown rats.




She meets Perrigan and tries to convince him to discontinue his project, but he refuses, so she shoots him, lights a fire using all of Perrigan's research notes, and burns down his laboratory. She is tried for murder, but refuses to plead insanity, and insists that her sacrifice is worthwhile, since she is saving humanity from a terrible future. 

Then her attorney, Max Wilding, tells her that Perrigan has a son, another Dr. Perrigan, who promises to complete his father's work.




OK THEN! Great episode, based on a short story by John Wyndham (which I now have to find!). I decided to post the entire (detailed) synopsis because it's so fascinatingly bizarre. It DOES have termite queen aspects to it (and dear GOD do not get me going on termite queens, those seething bags of - ). I do not have the video, and the only photos are these godawful grainy things I scrounged and blew up. There is a mere snippet from the ending on YouTube, from which I have made a few not-very-good gifs.

But it's gratifying to realize that from that tiny wisp of memory, I have been able to retrieve something this tangible. Hell of a good story, too - too bad I didn't watch it.




BADDA-BOOM: There's got to be a rim shot to this. The actress in this episode was catching my mind at first - boy, she looked familiar (one of those!), until one of my Google image searches just sort of stuck her name in my face.

I remember her from Barney Miller! And many other things, of course - she had one of those long careers character actresses used to have.  And now that I think of it, my older sister - the pregnant one - (the termite queen, I mean) - used to watch The Alfred Hitchcock Hour all the time, and wouldn't be caught dead watching One Step Beyond. That sort of show was for the common rabble. Hitchcock was Art.

So I should've remembered. Eh?




POSTLY POST: So the next day, like ripping a bandaid off something barely healed, I began to look for some more. Can't leave it alone, it seems.

Enthralling as that story outline seemed, there were holes in it, and parts of it that didn't make much sense. This was the only other detailed synopsis I could find, from Wikipedia:

The story is mostly a first-person narrative. It begins with a woman (Jane Waterleigh) who has no memory of her past waking up and discovering that she is a mother of some description, in a bloated body that is not her own. After some confusing experiences Jane's memory gradually returns and she recalls that she was part of an experiment using a drug (chuinjuatin) to see if it enabled people to have out-of-body experiences. It seems that the drug has worked far better than anyone could have anticipated: Jane has been cast into the future. She also realises that she is in a society consisting entirely of women, organised into a strict system of castes, and that she is now a member of the mother caste. Jane's initial contacts have never even heard of men, and believe her to be delusional.




When it becomes clear to doctors who attend Jane that something strange has happened (since she can read and write, while the mother caste are illiterate) they arrange for her to be taken to meet an aged historian named Laura. It seems that Jane is in a society somewhat more than a century after her own time. Laura relates that not long after Jane's own time a Dr Perrigan carried out scientific experiments that unintentionally created a virus that killed all the men in the world, leaving only women. After a very difficult period of famine and breakdown, a small number of educated women, found mainly in the medical profession, took control and embarked on an urgent programme of research to enable women to reproduce without males. The women also decided to follow some advice from the Bible ("Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways") and created a caste-based society in which Jane has become a member of the Mother caste.




Laura does understand what Jane means when she talks of men. However, she is certain that they were oppressors of women and that the world is far better without them. Jane disagrees and feels the demise of men to be a terrible blow.

Distressed at the prospect of spending her life as a bloated producer of babies, expected to be unable to read, write or reason, Jane requests that she be administered a dose of chuinjuatin in the hope that she might return to her own time. It works, and once transported, Jane decides to stop Dr Perrigan at all costs. The story has an ambiguous ending, which may suggest that it is the narrator's own actions that will lead to the catastrophe she hopes to prevent, an example of the predestination paradox.

This is actually the synopsis of the original John Wyndham short story, though the Wiki entry says the Hitchcock adaptation was "fairly faithful" (though transplanted to the U. S. Note the word "programme" in the synopsis - even we Canadians don't use terms that antiquated and bulky).

But here's one more snippet: a review posted on a Hitchcock fan site. Gives a little more insight into this strange and twisted thing. This just makes me want to see it all the more, but I'd have to order it on DVD or something, along with 576 other episodes.




This was a weirdly disturbing episode...but NOT for the reasons presented. In the future, men are dead and the surviving woman have become a single-gender society, with classes and levels organized along the same lines as the Ants. A woman wakes with no memory of who she is...and finds she's a hugely obese, barely mobile woman named "Mother Orchis" who (as a mother) is genetically designed to have babies...and nothing else. She gradually remembers she has a husband (nobody even knows what a 'man' is), can read and write (something Mother Orchis can't do) and was in fact a doctor. The story's pretty facinating (involving mental projection and time travel) but the the whole "No woman is complete without her man!" message has an ugly ring to it. Still, I'm charmed by the effectiveness of the primitive fat-suits and the sight of those huge woman, reclining on couches and eating...being massaged by servants (drones) and existing in this strange society that survived the loss of the other gender and adapted.

(I have just one question. Wouldn't they still have male babies? Did they kill them all off, or what? Unless perhaps they cloned themselves, but that part of it is never explained.) 


POST-POST-POST-IT (LAST last postscript to this post!): OK, since I posted this thing a few years ago, the episode DID appear in full on YouTube. So you can watch it now, and make up your own mind about it. 




Saturday, October 17, 2020

Top 20 Celebrity Commercials From Before They Were Stars



I promised you nice, shallow, fun stuff, so here it is! I actually LOVE videos like this and love to see what kind of work actors had to take to keep bread on the table, and how child actors  had no choice but to do what the director said. Jason Alexander is the weirdest, maybe because we are not used to seeing him with hair! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dance of the Vegetable Steamer



Having posted MANY long, long (LONG) posts lately, I think I need a rest. But I'll keep up with the fun stuff. . . because, like many of you, I need some fun right now. Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Meghan's mask is slipping!



Meghan Markle is not my favorite person - in fact, she is currently one of my LEAST favorite, for all her posturing and preaching on "issues" she does not understand, continual virtue-signalling and blatant hypocrisy. She is the most overexposed figure in show biz, and wearing out her welcome. Some say she stole Harry, but Harry's a grown man, for Christ's sake, and made his own decision to dump his family and royal duties and follow her to Hollywood (during the height of a global pandemic - so much for keeping their son safe). I could go on and on, but I won't. Trump wished Harry "lots of luck, because you're going to need it" - the only Trump statement I will ever agree with! He did not even do his usual blustering, but waved them away like the insects they are. 




Like Elizabeth Holmes and her embarrassing Mickey Mouse-style explanation of Theranos technology (“A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel"), Meghan gives the most naive and ludicrous explanations for her world-shaking commands. This is my favorite quotation so far:

"Asked for her views on the BLM protests, Meghan admitted they had been 'inflammatory for a lot of people'. She continued: 'But when there is just peaceful protest and when there is the intention of just wanting community and just wanting the recognition of equality, then that is a beautiful thing. While it has been challenging for a lot of people certainly having to make this reckoning of historical significance that has got people to the place that they are, that is uncomfortable for people. We recognise that. It is uncomfortable for us. And I think when everyone just starts to own that, we push through that and focus on how do we make it different moving forward? And if we just focus on the uplift and the positivity of that, while still acknowledging the past, that's where we reshape things, and that shouldn't be inflammatory at all. That should be really exciting actually.'" 




OK guys, so how DO you "reshape things" (and which things - isn't that just a little vague)? What SPECIFICALLY are you guys going to do to "push through that" and "focus on the uplift and the positivity"? And stating that everyone should "just start to own that" is stale, empty rhetoric left over from '80s corporate retreats.  How does her ignorant bafflegab even begin to resolve gravely serious life-and-death issues like the murder of George Floyd? So far all she has done is flap her lips, with Harry parroting back the same ROT and acting like the ventriloquist's dummy that he is. 

But it's worse than that. She uses the word "just" three times in one sentence, and twice more in the next two sentences. "Just" in this case implies, "it's simple if we only do this". She talks about Black Lives Matter as "a beautiful thing", but how beautiful is it when a black man suffocates to death with a policeman's knee on his neck, and another man is shot in the back five times? This "beautiful thing" rhetoric is more 1960s than 1980s. It reminds me of that appalling pop song, "Everything is beautiful in its own way". 

At any rate: this is a little video made up of gifs taken from a recent interview, in which she became very petulant about someone actually challenging her and saying, "You are NOT the most powerful woman in the world" (an understatement).  She then threw a little diva fit which I have immortalized in this video. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Desolation for our times: a Nobel laureate speaks

 


They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row.




Cinderella, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning,
"You belong to Me I Believe."
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend
You'd better leave."
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.




Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row.





Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
NOW, he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They ARE trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have Mercy on His Soul"
They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row.






Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon-feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row.

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row.




Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row.


Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Or was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.




They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown


Here Dylan immediately establishes a macabre atmosphere of heartless exploitation. Human execution has become the subject of postcards, a cheap and superficial means of communicating usually associated with vacations. Passports are similarly associated with travel (being "transported") and escape, a theme running through the entire lyric. That the passports are painted brown means that they are blurred, defaced, shat upon, or otherwise rendered invalid. Might it also be a weird twist on "painting the town red'? 


The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town


The sailors swarming the beauty parlour might be there to ogle women, or to become them, transforming themselves in garish drag. It's our first hint of a sense of dislocation: no one seems to be in the right place. "The circus is in town" is a familiar cliche (and let's not forget he grew up in a small town, in which the circus was a very big deal), which Dylan turns on its head: this motley parade will lead us to a hellish place from which there is no escape.

Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants


It's worth mentioning that "they" are never identified. I remember hearing someone say, "They've shot John Lennon." Facelessness and blank masks and constantly-shifting identities inflame the lyric's rampant paranoia. The "blind commissioner" is some sort of deposed authority figure reduced to dragging along helplessly behind a circus performer walking a tightrope, while simultaneously masturbating.





And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row.


The police are out there and looking for trouble, hoping for a good riot. Like juvenile delinquents, they're hanging around waiting for something to happen. Desolation Row seems forever on the point of exploding in apocalyptic violence. "They need somewhere to go" speaks of a lost traveller, one of the many figures in this song who is dislocated and "a stranger everywhere". "Lady and I" adds a sudden incongruous but very Dylanesque romanticism: or is it Our Lady, Mother of God that he speaks of?

Cinderella, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style


Cinderella portrayed as good-time girl is remeniscent of a line from an Auden poem: "And Jill goes down on her back." Bette Davis gives her a touch of old Hollywood glamour, but we can see her posturing as if her body is for sale. And hey, how about that line "it takes one to know one"? Just what is she implying about the songwriter - has he similarly sold himself to the public - or does it have nothing to do with him?

And in comes Romeo, he's moaning,
"You belong to me I believe."
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend
You'd better leave."






Enter Romeo, stage left. But doesn't he belong with Juliet? Apparently not, but he doesn't belong here either. "Someone", that notorious "they", is telling him to leave. Wrong play, perhaps? And doesn't Romeo end up dead? Whereas Cinderella ends up transformed. In a manner of speaking. And who is the "someone" telling Romeo to get lost? Some stray Prince who's just as much out of place?

And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.


"Ambulances" implies twenty-nine harrowing violent movie scenes that we never get to see because we don't have to - it's all condensed down into a couple of lines, a few sirens wailing (and after the fact - they've already gone). "Something" has happened, but we're never told what. Cinderella is like the fairy tale in reverse: she ends up sweeping the street, back to her rags and tatters, and tricks.

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside


Dylan does this, he suddenly and dramatically varies the tone so that the lyric is shot through with beauty. The fortune-telling lady is a magical, almost paranormal figure, her palm-readings and Tarot cards (more about that later) predicting a future that seems, at best, uncertain. But it's so late, so dark, so spooky out that even she has to protect her wares.

All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain






Impenetrable lines, but they inexplicably work, like all genius does: Biblical references pop up constantly in Dylan's writing, so Cain slew Abel, perhaps raising Cain in the process, and the hunchback is just another grotesque soul seeking "sanctuary". And the next two lines are Dylanisms just as surely as "he not busy being born is busy dying". They seem to say: choose life/Eros, or choose dullness and the conventional life with its boring expectations, where everything is "right as rain".  Or is this really about Noah's flood and its inevitable culling of the sinful?

And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.

Another Biblical reference, but a sardonic one: the figure whose name is synonymous with selfless help and even personal risk is now reduced to just another performer, donning the motley for the "show". And Biblically, the Samaritan was at the bottom of the heap socially, almost an untouchable, which is what gave Jesus' parable such punch.


Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid


This is a strange one, but then, the characters on Desolation Row just get stranger. Unlike Cinderella who turns tricks, Ophelia goes crazy while Hamlet seduces his mother. And 'neath the window - is that some sort of weird inversion of Romeo and Juliet? (By the way, what DID happen to Romeo?) This is someone who has apparently died before she even had a chance to live.

To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness


"Lifelessness is the Great Enemy & always wears a hip guard—he is very hipguard,
"Dylan wrote in Tarantula, and if you can figure THAT out, you've nailed these lines. The iron vest sounds like medieval torture, or else kinky. This whole poem/song is about the sin of lifelessness or, perhaps, the deathwardness of the eternal Show. "Her profession's her religion" is a little too opaque for me to fathom, as her profession isn't the same as Cinderella's. 






And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row.


Ah, Bob! You know more about the Bible than the average monk or Catholic priest. "Expecting rain" may well be a reference to the Great Flood, but here the flood is over and the rainbow has appeared.  "Peeking into" means that Ophelia has been cast out and has to "peek in", as in some great existential peep show. Funny that both she and Romeo stand beneath windows, on the outside looking in.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk


You can try to pull this apart or leave it alone, but it pulls apart like a wishbone and spills weirdness like a cornucopia. 

Einstein, being the ultimate enigmatic genius, is headed for the carnival dressed up like Robin Hood, some sort of ancient folk hero who fires arrows, robs from the rich and gives to the poor. But he's already gone, folks, he passed this way an hour ago and you missed him. Memories in a trunk - another version of the iron vest, the lifelessness of self-suffocation? And why is his friend so jealous, and of what (and why is he a monk? Maybe it just scanned, we don't know.)





Now, he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet


This implies some sort of hobo in disguise, a fraud, somebody who gets off on sniffing sewer gas or else is a kind of health inspector. Reciting the alphabet implies childishness, or the failure of the greatest mind in human history.

You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.


Interesting that Einstein really was a quite gifted violinist. That line "famous long ago", three little words, Bobby, you really can spit them out, became the title of a book, and everybody knew where the title came from, it was just self-explanatory. The author of e=mc2 is now nothing but a musician standing on a street corner in a neighborhood which might be called degraded.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They are trying to blow it up


This stanza really chills me. It is past grotesque: it's harrowing. Who the fuck is this Dr. Filth, why are his patients (like Ophelia) so sexless? Where is the riot squad when you need them? Is the leather cup sort of like Baudelaire's image of a woman's vagina (so stomach-turning I can't reproduce it here)? For surely the literate Dylan would have read Baudelaire. And it's obvious that sexlessness is next to lifelessness.




Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have Mercy on His Soul"


There are those who would say this is Joan Baez, the great unnamed saint of the Row. Even Joan Baez thought it was Joan Baez. Calling her "some local loser" (and what in fuck's name is a "cyanide hole"? That's quite possibly the worst thing I ever heard of) seems harsh, but then come those two impossibly tender lines, which Baez quoted in Daybreak as "I also keep the cards that read have mercy on his soul". She might also be the same person as the fortune-telling lady taking all her things inside (because it might rain?). In the song She Belongs to Me, which as usual might be about Baez or might be about his first wife Sara Lowndes, Dylan portrays a lady full of mystical power ("she can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black"). 

They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row.


"Blow" could be taken a couple of ways. Sexual? A drug reference? Or just "blow"? Pennywhistles imply innocence, childhood, and being too poor to afford a real instrument. Pennywhistles are irritating, shrill and unmusical. It's also never clear whether we are ON Desolation Row, looking INTO Desolation Row, or trying to get the hell OUT of Desolation Row. Dylan's camera darts all over the place.






Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest


Who is whom here, and whom is who he appears to be? No one. The curtains are already nailed up for this ghastly dumbshow (and remember how in old gangster movies they say "it's curtains for you"?) Nailed-up curtains certainly aren't fancy and won't open and close like normal ones. They're crude, and - nailed in place like so many of the crippled characters. But it is also, as in the Catholic Church, a feast day, a holy celebration. And thus the Phantom, some sort of spiritual kin to the aforementioned Hunchback of Notre Dame, is wrapping himself in priestly raiment. Enough clergy here to start a monastery.

They are spoon-feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words


The cast of this thing grows ever bigger, and each character is somehow laden. Spoon-feeding Casanova might allude to cooking heroin, or it might not. It might allude to feeding a baby, or it might not. He is traditionally a legendary lover and seducer. There's a weird take on sexuality in the song, of exploitation (the blind commissioner whacking off, Cinderella selling herself, Ophelia in her kinky iron maiden) and the uglifying of something that should be beautiful, even sacred. (Dylan is nothing if not a romantic.) And we're back to that amorphous, vaguely disturbing "they". Whoever they are, they are not too damn friendly.





And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row.


If Romeo has been cast out, if he's in the wrong place, my friend, then surely Casanova is going to be out on his ass soon. The skinny girls are - what? Models? The Andy Warhol crowd Dylan hung out with? I wonder if this whole thing isn't about being tossed out of Eden, except that this is nobody's idea of the garden. Or if Casanova really is a heroin addict, perhaps the law has caught up with him?





At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do


Here we get into the most delicious paranoia, a macabre vision straight out of a sweating, gasping film noir/spy movie. Who ARE these people - part of the unnamed "they"? Agents of WHAT? And I love that line "come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do". Are these people - "everyone" - really smarter? Or do they just carrying a burden of subversive, secret knowledge? 

Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row.






The heart-attack machine is the most sadistic thing I have ever heard of: not a defibrillator, but the opposite, something that GIVES you a heart attack. And then the kerosene. . . This is like "after the ambulances go", a couple of words slamming us against the wall. No mention of a fire or of someone starting a fire, but we don't need that, we already know. Insurance men in their dull facelessness seem to foreshadow the infamous, soulless figure, Mr. Jones, the epitome of the "establishment'. And let's not get into "escaping to", it's just too convoluted.

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"


Nero is the one who fiddled while Rome burned. The Titanic is a mite obvious, but like all of this bizarre imagery, it works. "Everybody" is "nobody" and could be anybody, and the question they're shouting, "which side are you on?", is one Dylan heard and had to try to answer or ignore for his whole life. And is no doubt still dealing with. (What do the lyrics mean?)

And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers






This seems like a blatant contrast of intellectual elitism with simple, life-loving joy, not so much a mockery as a dismissal of violence and hate: so that yes, even in this song there is some sort of breath of hope. I see the fishermen and calypso singers all jumbled in with the mysterious ugly horrific vivid incendiary images of the song as in a Picasso painting, where everything is happening at once. But if you really want to dig (man), the singers do the same thing Bob does, and the fishermen echo Jesus' famous words, "I will make you fishers of men." Holding flowers is either a hippie thing, or a garden thing, take your choice.

Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row.


Unlike Ballad of a Thin Man, this song does have unexpected beauty strewn through it. Is Desolation Row a choice, a punishment, a purgatory leading on to greater glory, or to eternal damnation?  Is it just the bizarre baffling imagery of a genius on acid who hadn't slept in about 45 days? We know it is compelling, and hard to get away from. But it's not over yet. As with all great works of music, there is a coda. 





Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?


I am virtually certain, though I cannot provide proof, that he chose "broke" to rhyme with "joke". But then, a broken doorknob does imply not being able to get in or out. "Was that some kind of joke?" dismisses all possibility that the asker even cares, or only cares in order to get something. The question has a sardonic Positively Fourth Street feel to it. What's it to you? You got a lotta nerve.

All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name


Thus does the artist casually create and destroy his own universe, so that all the characters come out looking like versions of himself. As for "give them all another name", remember his nickname in high school was Zimbo. The old saw "all the characters are really me" is even more of a stretch than what I'm doing here.


Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.





It's well-known that Bob really can't read very well, he's always been blind as the proverbial fruit bat, so maybe this is one line we can take literally. Don't forget "here comes the blind commissioner/They've got him in a trance." But "don't send me no more letters, no" means he's cutting himself off from contact with people. And - oh, this is a good one! - what was in the very first line of this thing? POSTCARDS. But typical of Dylan, they aren't sending postcards, but selling them. So the old saw "I'll send you a postcard" becomes, sardonically, "I'll sell you a postcard."

Bob Dylan's masterpiece, if that's what this is, reflects his profound ambivalence about the vertiginous and devouring carnival of fame, his own fame in particular: he lied about working in carnivals as a boy, then found himself IN one, magnetically attracting a horde of sycophants, sociopaths and losers.

But which character IS he, anyway? The most likely contender, in my mind (and this is MY essay, so I can surmise if I want to) is Einstein disguised as Robin Hood: genius in the guise of folk hero. Costumed poseur, lost troubadour shifting from identity to identity, the figure comes closer than any of the others to a self-portrait of the most unlikely Nobel winner in the history of the prize, that enigmatic gift to the world, Bob Dylan.