Human Flower Project

The Floral Side of Bob Dylan


Usually posed behind dark glasses, in railyards or on gritty streets, Dylan typically kept his distance from flowers, until he just couldn’t stand it anymore.


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Bob Dylan with flowered hat

Rolling Thunder Revue, c. 1975

Photo: via cold splinters

Bob Dylan has outlasted so many nicer guys, better songwriters, Townes Van Zant, Tim Hardin, Steve Goodman – to name just three. Sorry. Comparisons aren’t fair, or very nice, for that matter, on somebody’s birthday. Happy 70th, Bob!

Our birthday wishes for you: a sense of humor and a better shtick than aloofness-as-significance. At 70, aloof looks way too much like demented.

We do revere many of his songs, though “his” belongs in scare quotes: Dylan borrowed lots of lyrics and tunes from old time folk, country and blues music. But who can hold that against him? Bards will be bards. They’ve always snagged whatever they loved, claiming it was only something “blowing in the wind.”

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His Glumness with iris, n.d.

As one more proof of Dylan’s artful grumpiness, we note the odd absence of flowers in his hundreds of songs. (Bob Cantwell and John Landes, please correct us here!)

Purple clover, Queen Anne’s Lace

Crimson hair across your face


You could make me cry if you don’t know


Can’t remember what I was thinkin’ of

You might be spoilin’ me too much, love


You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

This is a rarity, from 1974.

imageRose on a Hillside

painting by Bob Dylan

Image: Phil Turner

It’s only been through Theme Time Radio Hour, the satellite radio show that His Glumness hosted 2006-2009, that we’ve perceived Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan the DJ was chirpy and outright daffy, cracking lame jokes and reading out of wikipedia like the rest of us.

Thanks to Dylan aficionado Dreamtime, we learned that Dylan’s July 12, 2006 show was dedicated to flowers; he played Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” The Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and lesser knowns like Paul Clayton’s “The Bonny Bunch of Roses,”

interspersing these and many more songs with sprinklings of cliché, metaphysical poetry, a list of state floral emblems, and the like.

We also recalled that during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour (1975-76), Dylan adopted floral headwear. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, also on the concert bill, claims he was the inspiration.

“I was the first one to put the flower in my hat on Rolling Thunder Revue,” Elliott told cold splinters.

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On the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, c. 1975 (yes, that’s baby’s breath).

“We got into the Rolling Thunder Revue hat/flower contest, who could have more flowers in their hat. At each successive show, I’d have 3 flowers, Bob had 4. I’d have 4 and he’d have 5. We were just playing around with the makeup too. I had a heart painted on my face one time. Another time I had a tear coming out of my eye. We were like rodeo clowns. I remember when Arlo [Guthrie] asked Bob why he always had that clown white on his face. Arlo said, ‘What’s that shit on your face?’ Bob said, ‘What face?’”

Aiiee! It reminds us of the flight back from our first and only trip to San Francisco: we observed aloud to a SF native that, like Bob Dylan, Californians have no sense of humor.

Our flight-mate paused, unoffended. “You’re right,” he said. “We have a sense of the absurd.”


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/25 at 05:26 PM

Comments

According to Sean Wilentz in his book, Bob Dylan in America, the Rolling Thunder Review was conceived by Dylan as a revival of vaudeville or carnival.  The flowers, per Wilentz, were the fruits of that concept.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/25 at 07:52 PM

Thank you, Ross. The vaudevillian really comes through in Dylan’s radio shows too. What a ham!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/25 at 09:36 PM

I guess there really aren’t that many flower references considering the thousands of lines he’s written.  But here are a few that come to mind:
Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso dancers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers. (Desolation Row)
People carry roses and make promises by the hour
My love, she laughs like the flowers, valentines can’t buy her. (Love Minus Zero)
When all of the flower ladies want back what they have lent you
And the smell of their roses does not remain
and all of your children start to resent you
Won’t you come see me Queen Jane?  (Queen Jane Approximately)

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/26 at 08:13 AM

Wonderful, John! thank you.

Gotta admit that “the smell of their roses does not remain” is poetry that does not remain in one’s memory.

But Love Minus Zero is a beauty. In one line flowers are hypocritical and in the next they are the soul of integrity.

It takes a Gemini!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/26 at 10:09 AM

... and, of course, “standing in line for your geranium kiss,” from Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/26 at 01:38 PM

The suggestion that Bob Dylan doesn’t have a sense of humour is an indication of ignorance; the suggestion that any of these alternative songwriters are even in his class simply shows a lack of taste ............

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/27 at 04:42 AM

At his best Dylan is better than any of them; at his worst, no one else is as bad.  Sometimes he’s both in the same song.  All IMHO.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/27 at 09:43 AM
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