Dylan and the Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland Regarding significant musical movements in history, more specifically the twenty first century, few were more important than the folk revolution that took shape in the mid-nineteen hundreds. One of the leaders of this revolution was Robert Allen Zimmerman, known by his popular assumed name, Bob Dylan. Born in 1941 in Minnesota, Dylan grew up the grandchild of Jewish-Russian immigrants and had a surprisingly unexceptional childhood. His interest in music became evident in his high school years when he taught himself basic piano and guitar. From these rudimentary skills Dylan would build his knowledge and experience in music to his present status as a forefather of folk music in the rock era. Accordingly, a song from the pinnacle of his career embodies his style and poetic capabilities, acting as a reference point of the music it followed and the music that was to come.
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland is an unmistakably remarkable example of the work of Bob Dylan in his finest hour. To fully understand the influence of Bob Dylan on the American folk revolution and his importance in the pop culture of todays youth, one must first understand his background and development musically. First of all Bob Dylan was born in Minnesota, not a particular hub of musical activity. Author Bob Spitz makes a good point concerning Dylans birthplace. History has taught us that no matter how we change the environment it is impossible to change the man..After all, anybody is as their land and air is…If that is so, it is no wonder that Bob Dylan became such a luminous amalgam of showmanship and aloofness, spirituality and desolation, eloquence and exaggeration, individuality and schizophrenia. These seesawing extremes, among others, are indigenous to the historical landscape of northern Minnesota.
(Spitz 9) For others this might have been a setback but for Dylan it was the perfect environment to nurture his interests, in music specifically. At the age of ten he was writing poems and by thirteen was setting them to music with self-taught piano and guitar skills. Dylans interest in music continued to climb as he entered Hibbing High School. During his high school years Dylan would become involved in musical productions and attempt forming many bands with such names as the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock Boppers. He began to idolize such new rock stars as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to the point that his high school yearbook listed his goal in life as joining Little Richard.
An eighteen year old Dylan left his hometown of Hibbing in the fall of 1959 for college at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. This would be his first taste of the big city and the life that awaited him. The sight and sounds of the big city opened many new vistas for the young Dylan and he took advantage of his situation by studying the roots of contemporary rock. He began to listen to the works of folk pioneers like Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, and Woody Guthrie. At the same time Dylan was beginning to perform solo at local Minneapolis night spots such as the Ten OClock Scholar cafe and the St.
Pauls Purple Onion Pizza Parlor. During this time Dylan was honing his guitar skills and harmonica work and developing his famous nasal voice which would become his trademark. Halfway through his college career Dylan decided it was time for a move. He packed up and moved to New York City with two main motivations. His primary motivation was to become part of the Greenwich Village folk-music scene which was burgeoning in the city. His second reason for moving was to meet his idle, Woodie Guthrie, who was in a hospital in New Jersey with a rare hereditary disease.
Dylan would succeed on both counts. Not only did he meet Guthrie but he became a fixture at his bedside. As well, Bob Dylan was now a recognizable name among the folk clubs and coffee houses of New York. Dylan had a proficiency at learning songs perfectly the first time he heard them which was admired by his peers that, along with tireless song writing, brought him much acclaim. In the fall of 1961 Dylans life would change.
A famous music critique saw him perform at Gerdes Folk City and raved the following day in the New York Times. The result proved to be the break that Bob Dylan had been looking for. No more than a month after Sheltons review Dylan was signed to a contract with Columbia Records by John Hammond. Immediately Bob began to select material for his album debut. Unfortunately his debut album only contained two original pieces but obvious talent in the covers of traditional folk songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bukka White. The reviews for Dylans first album were not what he had hoped but set his fans up for the surprise that his second would have in store.
The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, his second release, contained some of his best work, including Blowin in the Wind. This album marked strongly the emergence of one of the most distinctive voices and poetic masters of American popular music. The next Bob Dylan albums would provide more of the same. Each one had a different perspective and topic matter. It was on his seventh album, though, that Bob Dylan wrote an entrancing song that embodied his emotional state at the time, both in lyrics and music alike.
This song is the Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Of the two elements of the song, lyrical and musical, the lyrical is definitely the most striking symbolically and poetically. This song was the first cut to fill an entire album side and makes clear the importance he places on relationships. The song is undoubtedly about his future bride, Sara Lowndess, and is revealing to the point that he disallowed song verses to be quoted in a book. The first line of the song begins the deep symbolism when saying the womens mouth is mercury. An alternate meaning for mercury is messenger. Furthermore, Dylan makes reference to the lady as having eyes like smoke and prayers like rhymes. This could be interpreted as the women giving prayers a new light as real poetry, a revelation that may not have been seen through her unclear eyes. As well, the ladys voice is like chimes that speak out for freedom for the lonesome hearted lover with too personal a tale(Dylan 1). Dylan then recalls streetcar visions, a direct reference to Tennessee Williams play A Street Car Called Desire.
The symbolism continues throughout the song and is accompanied with music that, while not the best of his career, still defined the American folk sound. The music is acoustic once again after he made a brief stint recording with bands and electric guitars. The melody is simple and flows throughout the pieces seven minute length. There is minimal background accompaniment but what does exist advances the rhythm of the song. Truly it is Dylans voice that is the essence of the song.
His raspy, nasal sound gives the song character that it definitely would not have minus his vocals. The best information I can provide someone who is interested in the work of Dylan is to get any of his early albums and listen to what todays music started as. The folk movement of the late nineteen fifties and early sixties was led by a man who overcame a humble upbringing and, through hard work, created for himself the life he desired to live. His music is revered as classic and at the same time historical. His song, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, is a testament to that.