Bob Dylan has presided over pop culture like some sort of Greenwich Village spawned numen. He might have missed the birth but he was waiting outside the labour ward to rear it on the right wayfaring trajectory and we can all be glad of that. Without his defiant, almost proto-punk-like ways, who’s to say how music would’ve turned out.
The peak of this influence was felt by a beatnik crowd that gathered at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and sat patiently under the boon of the summer sun. They eagerly awaited the arrival of Bob Dylan like pilgrims in a promised land confident that a six-stringed miracle was handily scheduled in for their adoring eyes to behold. Bob Dylan was the messiah of folk music and even Joan Baez was announcing him as such, but in one swooping electric middle finger, Dylan went from Jesus to Judas to the backbeat of a fuzz pedalled hum.
After Dylan went electric, pop culture would never look the same again with three albums, 34 songs, all recorded in 14 months when he was only 23…each one of them is in with a shouting chance of being crowned the greatest album of all time, and I do not have a hairline brave enough to pit them against each other, but I will venture to declare this: Blonde on Blonde places firmly on the podium for the greatest break-up albums ever.
One track on the album may well be a nod to an already plugged-in songsmith who went before him. With ‘I Want You’ his Nashville backing band, they lay down a groove that gives the album an added dimension. It also finds Dylan at the peak of his iconic vocal stylings that has spawned an endless slew of parodies. Contained within the track is also a reference to Brian Jones.
With the lyric “dancing child with his Chinese suit,” it is believed that Dylan was referencing Brian Jones who dressed flamboyantly in silken three-pieces throughout the era. Then Dylan goes on to say, “He spoke to me, I took his flute,” and Jones famously played the flute despite rock ‘n’ roll notions of coolness threatening to have them outlawed for good. While those lines alone might seem a little paper-thin to suggest a link to Jones, the argument gains a lot more credibility when Dylan croons “because time was on his side” which is believed by some to be in reference to ‘Time Is On My Side’, the first Rolling Stones song to crack the US top ten.
The song in general is thought to be about Edie Sedgewick, the Andy Warhol factory girl with whom Dylan is famously said to have had a tumultuous relationship with. Thus, the lyrical dressing down of Jones may well hint that he was one of many other rock stars the Sedgewick had a relationship with.
Regardless of the possible backstory, the befittingly sultry song was the last track that Dylan recorded for his eponymous break-up album. It’s a track that signifies moving on in an undoubted sonic blast. With a parade of interesting characters, Dylan concocts a swirl of song, that dallies with visceral rock vigour. What’s more, the demo in the video below is even better than the version that exists on the record.