Monday, November 3, 2008

The Joker and the Thief

I recently heard the above song by this Aussie band called Wolfmother and it reminded me of one of my favorite songs of all times.. namely All along the watchtower by Dylan.. now what you need to know about me is that I'm a lyrics person.. so i have no particular favorites as far as several covers of this song are concerned.. but this one cover really caught my eye, in a manner of speaking.. i think the Dave Matthews Band version of the song is quite brilliant in its slow buildup to an explosive chorus and a almost abrupt ending, which was so clearly intended by Dylan, and is obvious in the lyrics... even if the lyrics are a little obscure, the following extract from Dylan's interview leaves no doubt as to just what he was trying to say with this incredible stretch of poetic imagination..

"I haven't fulfilled the balladeer's job. A balladeer can sit down and sing three songs for an hour and a half... it can all unfold to you. These melodies on John Wesley Harding lack this traditional sense of time. As with the third verse of "The Wicked Messenger", which opens it up, and then the time schedule takes a jump and soon the song becomes wider... The same thing is true of the song "All Along the Watchtower", which opens up in a slightly different way, in a stranger way, for we have the cycle of events working in a rather reverse order."

Christopher Ricks, renowned literary and poetic critic, has commented on "All Along the Watchtower": " the conclusion of the last verse, it is as if the song bizarrely begins at last, and as if the myth began again."

Dave Matthews Band has played the song since the band's inception in the early 1990s. Their rendition of the song maintains Dylan's three chord structure and key signature but differs in style. Dave typically begins the song slowly with just vocals and acoustic guitar. The band members come in after the line "the hour is getting late" and the song tempo and intensity picks up. This is then followed by extended solos taken by the band members culminating with the line that the band chooses to highlight, "No reason to get excited".. which leaves the song hanging as precariously as Dylan would have wanted it to be.

I leave you with the lyrics :

There must be some way out of here,
said the joker to the thief,
Theres too much confusion,
I cant get no relief.

Businessmen, they drink my wine,
plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line
know what any of it is worth.

No reason to get excited,
the thief, he kindly spoke,
There are many here among us
who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and i, we've been through that,
and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late.

All along the watchtower,
princes kept the view
While all the women came and went,
barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance
a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching,
the wind began to howl

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