Desolation Row

Thanks to Mrs Murphy, my high school music teacher, I appreciated the poetry of Bob Dylan from a relatively early age. As much as I did as that of Dylan Thomas, and the works we were fed of the classic writers of sonnets epics and odes.

Not being steeped in American culture a great deal of Dylan’s chaotic and surreal imagery went over my head in the sixties. But I knew the opening lines of Desolation Row referred to something dark.

They’re selling postcards of the hanging…

It was not until the advent of internet and Wikipedia that I learned about the shameful lynching of three alleged rapists in Duluth, Minnesota, not far from the Zimmerman home where Dylan’s father lived as a child at the time. Postcard photographs of the hanging victims were sold.

Dylan’s reference to the Titanic, on which the passengers ask “which side are you on.” seems almost prescient, given the current Situation of the world, and America.

In fact the whole song seems to me an ironic acknowledgement of the surreality and ultimate futility of existence.

I just had to jot these notes to show that I can appreciate poetry even while I take the piss.

Bob Dylan

Desolation Row

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 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

Now 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
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now 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’re 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 pennywhistles
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
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding 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 Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now 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
And 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 doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
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

BOB DYLAN

Derogation Row

I’m collecting all the useless words and then I’ll knock them down

The streets are full of epigrams, there’s discomfort in the town

The constable is pacing slow, he’s trying not to dance

The drunkard knows he can walk a line if he only had a chance

The cheerleaders are goose stepping, they need somewhere to go

They took the evening off to visit Derogation Row

.

The single mother is wondering. There’s something she should know

She forgot her baby in the bank not too long ago

Then she saw the epigrams as they began to bleed

Like pesky pigeons in the park, pecking poisoned seed

She saw the space between her hands where something ought to go

And ran to find her baby back on Derogation Row

.

Now the moon must get a mention and the stars are quoted too

The prognosticators all predict, because that’s what they do

They spout obscure biblical references like scholars did of yore

At the Walrus and a carpenter as they staggered out the door

They’d laboured hard for seven years with nothing much to show

And ended in the gutter down on Derogation Row

.

Shakespeare’s words were rounded up; they all felt so afraid

They were accused of coinage once the charges had been laid

Portia donned her mantle and her mercy was not strained

She argued very strongly that all words should be unchained

A Noun, a Verb, an Adjective would not Decline to go

Where every word is equal, down on Derogation Row

.

Einstein can’t believe that quantum physics is a thing

His Universe is infinite, it’s not shaped like a ring

His sage advice to Schrödinger that he should get a pet

Was just ignored, without a word. He doesn’t have one yet

He thought he’d put one in a box, which only goes to show

Life’s just a thought experiment on Derogation Row

.

The word has gone around the world. And all across the planet

They dance the Time Warp in the nude, and pray to Brad and Janet

The songs are getting sillier, Bob Dylan’s clearly mad

Now I’m quoting Richard O’Brien, there’s little more to add

Nothing beats the madness of the Rocky Horror Show

Not even cultural references on Derogation Row

.

You have to be a gentle soul to like Bob Dylan’s verse

It seems to me that you can see this parody’s no worse

I could go on, and show you all the talent that I’ve got

I could go on. But you’ll be cheered to hear that I will not

So for your sake I’ll finish now. Because I’ve come to know.

When it’s time to end the song of Derogation Row.

© 2020 ARF

Lend Me Ten Pounds, and I’ll Buy You a Drink.

There is a gentleman I pass quite regularly on my cycle ride to the pool who appears to be picking herbs from the grass on the roadside. I’ve often wanted to stop and ask what he is collecting. I almost did so this morning, but it occurred to me he may be collecting cigarette butts discarded by people using the path. I am probably wrong. He is there so often, I doubt there would be that many butts for him to pick up by now. Nevertheless the thought was enough to deter me from stopping and asking. He might be embarrassed.

Whenever something like that happens I get the feeling I am losing an opportunity to hear an interesting story. Is he picking penny royal to make a decoction to induce abortion? is there some psychotropic weed growing here that no one other than he knows of? Is he a harmless nut herbalist, or a derelict with no money for fags? Is it any of my business?

Almost as if to answer the psychotropic theory, I next came upon a much younger man who appeared to have dropped a plastic carrier bag of possessions and was bending over to retrieve them. I was about to stop to help, until I heard what he was saying, or rather the language he was using, and his tone. It was a loud, angry, incoherent rant full of effing and blinding and the colourful C word. He seemed to be referring to one C in particular, up which he proposed to insert various objects. Whoever he was talking to was not visible to me.

Nor, it seems, was I visible to him. I pedalled by on my bike with its bright yellow trailer sporting a pirate flag on its mast. His rant at the invisible person beside him did not change at all as I rode through his line of gaze. I have seen those crazed, dilated-pupil red-rimmed stares before. Not weed. Ice. Move on. Quickly. Before those eyes focus.

The clear water of the pool was warm. It did not feel particularly refreshing. The only energy burnt there today would be in propulsion, not in maintaining body temperature. It was so warm I wondered if I was sweating as I swam. How can one tell?

The MP3 player gave me a particularly good choice of random music today. My 90 minutes of laps passed very quickly. A bit of Zydeco, Sinead O’Connor, Pink Floyd, and Afro-Celt Sound System. I managed to keep up a vigorous stroke rhythm most of the time except during the more languid sound of O’Connor’s Danny Boy. Not my favourite version, nor my favourite of her recordings.

An estimated 4,740 kJ burnt, I had a cold shower and shampoo. Then, after a quick visit to Aldi for salad vegetables, I headed home, pedalling into a freshening breeze from the NNE. Practicing my long neglected nautical assessment skills, I estimated the wind to be between 18 and twenty knots, and bringing rain.

I checked my apps when I got home. 20 knots, NNE. And the radar showed approaching storms. The rain and lightning began within half an hour. It hasn’t changed the heat or humidity.

It still hurts when I pedal. More when I walk. The exercise is not helping, and may even be making things worse. I can’t keep increasing my painkillers. I need a new strategy.

On a completely different note, Richard in Quebec may be interested to hear I have been told there has been a rare (for Bribie) sighting of a small flock of Oriental cuckoos down at Buckley’s Hole. If the weather and my legs permit, I may toddle off down there tomorrow to see what I can see.

White Noise

I am a pluviophile. I love the rain. Especially tropical rain.

Walking in the rain, getting soaking wet…

My weather app tells me there is a thirty percent chance of rain. Considering it has been raining heavily for over ten hours , I consider the app to be 70% wrong.

I went to sleep to the lovely sound of heavy rain on my roof, and woke to it this morning. The kookaburra didn’t seem to mind either. He gave a rousing burst of song at 05:40 on the dot, just as I was pouring my first coffee. The frogs are happy too. I can hear at least three species announcing their sexual availability.

My neighbour’s coughing fit was without a trace of Strauss today, though I might have caught a phrase or two of Coltrane. He was soaked on his morning pilgrimage to the ablution block and back. I cheated, I went to the rear corner of my caravan where I am screened from public view, and peed into the stream flowing past my bicycle and through the fence down into the creek. I still got wet. And I still have to go to the ablution block sooner or later.

Last night I went to the Rangla Punjab Wednesday night buffet. All you can eat for twenty dollars. I tried a little of every curry as well as the raitas and pickles. Everything, from the rice and naan to the samosas and bhaji were excellent. The mango lassi was outstanding. That was extra, but well worth four dollars. I tried very hard not to overdo it, but I blew my calorie budget for the first time since I started counting them. I don’t regret it. I shall do it again, though not regularly. Perhaps only when Wednesday coincides with a special occasion.

Yesterday’s occasion was that I now have a recreational marine drivers licence (RMDL). What the rest of the country calls a skipper’s ticket. That I’ve had a boatmaster and coastal yachtmaster ticket in NZ since 1979 did not matter to Queensland Transport. I still had to pass a local course and get certified before they’d grant me a licence. Done and dusted all in one morning yesterday.

Now I can take out the tinnie I bought on line while drunk at Christmas. Kidding. I arranged to view it on Boxing Day. I agreed to buy it. Perfect for my needs, which is code for all I can afford.

Time to go fishing.

The Beautiful Blue Danube

Sometimes I wonder about how my mind works. My neighbour’s morning coughing spell today sounded to me like The Blue Danube.

Cough, cough, cough, cough cough

Cough cough, cough cough

Cough Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough COUGH

Cough cough COUGH

Cough cough cough

Cough cough

cough cough

AHEM

Johann Strauss II

Gave me an earworm.

Spotify

Today I’m listening to a Collection of Beethoven’s sonatas, played by various artists. Right now I’m listening to my favourite, Sonata no. 14, Opus 27, in C sharp minor. Also known as the Moonlight. Or mondschein.

My Spotify account is one of my treasures. For eleven dollars a month it gives me access to a Collection of music I could never afford to buy on CD. I have found almost all the music I liked in my youth. Classical, folk, rock, I have expanded my Celtic folk collection beyond anything I could afford to buy. Now, I am exploring what I missed. Spotify allows me to try new musical genres and artists. My musical appreciation development was stunted in the eighties but I am at last catching up.

Sad to say most modern music, especially hip-hop, leaves me cold but there is still some wheat amongst the chaff.

By clicking on the links above you can listen to my playlists, though you’ll have to put up with advertising unless you have an account.

A Little Moore Poetry


’TIS the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?


Thomas Moore