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Dylan and the Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland Regarding significant musical movements in history, more specificallythe twenty first century, few were more important than the folk revolution thattook shape in the mid-nineteen hundreds. One of the leaders of thisrevolution was Robert Allen Zimmerman, known by his popular assumedname, Bob Dylan. Born in 1941 in Minnesota, Dylan grew up the grandchildof Jewish-Russian immigrants and had a surprisingly unexceptionalchildhood. His interest in music became evident in his high school yearswhen he taught himself basic piano and guitar. From these rudimentary skillsDylan would build his knowledge and experience in music to his presentstatus as a forefather of folk music in the rock era. Accordingly, a song fromthe pinnacle of his career embodies his style and poetic capabilities, acting asa 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 thework of Bob Dylan in his finest hour. To fully understand the influence of Bob Dylan on the American folkrevolution and his importance in the pop culture of today s youth, one mustfirst understand his background and development musically. First of all BobDylan was born in Minnesota, not a particular hub of musical activity. Author Bob Spitz makes a good point concerning Dylan s birthplace.History has taught us that no matter how we change theenvironment it is impossible to change the man…After all,anybody is as their land and air is….If that is so, it is nowonder that Bob Dylan became such a luminous amalgamof showmanship and aloofness, spirituality and desolation,eloquence and exaggeration, individuality andschizophrenia. These seesawing extremes, among others,are indigenous to the historical landscape of northernMinnesota. (Spitz 9)For others this might have been a setback but for Dylan it was the perfectenvironment to nurture his interests, in music specifically. At the age of tenhe was writing poems and by thirteen was setting them to music withself-taught piano and guitar skills. Dylan s interest in music continued toclimb as he entered Hibbing High School. During his high school yearsDylan would become involved in musical productions and attempt formingmany bands with such names as the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and HisRock Boppers. He began to idolize such new rock stars as Elvis Presley andJerry Lee Lewis to the point that his high school yearbook listed his goal inlife as joining Little Richard . An eighteen year old Dylan left his hometownof 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 thatawaited him. The sight and sounds of the big city opened many new vistas for theyoung Dylan and he took advantage of his situation by studying the roots ofcontemporary rock. He began to listen to the works of folk pioneers likeHank Williams, Robert Johnson, and Woody Guthrie. At the same timeDylan was beginning to perform solo at local Minneapolis night spots such asthe Ten O Clock Scholar cafe and the St. Paul s Purple Onion Pizza Parlor. During this time Dylan was honing his guitar skills and harmonica work anddeveloping his famous nasal voice which would become his trademark. Halfway through his college career Dylan decided it was time for amove. He packed up and moved to New York City with two mainmotivations. His primary motivation was to become part of the GreenwichVillage folk-music scene which was burgeoning in the city. His secondreason for moving was to meet his idle, Woodie Guthrie, who was in a

hospital in New Jersey with a rare hereditary disease. Dylan would succeedon both counts. Not only did he meet Guthrie but he became a fixture at hisbedside. As well, Bob Dylan was now a recognizable name among the folkclubs and coffee houses of New York. Dylan had a proficiency at learningsongs perfectly the first time he heard them which was admired by his peersthat, along with tireless song writing, brought him much acclaim. In the fallof 1961 Dylan s life would change. A famous music critique saw himperform at Gerde s Folk City and raved the following day in the New YorkTimes. The result proved to be the break that Bob Dylan had been looking for. No more than a month after Shelton s review Dylan was signed to a contractwith Columbia Records by John Hammond. Immediately Bob began to selectmaterial for his album debut. Unfortunately his debut album only containedtwo original pieces but obvious talent in the covers of traditional folk songsby Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bukka White. The reviews for Dylan s firstalbum were not what he had hoped but set his fans up for the surprise that hissecond would have in store. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, his secondrelease, contained some of his best work, including Blowin in the Wind . This album marked strongly the emergence of one of the most distinctivevoices and poetic masters of American popular music. The next Bob Dylan albums would provide more of the same. Eachone had a different perspective and topic matter. It was on his seventh album,though, that Bob Dylan wrote an entrancing song that embodied his emotionalstate at the time, both in lyrics and music alike. This song is the Sad EyedLady of the Lowlands. Of the two elements of the song, lyrical and musical, the lyrical isdefinitely the most striking symbolically and poetically. This song was thefirst cut to fill an entire album side and makes clear the importance he placeson relationships. The song is undoubtedly about his future bride, SaraLowndess, and is revealing to the point that he disallowed song verses to bequoted in a book. The first line of the song begins the deep symbolism whensaying the women s mouth is mercury. An alternate meaning for mercury ismessenger. Furthermore, Dylan makes reference to the lady as having eyeslike smoke and prayers like rhymes. This could be interpreted as the womengiving prayers a new light as real poetry, a revelation that may not have beenseen through her unclear eyes. As well, the lady s voice is like chimes thatspeak out for freedom for the lonesome hearted lover with too personal atale (Dylan 1). Dylan then recalls streetcar visions, a direct reference toTennessee Williams play A Street Car Called Desire. The symbolismcontinues throughout the song and is accompanied with music that, while notthe best of his career, still defined the American folk sound. The music is acoustic once again after he made a brief stint recordingwith bands and electric guitars. The melody is simple and flows throughoutthe piece s seven minute length. There is minimal backgroundaccompaniment but what does exist advances the rhythm of the song. Truly itis Dylan s voice that is the essence of the song. His raspy, nasal sound givesthe song character that it definitely would not have minus his vocals. The best information I can provide someone who is interested in thework of Dylan is to get any of his early albums and listen to what today smusic started as. The folk movement of the late nineteen fifties and earlysixties was led by a man who overcame a humble upbringing and, throughhard work, created for himself the life he desired to live. His music is reveredas classic and at the same time historical. His song, Sad Eyed Lady of theLowlands , is a testament to that.


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