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When It's Not Alright, Ma

July 26, 2016

 

From the start of this "Undercover Summer" series, I knew I would cover Bob Dylan. He's an essential influence for me for several reasons. Learning about his writing style and trying to emulate it liberated my own writing voice when I went through a long stretch of writer's block during grad school. And of course, he invented the modern singer-songwriter, so he's influenced all of us who write and perform our own songs. I was also reasonably sure I would cover something from the Bringing it All Back Home album because there's already a cat on the original album cover, and we all know how much I like to pose with my cat babies. Choosing which song to cover was more difficult. This album is home to personal favorites like "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and important pieces with fun video potential like "Subterranean Homesick Blues." I finally went with "It's Alright Ma, (I'm Only Bleeding)" because it seemed almost too appropriate for our times.

 

So much of what was relevant 50 years ago has been ringing in my ears in this violent, divisive year. I often find myself quoting Dylan lyrics in response to current events, and "It's Alright Ma" has some of the best one-liners in the whole Dylan canon. Here are a few favorites:

 

"Advertising signs they con you into thinking you're the one..."

"It's easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred"

"And though the rules of the road have been lodged, it's only people's games you've got to dodge."

"Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked"

"he not busy being born is busy dying"

 

and this gem of a verse that could have been written about today's political climate:

 

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

(read the full lyrics here)

 

And at the end of each long verse comes the insistent refrain, "It's Alright, Ma..." which Dylan growls out with his signature irony. But it's not all right. Our world is not all right. So we keep writing and playing and singing; for as Dylan sang in another song, we'll:

 

...tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
 And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
 Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
 But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
 And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
 It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

 

 

 

 

 

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