Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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I think you should check out Live's cover of All Along The Watchtower as well as U2's Running To Stand Still… both are interesting.


My how the singers of the sixties, crying against an establishment that maintained the Vietnam War, are so applicable to the events of today.


All Along the Watchtower

The other day I plugged the iPod to my stereo, and since my wife's ears normally bleed at most of my music, I tried to find something she would like. Arriving at consciousness during the 80's, her favorite group is U2, and the iPod graciously began to play some of their tracks.

It began playing, All Along the Watchtower from the "Rattle and Hum" album, which is probably my favorite song of theirs. Of course, they didn't write it, that's a Dylan. But listening to U2's redo, made me want to spin Dylan's.

The nice thing about an iPod is the ability to look at your musical collection from many angles, and when I asked for all songs that began with "All Along" I was amazed at just how many versions I had.

Sure I had 3 versions from Dylan, and of course there was the famous version done by Jimi Hendrix. But I have a great version from the Dead, and a version by Dave Matthews with Trey Anastasio (Phish) playing one of his typical guitar solos. Pieces of the lyrics end up quoted in other songs … Clearly this is one of the most redone songs in the "rock" genre, and with good reason. It's good.

The song itself was birthed from the tension of the 60's, but the theme is classic. In fact, the theme itself was probably inspired by the Dylan of the Old Testament, Isaiah. In his vision and prophecy of the destruction of Babylon by the Persians, he says:

And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights. And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. (Isaiah, chapter 21:8-9)

But Dylan, the master minstrel, doesn't begin with this sort of vision. He instead begins with the tension:

"There must be some way out of here,"
Said the Joker to the Thief,
"There's too much confusion,
I can't get no relief."

The tension is described by two archetypes… the Joker (or Fool) and the Thief (or Devil). But this dialectic seems to have been reversed, for it is usually the Thief who complains. But the Joker is bemoaning society and its values:

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

While the corporations drink his wine (his blood or life), the workers are oblivious, for none of them have the right values.

I read somewhere that the Joker in this story could be compared to Jesus on the cross having the discussion with one of the thieves next to him. For the Thief is sympathetic, and reiterates the lost values of society (that treats Life so lightly) and reminds him of the truth:

"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."

The tension, however, is not released. We are still not sure where this conversation is taking place, but the Thief's words are almost a foreshadow. But now the scene changes completely from a dialog to an illustration:

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

While this image places the story in a place in history, the symbols are pretty clear… Princes on guard represent the army, the women represent the upper classes and the servants represent the common man. Here we see the established society on the defense. Against what? Dylan continues:

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,

Danger is coming. Nature or the earth itself is rising up. Its a coming revolution… an eschatology. And it isn't till the last line that the Joker and the Thief return:

Two riders were approaching,
The wind began to howl.

The riders are bringing a different set of values, they will be bringing the truth, and it will be upsetting the establishment.

The poetic images and characters unfold like a Tarot spread with the Fool and the Devil confronting the Emperor culminating with the Tower. But the aftermath from the Tower's fall is always still to come.

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