“Let all of your earthly thoughts be a prayer“. That’s a damn fine line and very good advice. This guy Dylan might have a future as a songwriter.
The use of the word “rider” is not so common now, but it is commonplace in the blues. “Rider” is a reference to a sexual partner. An example:
See see, rider See what you done done Lawd, lawd, lawd Made me love you Now your girl done come You made me love you Now your gal done come
A few examples that Dylan might be familiar with: Easy Rider Blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Black Snake Blues, Victoria Spivey. See See Rider Blues.
The phrase “black rider” brings to mind biblical images. Those knowledgeable of the Bible might think of Revelations. I don’t think this song has any direct reference to it, although it surely inspired some of the blues songs mentioned above.
1And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. 9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
A related image, “black dog”, has often been used to describe battles with depression. See Jesse Winchester’s Black Dog.
Dylan is certainly familiar with William Brorrough’s play “Black Rider.” Perhaps there’s a connection there. Watch the whole thing here.
There’s just one obvious song reference, “Some enchanted evening”.
I’m not a big fan of the performance on the album. Dylan sounds like a goat being strangled.
Black Rider Black Rider you been livin’ too hard
You been up all night havin’ to stay on your guard
The path that you’re walkin’ – is too narrow to walk
Every step of the way another stumblin’ block
The road that you’re on – same road that you know
But it’s not the same as – it was a minute ago
Black Rider Black Rider you’ve seen it all
You’ve seen the great world and you’ve seen the small
You fell into the fire and you’re eating the flame
Better seal up your lips if you want to stay in the game
Be reasonable Mister – be honest be fair
Let all of your earthly thoughts be a prayer
Black Rider Black Rider all dressed in black
I’m walking away and you try to make me look back
My heart is at rest I’d like to keep it that way
I don’t want to fight – at least not today
Go home to your wife stop visiting mine
One of these days I’ll forget to be kind
Black Rider Black Rider tell me when – tell me how
If there ever was a time then let it be now
Let me go through – open the door
My soul is distressed my mind is at war
Don’t hug me – don’t flatter me – don’t turn on the charm
I’ll take out a sword and have to hack off your arm
Black Rider Black Rider hold it right there
The size of your cock will get you nowhere
I’ll suffer in silence I’ll not make a sound
Maybe I’ll take the – high moral ground
Some enchanted evening I’ll sing you a song
Black Rider Black Rider you’ve been on the job too long