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It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Commentary

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Dylan really embraces the outlaw song on Bringing It All Back Home. “Outlaw song” is the term Woody Guthrie used to categorize songs that contain rebellious, anti-authority ideas. At least four songs on this album, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Maggie’s Farm, Outlaw Blues, and It’s Alright, Ma, fall into this category.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The Beat poets were the kings of the outlaw muse, and the Beats’ anti-establishment themes are all over It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).  For example, these lines:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Although the masters make the rules

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The short concise phrasing and anti-establishment rhetoric are common characteristics of Beat writing. It’s Alright, Ma contains only twenty words with three syllables, seven with four, and none with more than four.  Only .04% of  the words contain three or more syllables.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 A suggested exercise: compare and contrast It’s All Right Ma with Ginsberg’s Howl.

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10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Many have remarked on how much Dylan sounds like a modern rapper on It’s Alright Ma (and even more so in Subterranean Homesick Blues). Paul Williams called him a “natural rapper”. In 1986 Dylan appeared on a Kurtis Blow album, displaying his rapping skills (such as they are) on the song Street Rock. Dylan raps the first verse.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 I’ve indulged in higher knowledge to scan over encyclopedias
Keep in constant reaches of reports in our news medias
Kids starve in Ethiopia, and we are getting greedier
The rich is getting richer and the needy’s getting needier

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Dylan also appeared on a recording and video of a song called Gone Till November by Wyclef Jean, also a well-known rapper. 2 minutes 30 seconds in…

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14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Dylan has written more than his share of quotable quotes over the years, and It’s All Right, Ma is full of them.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 ….

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 ….

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 ….

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 money doesn’t talk, it swears

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Dylan apparently likes to play It’s Alright, Ma live. It appears on Live 1964, Before the Flood and Hard to Handle, a concert film of his 1986 Australian concert tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Live 1964 documents a Dylan’s concert at the New York Philharmonic.  He duets on several numbers with Joan Baez, and also plays several songs from the unreleased Bringing It All Back Home, including It’s Alright, Ma. The performance  is a little shaky, and Dylan fumbles the lyrics towards the end.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Although I’m not a huge fan of Before the Flood, a recording from the well-publicized “comeback tour” Dylan did with The Band in 1974, it contains the definitive version. In my opinion, many of the songs from Before the Flood are marred by an overly histrionic vocal, but that style is perfect for this song. The crowd roars when Dylan sings “every the president of the United States/Sometimes has to stand naked”, which I suppose is not surprising since the country was in the middle of the Watergate fiasco.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 It’s also on the loathsome At Budokan.

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36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Lyrics

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you’d just be
One more person crying.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 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.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.

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