Love Minus Zero


outlaw songs predominate Bringing It All Back Home. Love Minus Zero/No Limit is an exception, a tender love story. The narrator holds his lover upon a towering pedestal, declaring her a paragon of beauty and spiritual realization.

My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful,
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire.
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can’t buy her

Critics often find fault with Dylan’s view of women. Some have declared him a chauvinist, citing songs like Sweetheart Like You:

You know, a woman like you should be at home,
That’s where you belong

The ideas expressed in Sweetheart are actually the exception rather than the rule. He often depicts women as strong and independent. Other songs with similar themes are the ironically title She Belongs to Me, and Spanish Harlem Incident.

In Isis and Sara, both from the Desire album, he describes their mystical beauty.

Sara, Sara,
Sweet virgin angel, sweet love of my life,
Sara, Sara,
Radiant jewel, mystical wife.

Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child.
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain

Yet in other songs, Dylan cites women as a source of endless frustration. They are frequently untrustworthy and undependable. Some examples: Absolutely Sweet Marie, I Don’t Believe You, Just Like a Woman, all from Blonde on Blonde, and Sugar Baby, from Love and Theft.

Like almost all songwriters – and unlike almost all regular guys – Dylan frequently ponders the nature of his relationships. Interestingly, the one constant in Dylan’s writing about relationships is the focus on their transitory nature. Even in Dylan’s most heartfelt odes to love the idea of an inevitable parting finds its way in. Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go is a good example. A love song that describes the rhapsody of an ongoing love affair, yet speaks of the inevitable end.

Minus Zero is one of Dylan’s most poetic songs. It’s full of imaginative, surprising images. Some of my favorites: “my love she speaks like silence… love she laughs like the flowers.”

Although Dylan frequently performs Minus Zero, it is one of the few songs he has not reworked significantly. With the exception of At Budokan, Dylan generally plays it just like the original. He gives it a schmaltzy Vegas treatment on the At Budokan version. Ugh. Other versions can be found on Unplugged and Live 75.

Finally, no discussion of Love Minus Zero/No Limit would be complete without an attempt to decipher the title. First, does the “/” mean that No Limit is an alternative title, or should it be interpreted as a fraction, as in “Love” divided by “No Limit”? For what it’s worth, Dylan said it was a fraction when he introduced the song at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965. “The name of this song is a fraction. Love minus zero is on the top and underneath no limit. I made the title before I made the song.”

A humorous essay concerning the song’s title was published in the Annuals of Improbable Research Volume 1 Issue 5.

                  Love Is All There Is, Love and Only Love: 
 A Theoretical Computation of the Value of Love applying the Dylan Model 
 by Tiny Montgomery, State Penn Center of Mathematics and Truck Driving, 
 and Zeke the Cork, Shady Acres Old Folks Home 
We begin with the following assertion by Dylan [1965a]: 
         (Love-0)/No Limit ,                                (1) 
using the expression on the record label over the statement on the back 
cover [1965b], taking a cue from the author's statement that it is a 
fraction [1965c]. 

Setting aside the question of whether the use of an expression here 
marks Dylan as an Expressionist, we set the expression equal to X, which 
is unspecified for the moment, and solve for Love: 
         X=(Love-0)/No Limit                                (2) 
        (No Limit)X=Love-0=Love                        (3) 

Where we've made use of the fact that for any A, A-0=A.  Thus 
Love=something times "No Limit".  The traditional quantity that has no 
limit is infinite, thus we get Love is infinite, assuming that X is 
finite.  If  X is 0, we have 0 times infinity, which is indefinite.  However, if X is 
negative, or "Less than Zero" [Costello, 1977], we get the result that 
Love is infinitely negative.  This is perhaps enough negativity to 
succeed when gravity fails you [Dylan, 1965d], and will probably get 
the reader down.  We may allow (no limit) to be negative, in which 
case we'll want either both X and (no limit) to be positive at the same 
time or both negative.  Other than the sign of X [Dylan, 1967], however, 
there is nothing specified about it.  If X is complex, then it has a 
real part that acts as above and an imaginary part, in which case (No Limit) 
times X is also complex, which makes Love both complex and partly 
imaginary [Whitfield-Strong, 196?].  Dylan himself has explored this 
idea extensively in later investigations [1975a, 1975b], with extensive 
revisions [1984, 1974/1993, various public presentations since 1975]. 

At any rate, we can conclude definitely [Anderson, 1982] that: 
                X=X                                         (4) 
    We thus sum up by offering the following observations: 
        1. Love is infinite if X is finite, 
        2. Love is indefinite if X is zero, 
        3. Love is infinitely negative if X is negative, and 
        4. Love is imaginary if X is imaginary. 

There remain some questions regarding the appropriateness of using 
fractal mathematics to resolve these problems, e.g., "i accept 
chaos. i am not sure whether it accepts me" [Dylan, 1965e].  But we 
should also clarify that we are not putting infinity up on trial [Dylan, 
1978] here.  Love is, after all, just a four-letter word [Dylan, 1967b]. 
Anderson, L., 1982, "Let X=X", _Big Science_, (Warner Brothers, Burbank  CA).
Costello, E., 1977, "Less Than Zero", _My Aim Is True_, 2nd ed.,(Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1965a, "(Love - 0)/No Limit", _Subterranean Homesick Blues_, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1965b, "Love - 0/No Limit", _Subterranean Homesick Blues_, back cover, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1965c, broadcast communication.
Dylan, B., 1965d, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", _Highway 61 Revisited_,(Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1965e, liner notes, _Highway 61 Revisited_, (Columbia, New York  NY).Dylan, B., 1965f, "Tombstone Blues", _Highway 61 Revisited_, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1967a, "Sign on the Cross", _Writings and Drawings_, (Random House, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1967b, "Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word", _Writings and Drawings_, (Random House, New York NY).
Dylan, B., 1974/1993, "Tangled Up In Blue", _The Bootleg Series_, Vol. 2 (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1975a, "Simple Twist of Fate", _Blood On the Tracks_, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1975b, "Tangled Up In Blue", _Blood On the Tracks_, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1978, "   ", _Street Legal_, (Columbia, New York  NY).
Dylan, B., 1984, "Tangled Up In Blue", _Real Live_, (Columbia, New York NY).
Mottram, E., 1965, _William Burroughs:  The Algebra of Need_.
Whitfield-Strong, 196?, "Just My Imagination", as reviewed in R. Stones, 1978, _Some Girls_, (Atlantic, New York  NY).


My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful,
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire.
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can’t buy her.

In the dime stores and bus stations,
People talk of situations,
Read books, repeat quotations,
Draw conclusions on the wall.
Some speak of the future,
My love she speaks softly,
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all.

The cloak and dagger dangles,
Madams light the candles.
In ceremonies of the horsemen,
Even the pawn must hold a grudge.
Statues made of match sticks,
Crumble into one another,
My love winks, she does not bother,
She knows too much to argue or to judge.

The bridge at midnight trembles,
The country doctor rambles,
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection,
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing.

2 thoughts on “Love Minus Zero”

  1. She does not participate in ‘people’s games that you got to dodge’ – here referred to as a game of chess: horsemen/knights/pawn. There is of course something apocalyptic about the use of horsemen instead of the four knights of the game.

    And, oh, you must read Edgar Allen Poe: The Raven. The whole atmosphere of the poem adds to an understanding and appreciation of Dylan’s beautiful song.

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