Day of the Locusts

It’s only natural to wonder if the events described in the song actually happened in the life of the author. In many cases, I expect it is not the case. But not with this song. It’s definitely based on events that happened when Dylan received an honorary degree from Princeton University. We even know the date: June 9, 1970.

The following is from an article published in the Dylan fanzine, The Telegraph, issue number 45. An interview with David Crosby (of the Byrds, CSNY, etc)

The Telegraph #45. “I got D. incredibly high on some killer weed. I was visiting him and Sara in the Village…Sara was trying to get Bob to go to Princeton University, where he was being presented with an Honorary Doctorate. Bob didn’t want to go. I said, ‘C’mon, Bob, it’s an honor!’ Sara and I both worked on him for a long time. Finally, he agreed. I had a car outside- a big limousine that was the first thing he didn’t like. We smoked another joint on the way and I noticed Dylan getting really quite paranoid behind it. When we arrive at Princeton, they took us to a little room and Bob was asked to wear a cap and gown. he refused outright. They said, ‘We won’t’ give you the degree if you don’t wear this.’ Dylan said, ‘Fine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place.’ I said, ‘C’mon, Bob, these people have gone to a lot of trouble…’ Finally we convince him to wear the cap and gown. I was standing next to him during the ceremony..just like the song says. When it was over, we made a quick exit.”

Dylan has a long history of anathema towards colleges. Tombstone Blues11 Outlined Epitaphs. And many interviews.

An article partially about the events of that day. 

An article about the particular locust that hangs out in Princeton.

Perhaps – or more likely perhaps not – Dylan had Nathaniel West’s novel “Day Of The Locusts” in mind. The novel is an outsider anthem, a theme dear to Dylan’s heart. He would probably like it. 

It seems like that he, at least unconsciously, had the bible in mind. Although Dylan has them singing a “sweet melody”, an interesting twist. 

“Else, if thou refuse to let my people go/
Behold, tomorrow/
Will I bring the locusts …”
(Exodus 10:4)

Dylan has never played the song live.

Cover Versions

Lyrics

Oh, the benches were stained with tears and perspiration
The birdies were flying from tree to tree
There was little to say, there was no conversation
As I stepped to the stage to pick up my degree
And the locusts sang off in the distance
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me

I glanced into the chamber where the judges were talking
Darkness was everywhere, it smelled like a tomb
I was ready to leave, I was already walkin’
But the next time I looked there was light in the room
And the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill
Oh, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
Oh, the locusts sang their high whining trill
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me

Outside of the gates the trucks were unloadin’
The weather was hot, a-nearly ninety degrees
The man standin’ next to me, his head was exploding
Well, I was prayin’ the pieces wouldn’t fall on me
Yeah, the locusts sang off in the distance
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance
And the locusts sang and they were singing for me

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota
Sure was glad to get out of there alive
And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me
Singing for me, well, singing for me

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