Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lyrics: All Along The Watchtower

'All Along The Watchtower' was written and originally performed by Bob Dylan but more familiar versions are those by Jimi Hendrix and U2. I first heard the U2 version when I was fifteen years old. I loved the song but the lyrics always mystified me. They are sparse and have very little detail..., to the extent that I thought that there must be verses missing.

Roll on nineteen years. I am back from a holiday in Tenerife; a holiday that has really challenged the way I live my life and think about the world.

One of the things I lacked on Holiday was access to my music collection, so on Sunday I had an opportunity to put on some music and get a good dose. There is little I like more than laying back on my bed, blasting some music and pondering the meaning of life. I hadn't listened to Hendrix in a while and thought this might do the trick.

When Hendrix's version of 'All Along The Watchtower' came on, the experiences I had on holiday started to click with the lyrics and it all started to make sense.

First, I met lots of intelligent people working out there who did not want to be stuck back home in the rat race. This may surprise some people, for the common image of typical Spanish holiday resort is of idiots abroad who want nothing more than to drink and fornicate. While this element did exist, some people have to be given more credit.

Second, since I originally graduated back in 2000, I have been in two minds. Sometimes I wanted the security of a job. At other times, especially when things were really bad - I wanted to escape this. I have been to London (which is still highly recommended), went back to university to study for a MA and struggled to find a graduate level job. What I discovered is that none of this really matters. I have been half fooling myself for far too long.

The first verse hits the spot well:

"There must be somewhere out here, said the joker to the thief.
There is too much confusion. I can't get no relief.
Businessman they drink my wine. Ploughman dig my earth.
And all along the line, no one knows what it is worth."

This sums up so much how I have been feeling. There is the confusion and lack of direction, the disorientation and the loss of real value. The archetypical characters of the joker and the thief are those who live on the outside of society and so can look in with a critical eye.

Then the second verse:

"No need to get excited. The thief he kindly spoke.
There are many among us, who feel that life is but a joke.
but you and I we've been through that.
And that is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now.
The hour is getting late."

This verse is utterly brilliant. These two characters you would not normally expect to have access to 'truth' are those of the joker and the thief. The joker is someone who normally challenges everyday reality and most would assume that he tells an untruth to amuse 'normal' people. When really, the joker is in earnest - he does not see that life is a joke. The thief transgresses normal reality by not adhering to the normal values of society. This transgression brings into question the 'laws of the land.'

Then finally the conclusion:

"All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants too.
Outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl,
two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl."

The final insight: the societal values that most of us hold dear also preserve vested interests. The notion of women coming and going may relate in part of Celine's 'Journey To The End of The Night', where a similar scene is painted. (I have read somewhere that Dylan was a big fan.)

AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! What have I been doing with my life? Time to push on with the book and get it finished in the next two weeks. Whether it gets published or not..., it is time to give myself more time.

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