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The Illustrated Desolation Row

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The most enduringly prophetic Dylan song juxtaposed with images found in the Life Magazine Image Library, and supported by the extremely strange but somehow successful “Desolation Row – The Marionette Performance” by Vlamik.



THEY’RE selling postcards of the hanging….

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They’re painting the passports brown

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The beauty parlor is filled with sailors

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The circus is in town

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Here comes the blind commissioner

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They’ve got him in a trance

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One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants

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And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight

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From Desolation Row….


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CINDERELLA, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets

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Bette Davis style

And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”

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And someone says,” You’re in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave”

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And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go

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Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row


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NOW the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide

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The fortunetelling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel

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And the hunchback of Notre Dame

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Everybody is making love

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Or else expecting rain

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And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show

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He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row


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NOW Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
For her I feel so afraid

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On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid

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To her, death is quite romantic

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She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion

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Her sin is her lifelessness

And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow

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She spends her time peeking

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Into Desolation Row


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EINSTEIN, disguised as Robin Hood

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With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago

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With his friend, a jealous monk

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He looked so immaculately frightful

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As he bummed a cigarette

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Then he went off sniffing drainpipes

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And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago

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For playing the electric violin

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On Desolation Row


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DOCTOR FILTH he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup

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But all his sexless patients

They’re trying to blow it up

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Now his nurse, some local loser

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She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read

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“Have Mercy on His Soul”

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They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow

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If you lean your head out far enough

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From Desolation Row


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ACROSS the street they’ve nailed the curtains

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They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera

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A perfect image of a priest

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They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured

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Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence

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After poisoning him with words

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And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know

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Casanova is just being punished for going

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To Desolation Row”


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NOW at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew

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Come out and round up everyone

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That knows more than they do

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Then they bring them to the factory

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Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders

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And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles

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By insurance men who go

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Check to see that nobody is escaping

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To Desolation Row


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PRAISE be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn

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And everybody’s shouting

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“Which Side Are You On?”

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And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower

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While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers

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Between the windows of the sea

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Where lovely mermaids flow

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And nobody has to think too much

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About Desolation Row


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YES, I received your letter yesterday

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(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing

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Was that some kind of joke?

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All these people that you mention

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Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame

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I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name

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Right now I can’t read too good

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Don’t send me no more letters no

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Not unless you mail them

From Desolation Row….

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stargazer August 22, 2020, 3:25 PM

    How long did it take you to make that collage. Very impressive. I believe the ship that is pictured sinking was the Andrea Doria in the 1950’s.

  • Terry August 22, 2020, 6:57 PM

    That grotesque video could be a visual record of today and then later as the democrats/communists fully steal control of the world. Sickening to me how stupid the citizens of our once great nation have become.
    A blood bath is awaiting the go word for sure. No reconciliation is possible. When the ammunition runs out, the knives, swords, clubs, stones and ropes will finish the work.

  • ck August 22, 2020, 7:25 PM

    Probably my favorite Dylan song. I liked the Grateful Dead’s live versions the best. Kind of funny, Weir never forgot a single word, but I saw him flub Truckin’ a couple of times.

  • Tom Hyland August 22, 2020, 10:07 PM

    A tribute to victims… and villains. Great job, Gerard. The black & white imagery holds so much gravity. I had to stop and ponder Nixon for a bit… and then Hillary… such greedy psychopaths. The mermaid deserved more dignity. We all do.

  • Roy Lofquist August 23, 2020, 7:06 AM

    “Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
    When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
    All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
    I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
    Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters no
    Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row”

    And therein lies the tale. The tale of a love affair gone lame. She was more into her circle of friends than into him. The “Blind Commissioner” and “Cinderella” and the rest are the sobriquets he bestowed upon them.

  • Frequent Reader August 23, 2020, 7:44 AM

    Sorry, but I found the vocals on that soundtrack to be utterly unintelligible.

  • Casey Klahn August 23, 2020, 9:38 AM

    The top of ProTrumpNews this morning:
    (Portland) Antifa rolls out guillotine.
    YouTube takes down dislikes of Biden speech vid.
    Van passes out shields to rioters.

    Going to be interesting till November.

  • Auntie Analogue August 23, 2020, 10:23 AM

    The original album-release recording of “Desolation Row” has always been my favorite Dylan song, chiefly because it is densely crammed with nigh nightmarish vivid imagery, but also because its instrumental backing lays a formidable foundation for the lyrics.

    The track’s insistent rhythmic strumming, accented frequently on the last two beats of a bar with an accelerated syncopation, garlanded with masterfully improvised riffs by ace Nashville session picker Charlie McCoy (who, in my understanding, had never heard the song before he stepped into the studio to record it), combine musically to lend the lyric imagery a gravity that reifies the words’ borderline baffling absurdity. (All of that, plus the original’s far finer vocal as commenter Frequent Reader astutely encapsulated, is sorely lacking in the live rendition in this post’s YouTube video.)

    My dear Stargazer, your identification of the Andrea Doria is correct. Given that the photo montage is figurative and that no photos were taken of the stricken Titanic, let me suggest that using the photo of the doomed Italian liner is forgivable.

  • Vanderleun August 23, 2020, 10:54 AM

    I’m down with Auntie on all of that.

  • Tony August 23, 2020, 7:42 PM

    Fuck Dylan. A plagiarist like slow joe. Voice of a generation: bullshit

  • Gerard vanderleun August 23, 2020, 7:48 PM

    He’s won the Nobel Prize. Before the Chinese Virus he was still touring at around 80 years old. His life has been very big and very full. He’s pretty much run the table.

    .

  • Tony August 24, 2020, 5:58 AM

    Gerard, it is your blog and you do get the last word, however:

    Nobel Prize, low bar see: Neville Chamberlain & Pres #44.

    Personal Achievement: Five self supporting children, all love America, are tattoo free and each knows to keep the tires straight when stopped in traffic to make a left.

    Blowing in the wind: I was raised Protestant and tend not to.

    Love your blog, but can’t stand Mr. Zimmerman.

  • Vanderleun August 24, 2020, 8:21 AM

    I take your point, Tony. And withdraw my intemperate remark.