Songs Of The Day 10/16/2016: Bob Dylan – “Wiggle Wiggle” + “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”

Out of nowhere, last week Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was wonderful. He's one of two rock artists, the Beatles being the other, for whom I customarily got angry about defending. They're artists who so fundamentally altered the medium of rock that I treat them more like famous inventors. Every other artist, including my most favorites, I'm willing to cede opposing opinions about. But not the Beatles and not Dylan. I used to bust my gasket over this, but not so much anymore. Now I just write opponents' names down in a spiral-bound notebook labeled "HERETICS FOR WHOM FATE IS IMMINENT" hidden in the bottom drawer of my desk.

Dylan got in because of his lyrics, which in the '60s blew apart pop music's tightened quarters and opened up new avenues of imagery and subject. As Joni Mitchell put it, "Hallelujah - the pop song has grown up." Dylan's mastery of language worked in so many variable situations and themes that it could be confused for poetry (I am of the school that maintains no rock lyric, no matter how poetic, is poetry). There hasn't been a bigger influence on the inside narrative of pop music than him: Everybody's tool box was changed. It was almost the invention of a whole new medium. Dylan's Nobel is richly deserved.

But nobody hits 1.000, and in the spirit of this blog celebrating human foibles as much as anything, I went and looked for the Dylan lyrics that, well, weren't very good. Oh, okay: sucked. Because while the Nobel committee surely didn't have to be persuaded about the brilliance of "Visions of Johanna" or "Desolation Row," we still had Dylan in the '80s and '90s. And at a few points in that era, well... I won't say Dylan rested on his laurels so much as he plain fell off the goddamn tree. He recovered in time for Time Out of Mind of course. But for a few minutes there in the pastels of the Yuppie Decade, there was cause for concern.

I dragged two of them out today. "Wiggle Wiggle" is from Under the Red Sky, a popular choice for the worst album Dylan ever made. This is simply a two-minute rave-up which features Bob singing the title with almost unconscious reflex, pairing it up with some strange imagery: "Wiggle 'til you're high, wiggle 'til you're higher/Wiggle 'til you vomit fire." "Man Gave Names to All the Animals" is actually from his 1979 album Slow Train Coming, the first of three albums he released while identifying as a born-again Christian. It's basically a children's book in audio form, recounting how Adam got to give names to all the creatures God just threw in his face in the Garden of Eden. That's all. Its sole moment of cleverness is at the very end, when Dylan opts not to sing the closing line that the listener might believe to be the logical closing line. This is the one time this Nobel winner's most effective moment in a song is when he clams up. 

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