Saturday, October 6, 2012

Music Video: Bob Dylan's "Duquesne Whistle"

Dylan's first album
[post 281]

A standard formula for silent film comedy was for our shy and inept hero to pursue the girl of his dreams against all odds and somehow emerge triumphant in the end. Lloyd and Keaton stayed true to this narrative in most of their films, whereas Chaplin, with his penchant for pathos, would sometimes wistfully let the girl get away.

And then there's Bob Dylan.

Did you know that in his early folk singing days in Greenwich Village (NYC), Dylan was known for his "Chaplinesque" comic antics onstage? That his first two albums have improvised comic songs?

From the liner notes of his first album (yes, I still own the original LP):

Devotees have found in him the image of a singing rebel, a musical Chaplin tramp . . . Another strong influence on Bob Dylan was not a musician primarily, although he has written music, but a comedian -- Charlie Chaplin. After seeing many Chaplin films, Dylan found himself beginning to pick up some of the gestures of the classic tramp of silent films. Now as he appears on the stage in a humorous number, you can see Dylan nervously tapping his hat, adjusting it, using it as a prop, almost leaning on it, as the Chaplin tramp did before him.

Again, those are album liner notes, which very likely means Dylan approved them, so it seems he did see himself in this light. But then what are we to make of Dylan's newest music video, Duquesne Whistle?

At first it seems right out of Chaplin, a sweet comedy about a young man armed with nothing but comic schtick trying to get the attention of a pretty young woman he sees on the street. Each failure leads to a more desperate attempt to impress her. But — spoiler alert — after a chase scene ensues and an innocent bystander is injured, events take a macabre twist. Our hero gets thrown into a van, taken to a dark room, tied to a chair, gagged, and beaten to a pulp by the bystander and his friends. Instead of getting the girl, he is roughly deposited back on the same sidewalk, a sad piece of human rubbish. And who comes along and walks right past him without noticing? None other than Dylan and his crew.

Not sure what the message is there, but the video was done by Australian director and stuntman Nash Edgerton, whose music video for Brandon Flowers' Crossfire also features a man tied to a chair in a dark room and being tortured, though this guy gets rescued by the beautiful lady. I guess one out of two ain't bad.

Click here for an article on Dylan's use of clown and circus imagery in his songs.

And if you're wondering what the video has to do with the lyrics, here they are. You figure it out.

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it's gonna sweep my world away
I wanna stop at Carbondale and keep on going
That Duquesne train gon' rock me night and day
You say I'm a gambler, you say I'm a pimp
But I ain't neither one
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Sounding like it's on a final run
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she never blowed before
Blue light blinking, red light glowing
Blowing like she's at my chamber door
You smiling through the fence at me
Just like you always smiled before
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she ain't gon' blow no more
Can't you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing?
Blowing like the sky's gonna blow apart
You're the only thing alive that keeps me going
You're like a time bomb in my heart
I can hear a sweet voice steadily calling
Must be the mother of our lord
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like my woman's on board
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it's gon' blow my blues away
You old rascal, I know exactly where you're going
I'll lead you there myself at the break of day
I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed
Everybody telling me she's gone to my head
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it's gon' kill me dead
Can't you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing?
Blowing through another no good town
The lights on my lady's land are glowing
I wonder if they'll know me next time 'round
I wonder if that old oak tree's still standing
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she's blowing right on time

1 comment:

Mondomando said...

John there has been a bit of discussion about the video relating to the playful/violent/physicality aspect at the very interesting Americana centric No Depression site. See:

David Langdon