Monday, February 9, 2015

Day of the Locusts

Bob takes a road trip
After getting a degree
That he didn't want.

Dylan's songs don't usually add sound effects to underscore a literal point, but "Day of the Locusts" is an exception. This song from the 1970 album "New Morning" opens with what Dylan calls the "high whining trill" of locusts before he starts singing a song about showing up at a college to pick up an honorary degree that he doesn't want or believe in.

This is one of the first songs by Bob Dylan that I ever heard, and it's stuck with me for years as a favorite. I don't like the idea that he is showing up to be honored by people whom he seems to hold in contempt, but many of us can identify with having to endure a procedure when all we really want is to hop in the car and leave responsibilities and other people behind. And that's just what Bob and his girl do in this song.

1. Benches stained with tears and perspiration. Birds in the trees. No talking, just picking up the degree. Locusts are singing for Bob.
2. Judges in a dark room talking, it smells like a tomb. Dylan's about to walk out when he sees light. I suppose that this means there is something good to say about these fusty academics after all.
3. Trucks unloading outside in the heat. It's 90 degrees. A man's head explodes (I'm not sure what that means), and Bob hopes the pieces don't fall on him.
4. Bob takes off the robe, gets the diploma and drives to the Black Hills of South Dakota with his sweetheart. Very lucky.

You will notice in the photograph below Dylan on the stage of Princeton University in 1970, accepting the degree. He looks much happier there than he sounds in the song, where he's essentially complaining about being stuck. For ornithologists in the audience, this cicada brood was apparently known as Brood X.



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