What Highway Is That

Letters last week and this week we have numbers.  I considered 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, 8 Miles High and 8 Days A Week before I settled on the song Highway 61 Revisited.  Highway 61 is a real road that runs from Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, all the way to New Orleans.  For Robert Allen Zimmerman who goes by the alias Bob Dylan, this was a road that ran down to the blues music that he dearly loved and which heavily influenced him artistically.  The crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 is where Blues legend Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to the devil to become a renown musician.  Later Bob Dylan would ‘revisit’ this highway which was the downfall of so many.

This upbeat rock blues song is fun and full of energy, as it links some historic characters with other characters that populate Highway 61.  It is a road where anything goes and it becomes a setting where all kinds of bad things will happen.  Highway 61 becomes a place where you can go to escape your troubles or to take care of things.  The highway is fascinating and exciting as anything can happen on Highway 61, nothing is forbidden and it has the reputation of being an extremely dangerous place because there are no rules.  Highway 61 is used as a hideout, because this place is cut off from the rest of society, however it does include a message of hope by offering people a chance to do something there that can’t be done anywhere else.

Dylan’s songs are filled with people, that are both real and imagined as he has a tendency to enlist many characters from literature, fables, folklore.  In Genesis a test of faith takes place between God and Abraham, who is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Highway 61.  Abraham reluctantly complies, and God rewards him by refusing to accept the sacrifice and then blesses him and all of his descendants.

The ‘Georgia Sam’ mentioned in this song, the one who had a bloody nose and the one who the Welfare Department wouldn’t give any clothes is almost certainly a reference to the great blues musician Blind Willie McTell, who went by several other names.  Poor Howard is thought to refer to the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Virginia democrat Howard Smith during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, who was a segregationist that sought to kill the civil rights act of 1964.  Some people think that the Howard in this song is Howard Hughes, while others feel that it is probably a reference to the song ‘Poor Howard Green Corn’ by Leadbelly.

Mack the Finger appears to be a thief and Louie the King could be one of the monarchs of France or perhaps more likely, Louis Armstrong who did a famous cover of “Mack the Knife”, which makes fun of the corruption taking place in the German government.  Mack the Finger, Louis the King and forty red white and blue shoe strings seem to suggest the French and American revolutions to some people.  Red White & Blue shoestrings and the telephones may be alluding to capitalism and American excessiveness.  Having a thousand telephones that never ring would be totally useless, so they can all be dumped on Highway 61 a place where the pointless aspects of American culture are ignored and thrown away.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s comedies that features the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck.  Dylan might be making fun of Snow White, when he refers to the fifth daughter as she complains that her skin is too white, and this makes her come off as being vain.  According to folklore, the seventh son is given special powers.  The Seventh Son is a blues term for a folklore concept, and was a staple of blues musicians in the 40’s and 50’s.  There is another verse to this song but it is not in the video that I found, so I did not cover it.

Highway 61 – Dylan & The Dead – 7-12-1987 Giants Stadium, NJ

Bottom of Form

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe said, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.”
Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Old Howard just pointed with his gun
And said “That way, down Highway 61”

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red, white and blue shoestrings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?
And Louie the King said “Let me think for a minute son”
And he said “Yes, I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61”

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
“My complexion” she says “is much too white”
He said “Come here and step into the light”
He says “Hmm you’re right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done”
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61

I love this song so much that I actually wrote several more verses for it, which is featured in my second book and I titled it Biblical Highway 61.

God said to Noah, ‘Here are the plans for a new boat.’
Noah said, ‘God, nothing that big will ever float?’
God says, ‘All the people will drown, but the animals will survive.
You and your family will be the only ones left and you will thrive.’
Noah said, ‘Are You sure You know what You are doing?’
God says, “Just keep busy and don’t start misconstruing.
Now we are really going to have some fun
Get your butt movin’ while you still have the Sun
Build your boat on Highway 61.’

God said to David, ‘Goliath is here, pull out your sling’
David said, ‘I am not violent, how about if I just sing.’
God said, ‘Your son is after you, he wants to cut your throat.’
David said, ‘God if you help me out, I will sacrifice a goat.’
God said, ‘Absalom will be here soon and you are the chosen one.’
David said, ‘Should I hide in a well or do you think I should run.’
God said, ‘You better hide out on Highway 61.’

God said to Jonah, ‘I want you to issue a warning.’
Jonah said, ‘It is late, I will depart in the morning.’
God said, ‘You better get on that ship and set sail.’
Jonah said, ‘I am afraid I might be swallowed by a whale?’
God says, ‘Don’t sass me boy, or I will hide the Sun.
You need to listen, so stick out your thumb.
Send my message out on Highway 61.’

God said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh is coming, it is time to flee.’
Moses said, ‘I am trapped here, you better part the sea.’
God said to Moses, ‘I want you to follow my rule.’
Moses said, ‘I am down with that, everything is cool.’
God said, ‘The promised land is on the horizon.
But you can’t go because we are not done.
Everyone else will leave on Highway 61’.

Written for 3/4/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “numbers”.

19 thoughts on “What Highway Is That

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