Too Noble to Neglect

In 1964, ‘My Back Pages’ was released on Bob Dylan’s fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan, but he never performed it live till 1988.  There is an awesome recording of this song from his 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration which was recorded at Madison Square Garden in 1992, featuring Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison.  The Byrds did a great cover of this song which peaked at #30 on the Billboard 100 in 1967.  The lyrics in this song are very obscure, so there are many different interpretations of this song.

Bob’s self-titled 1962 debut album Bob Dylan only contained two original songs and the rest of it was made up of Traditional music cover songs.  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan included mostly his original material, featuring several songs which came to be regarded among Dylan’s best compositions and classics of the 1960s folk scene.  Dylan went from playing folk clubs in Greenwich Village to getting national recognition with his new kind of politically charged, rock-infused folk songs.  His third album The Times They Are A-Changin’ was released in 1964, and this gave Dylan increased notoriety as a “protest” folksinger.  His fourth album puzzled critics, because it featured less protest and more personal essay, which runs contrary to the folk genre.  Bob was starting to make huge changes in both his style of music and the themes of his lyrics.  People really liked his acoustic folk music, and his lyrics were taken very seriously and Dylan was being hailed as a prophet and important political commentator.  In ‘My Back Pages’, Dylan tries to distance himself from the serious political commentator that the people took him to be.

‘My Back Pages’ consists of six 4-line verses, where the fourth line is repeated in every verse.  I think it is extremely important to figure out what Dylan meant when he said, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”, because this is the line that is repeated.  Since most people can’t go from being older previously to becoming younger in the present, I think this is saying that an older person is set in their ways, where a younger person is open to new ideas.  Dylan may have been trying to say that, a few years earlier, his lyrics were too serious, and he np longer wanted to be a hero for the protest fans, so he was going to be more playful, and have more fun with his music.  The next year Dylan would go electric and shock more of his fans.

The phrase “back pages” is used to describe the news that is printed in the last part of the newspaper, the insignificant news on the back pages.  It is less important than the news that is featured on the front pages and most people will only scan the headlines, so they will never read this part.  It could be that Dylan felt that his words were less significant, than other people thought they were and that is why he gave this song that title.  Dylan was trying to distance himself from the world’s problems and all the anger and hate that was going on at this time.  He didn’t want to be the folk messenger which other people saw him as.

Dylan went through a major transformation realizing that lies were being told that life was black and white, and Dylan clearly saw shades of gray in this complicated world.  Dylan thought that he let his guard down, and that he was deceived into thinking that he had something to protect.  This realization of his former self makes him reject the idea that he should be responsible for any political movement, or that people should look to him for leadership.

Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I, proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
To memorizing politics of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists, unthought of, though somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now

A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now

Written for Thursday Inspiration #111 My Boyfriend’s Back where the prompt is back.

10 thoughts on “Too Noble to Neglect

  1. The video isn’t showing, so I think that must be a draw, as mine wasn’t showing on Sunday.
    I just never really got into Bob Dylan. The fact is, I prefer cover versions of his songs rather than him singing them!

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    1. You are not alone in your opinion and when I first started listening to him, I couldn’t understand what he was singing, but over the years he sort of grew on me.

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  2. I usually like Bob’s original versions except when it comes to the Byrds. They did his songs better than anyone to me…I’m weird Jim…I love Bob’s voice.

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