A Normal Day

Bob Dylan wrote and recorded ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’, which is a fun song that was released on his second album in 1963 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  This LP is considered to be a genuine masterpiece, as artistically Dylan was writing songs like no one else had ever been able to do before, and he was just 20 years old when he began recording these songs, although he was 22 when the album was released.  Dylan gave us a year’s worth of recordings, where he greatly expanded his repertoire and honed his songwriting craft, by taking on socially conscious issues.  This was one of the last songs recorded for the album and it was written in a genre that was popularized by Dylan’s idol Woody Guthrie.  This song is a satire of the Cold War where the American people held pervasive fears and anxieties about the possibility of a third World War occurring.  It denounces the weaknesses of everyone by ridiculing psychiatrists, conservatives and even himself.

The public felt that they were under the constant risk of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union and hysteria prevailed over the perceived threat posed by Communists being in the U.S.  Many Americans built bomb shelters and duck and cover drills were held in schools to prepare for a possible nuclear attack, not like that would have done much good.  In this song Bob has a dream about an impending war and he feels the need to discuss his dream with a doctor.  The doctor feels that he is insane, but he wants to hear more about this dream.  Boc said that the attack was over in fifteen minutes and he was able to survive by taking refuge in a sewer.  He crawled out, walked around town, lit a cigarette and it seemed like a normal day.

He is hungry so he goes to the fallout shelter to try and get a string bean, but they fired a shotgun at him, so he ran away.  He spots a hot-dog stand, but this guy screams at him, thinking that he is a Communist.  Next, he sees a girl and he lets her know that they could become the new Adam and Eve, but she feels that he is crazy because things didn’t work out so well for them.  Somebody left the window open on a Cadillac, so he takes it for a joy ride, going down 42nd Street.   Bob mentions that he turned on his Conelrad, which was a creation by who grew up living in fear of the shadow of the bomb.  After the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles reduced the likelihood of a bomber attack, Conelrad (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS).  The signal wasn’t very good, because he didn’t pay his Con Ed bill.

He decided to turn on his record player, and he hears Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah”.  He is feeling lonesome, so he decides to call the operator that gives you the correct time of day, but all he hears is that it will be three o’clock when he hears the beep, but because that was the time that the bomb dropped, the message is never updated.  Years ago, people would call a special number that gave them the correct time and this was useful after an electrical outage, so they could reset their clocks.  The doctor tells Bob that he had the same dream and he was the only one left on earth and he didn’t see Bob there.  Bob remembers something that Lincoln said in a speech, “Judge Douglas cannot fool the people: you may fool people for a time; you can fool a part of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time”, and he tells the doctor, “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”.

Bob’s girlfriend was Suze Rotolo at the time and both of her parents were members of the American Communist Party, so that may have influenced some of this song.  Rotolo was an artist interested in Left-leaning political causes such as the Civil Rights Movement and she introduced Dylan to this world of activists, which he fit into.  Nearly every song on this album, was performed by Dylan solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica played in a rack.  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was named to the National Registry in 2002.

Some time ago a crazy dream came to me
I dreamt I was walkin’ into World War Three
I went to the doctor the very next day
To see what kinda words he could say
He said it was a bad dream
I wouldn’t worry ’bout it none, though
They were my own dreams and they’re only in my head

I said, “Hold it, Doc, a World War passed through my brain”
He said, “Nurse, get your pad, this boy’s insane”
He grabbed my arm, I said, “Ouch!”
As I landed on the psychiatric couch
He said, “Tell me about it”

Well, the whole thing started at 3 o’clock fast
It was all over by quarter past
I was down in the sewer with some little lover
When I peeked out from a manhole cover
Wondering who turned the lights on

Well, I got up and walked around
And up and down the lonesome town
I stood a-wondering which way to go
I lit a cigarette on a parking meter and walked on down the road
It was a normal day

Well, I rung the fallout shelter bell
And I leaned my head and I gave a yell
“Give me a string bean, I’m a hungry man”
A shotgun fired and away I ran
I don’t blame them too much though, I know I look funny

Down at the corner by a hot-dog stand
I seen a man
I said, “Howdy friend, I guess there’s just us two”
He screamed a bit and away he flew
Thought I was a Communist

Well, I spied a girl and before she could leave
“Let’s go and play Adam and Eve”
I took her by the hand and my heart it was thumpin’
When she said, “Hey man, you crazy or sumpin’
You see what happened last time they started”

Well, I seen a Cadillac window uptown
And there was nobody aroun’
I got into the driver’s seat
And I drove down 42nd Street
In my Cadillac. Good car to drive after a war

Well, I remember seein’ some ad
So I turned on my Conelrad
But I didn’t pay my Con Ed bill
So the radio didn’t work so well
Turned on my record player—
It was Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa
Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah”

I was feelin’ kinda lonesome and blue
I needed somebody to talk to
So I called up the operator of time
Just to hear a voice of some kind
“When you hear the beep it will be three o’clock”
She said that for over an hour
And I hung up

Well, the doctor interrupted me just about then
Sayin’, “Hey I’ve been havin’ the same old dreams
But mine was a little different you see
I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me
I didn’t see you around”

Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody’s having them dreams
Everybody sees themselves
Walkin’ around with no one else
Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”
I said that

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the theme is Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine.

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