Blog: Trippin’ on John Wesley Harding

We just got done listing the Top 30 Bob Dylan Songs of all time. Over in a different corner of the blog-osphere, Tony Ling is writing a blog about every Bob Dylan song ever.

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We just got done listing the Top 30 Bob Dylan songs of all time.

Over in a different corner of the blog-osphere, Tony Ling is writing a blog about every Bob Dylan song ever. If you haven’t read them yet, their well worth your while.

A recent entry, on the song “John Wesley Harding,” hypothesizes about what it must have been like for listeners to hear 1967’s sparse, country-tinged John Wesley Harding album for the first time, after the over-the-top electric excess of 1966’s Blonde on Blonde.

One reader wrote in to share his unique experience. It’s a pretty wild story:

Craig Kent writes:

“My friends and I were 17 at the time and one lived in the basement of his parents house. There were five of of this night. We all took some very powerful LSD called White Lightning, smoked some dope and lit a candle as we sat crosslegged on the floor watching the candle. Once the acid kicked in we proceeded with the ritual and dropped the needle on the unplayed record. The bareness of the sound was jarring at first but we all soon noticed a rhythm that was languid and hypnotizing. One of my friends picked up a flashlight and started to turn it on and off in rhythm to the beat with Bob’s voice droning on as he flashed it in our eyes. I actually became hypnotized for the first time while under the influence of LSD and it was not entirely pleasant. Bob’s voice sounded much too calm for all the treachery he was singing about: Frankie Lee and Judas Priest broke my heart and I wept, Wicked Messengers and cruel Landlords scared the hell out of me and I felt I was out in the wilderness hearing a wildcat growl.

I don’t know how long me and my friends sat dazed after the album was over. To say it blew my mind would be an understatement. I was not able to listen to the album again for almost a year I was so afraid just hearing it would pull me back into that hypnotic vortex that I couldn’t escape from.

Maybe I should have gotten counseling but time is the great healer. Nowadays it is one of my favorite Dylan albums, right there in a neck to neck tie with about 20 others.”

Got any similar stories?

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  1. I don’t know who originally wrote this. It’s been on the internet for a few years.

    Post subject: My First Listen to “Blonde on Blonde”
    Posted: Sun January 16th, 2005

    I listened to the whole album for the first time last friday night with a couple good friends. Here is a song by song chronicle of my experience:

    Rain Day Women: The room took on a beautiful jeweled quality. I started to drift into a trance that I couldn’t have resisted if I wanted to. I have felt increasingly alienated from myself in the past several years. I had wandered into a black forest and have been walking in circles, unable to find a way out. “They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home.”

    Pledging My Time: I more or less lost contact with reality. I had a very strong reeling sensation, like I was about to fall. “Well, the hobo got too high, he came to me naturally.”

    Visions of Johanna: This song brought the first vision of the winter evening. With my eyes closed I saw an alien night sky from the surface of an unknown planet. I was transfixed by a constellation that resembled a female human skull. Lightning flashed above but without any crashes of thunder or drops of rain. I soon saw the source of the electricity, the bolts came from Volkswagen bus-sized lightning bugs. They were swooping lower and lower directly over me and I became paralyzed with fear. But then these benevolent banshee entities appeared and sang a message, “They have killed your kind before, but don’t worry, they can’t get at you because we are here.” The gigantic lightning bugs formed a V formation and flew out of sight. “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.”

    One of Us Must Know: I found myself wandering down a street filled with various aliens who were trying to sell me visions. It was very cold and I was wearing my actual black winter coat, gloves, and scarf. One of the merchants had a table with a glass revolver on it. He told me it was illegal for him to sell the glass gun to anyone who had a mouth because it was “bad for business” if a customer put the barrel in their mouth and pulled the trigger. The banshees continued to accompany me and advised me not to buy anything. “Your scarf had kept your mouth well hid.”

    I Want You: I heard a racket in the “real world.” I opened my eyes and was back in my house again, where a rash of poltergeist phenomena was taking place. This activity was jointly observed by my two friends. The cat I have also noticed the disturbances and followed them as they made their way through the house. I heard the banshees telling me to stay calm, that “Things like this happen.” I closed my eyes again. “And I wait for them to interrupt me drinking from my broken cup.”

    Stuck Inside of Mobile: I closed my eyes and was back at the bazaar. The banshees formed a gate next to one of the aliens selling visions. They encouraged me to “buy into” his merchandise. I gave the alien a few coins and a little crucifix . I went through the gate and found myself in a bronze-age city. In the background were green and fertile mountains. The architecture was of massive granite blocks. The style was neoclassical crossed with Minoan with a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. I was dressed in an elaborate caped outfit, somewhere between Darth Vader and Ming the Merciless. I had an entourage of reptilian bipeds strumming acoustic guitars. These musicians had hideous faces, their tongues constantly flickered in and out of their scaled lips. The trip consisted of a tour through the city from the wharf to the main temple. The banshees were a continual presence throughout this journey, albeit they were ‘disguised’ as a sort of observer/chorus as bats, orchids, etc. It felt like I was there for three days, but in “our time” my visit to this particular world lasted only a few minutes. “And now people just get uglier and I have no sense of time.”

    Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat: The instant I walked through the doorway of the temple, I was hurled into another universe. I was alone in a field of purple grasses. It was the break of dawn and I watched the rise of a iridescent spinning sun. I walked over to a stream and I noticed a ram on the other side. The animal had eyes all over its head. I looked into the stream and saw there were machines in the bottom. The wail of the banshees came out of the ram’s mouth, telling me not to touch the water, but to find a crossing. “Well, if you wanna see the sun rise, honey, I know where.”

    Just Like a Woman: It started to rain so I walked over to a pearl colored umbrella that was conveniently stabbed into the ground a few yards upstream. I pulled it out and opened it over my head, feeling a sadness deeper than any I had ever known. My mouth became very dry. I pulled a bottle from inside my jacket but it was as empty as I felt. The banshees sang that the cross of Christ was not a cross, but a crossing from judgment to salvation. I became aware of a sudden buzzing sound. A dragon fly hovered right by my face, it was piloted by a tiny man with no eyes. I understood the insect would guide me over the water. I walked along the stream following them, with the ram keeping pace with us on the other side. “It was raining from the first and I was dying there of thirst.”

    Most Likely You Go Your Way: The stream had widened into a river. I found a pair of wooden stilts that were long enough to traverse the water without getting my feet wet. The dragonfly flew across and the ram stopped on the other side and stood waiting. I put the umbrella down and it immediately stopped raining. I mounted the stilts and stepped into the current. I was halfway to my destination when they snapped in two and I fell into the river. The shock and terror I felt almost caused me to open my eyes once again, but my mind became enraptured by the lights of an undersea city. I looked up and saw the ram looking down at me from above the surface. Feeling sure that I could return whenever I wanted, I swam toward the city, able to breathe without fear of drowning. The voyage took awhile and many odd and at times unsettling looking life forms passed me by. “But he’s badly built and he walks on stilts, watch out he don’t fall on you.”

    Temporary Like Achilles: The undersea city was devoid of inhabitants and it was lit up like Las Vegas. I swam through its streets, a little disoriented by the bright colors and trying to make sense of its inexplicable architecture. I heard the sound of bells ringing from within a red and gold colored building, which resembled both a church and a jail. There was a winged gargoyle sculpture perched on its roof. It held a out a stone heart in one clawed hand, and an arrow in the other. My curiosity compelled me to swim through a circular window to investigate. “But is your heart made out of stone, or is it lime, or is it just solid rock?”

    Absolutely Sweet Marie: The interior was empty except for its very center, wherein floated an object similar to an hour glass. The walls were decorated with six white unicorn heads, each mounted on a plaque. My attention was snared by the hour glass, which was slowly turning over and producing the sound of chimes that had beckoned me. I became aware that this vessel, as it tipped over, was transforming me. I felt my humanity slip out as I was filled with a light, a light of greater perception, of clarity. It felt like returning home. It felt familiar. It felt like I was waking up from a hollow, pale dream of reality. I felt god-like and omnipotent. I realized that this was not only a gift but equally a death sentence for my physical body. I felt like I had been chosen to receive this not out of benevolence but out of a need to release this power and perception. There had to be “The One,” to relieve the others. There had to be The One who perceived completely. I felt like Christ at the moment of realization of Godhood and the inevitable moment of his crucifixion. I also felt like all this knowledge and perception was far too large to be processed by my physical mind and that death was the obvious transition. “Well, six white horse that you did promise, were finally delivered down to the penitentiary.”

    Fourth Time Around: At this time I felt a collapsing feeling as I gave in to the experience, excepting my fate. I remember thinking that the hour glass had turned a little farther and I was pouring out of this life into my new one. I said out loud, “I am dying.” As soon as I said those words I knew that everything I had ever said was nothing more than an echo of what I had heard somebody else say. I never had an identity of my own. I felt real tears pouring down my face. Then I lost the support of my body, my self, my existence. I began to drift. I was reminded of something George Bernard Shaw once said, “To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.” “Don’t waste your words, they’re just lies, I cried she was deaf.”

    Obviously Five Believers: One of my friends then touched my leg. I was drawn back into my body, thinking, “To hell with this, I am not going to die, not yet!” Then I felt the banshees floating around me, looking at me with inscrutable grins. I felt the exhilaration of my visions. I was back in my room on earth. Even though this place and everything in it was vibrant and psychedelic, it was still within my ability to comprehend. But then the peals of the bells began to sing at me about being The One. I felt they were taking me back down to the undersea vision and to my death. I said out loud again, “I am dying.” My friend looked at me with alarm in his eyes but said in a calm voice, “Listen to the stereo and you will be all right.” He knew I was in danger of being psychologically shipwrecked for the rest of my life. He was trying to reel me back in, using the music as bait. “Early in the morning, I’m calling you to please come home.”

    Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands: It seemed like an impossible endeavor, but I was able to concentrate on this song. It was a life raft back to sanity. Each word painted a vivid picture, a complete universe in my mind. The rhythm and melody rinsed my brain clean like a hose from the Garden of Eden. By the beginning of the last verse, I was able to truly believe that I would be normal again. I knew it would take more than one lifetime for me to understand what I had been through. When Dylan recorded “Blonde on Blonde, ” he somehow tuned into a dimension completely unknown to mankind. The album expresses the consciousness of something not human. When you listen to it you risk losing your mind in translation. Our brains are just not equipped to receive those kind of sound waves without sustaining damage. Listen to it only if you have nothing to lose. “Sad-Eyed lady of the lowlands, where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes.”

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