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1.16-PLEDGING MY TIME (Bob Dylan)

Bob Dylan

LISTEN

Well, early in the morning
'Til late at night
I got a poison headache
But I feel all right.

I'm pledging my time to you
Hopin' you'll come through too.

Well, the hobo got you high.
He came to me naturally.
After he stole my baby
Then he wanted to steal me.

[Refrain]

Won't you come with me baby?
I'll take you where you wanna go
And if it don't work out
You'll be the first to know.

[Refrain]

Well, the room is so stuffy
I can hardly breathe.
Everybody's gone but me and you
And I can't be the last to leave.

[Refrain]

Well, they sent for the ambulance
And one was sent.
Somebody got lucky
But it was an accident.

[Refrain]

[Coda]


Blonde on BlondeBlonde on Blonde may be the first double album to be released in rock music. (Freak Out by the Mothers of Invention, also a double album, was released around the same time. The actual release date for Blonde on Blonde appears to be disputed, but it was sometime between late May and early July.) After several unsuccessful attempts to record tracks with the Hawks (later known as The Band), which yielded only one song, Bob Dylan moved the recording sessions to Nashville and for the most part used the studio musicians that he found there. He kept the Hawks as his tour band.

Dylan was especially happy with these Nashville recordings. Al Kooper, who participated in these sessions observed "[Bob Dylan] was the quintessential New York hipster—what was he doing in Nashville? It didn't make any sense whatsoever. But you take those two elements, pour them into a test tube, and it just exploded." [From Andy Gill’s Bob Dylan: The Stories Behind the Songs (2011), p. 135] In a Playboy interview in March 1978, Dylan himself is quoted as saying: “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.” Mike Marqusse wrote of Blonde on Blonde in his book Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan in the 1960s (2005) that “[Dylan] took inherited idioms and boosted them into a modernist stratosphere. Pledging My Time and Obviously 5 Believers adhered to blues patterns that were venerable when Dylan first encountered them in the mid-fifties (both begin with the ritual Delta invocation of ‘early in the mornin’). Yet like Visions of Johanna or Memphis Blues Again, these songs are beyond category. They are allusive, repetitive, jaggedly abstract compositions that defy reduction." (p. 208) I would call the “stratosphere” that Dylan had pierced “postmodern”.

I have to admit that on its face Pledging My Time is more of a blues record with crazy lyrics than something a casual listener might identify as a psychedelic song. Indeed, the song seems to have been modelled closely on delta blues artist Robert Johnson’s Come On in My Kitchen. Taken in the context of the album Blonde on Blonde’s sequence of songs, however, following Rainy Day Women and preceding Visions of Johanna (which is downright trippy), the lyric of Pledging My Time takes on the character of a guide on a dream quest through the remainder of the album. During an acid trip I personally experienced the reassurance of Dylan’s company through this song, and have forever since associated it with that moment.

The poet however isn’t painting a pretty picture of Never Never Land as later psychedelic “journeys” sometimes tended to do. The lyric fully accepts the possibility of a bad trip that might steal one’s identity, that might not work out as planned, that might end up in the emergency room of a hospital. Dylan seemed fully cognizant that (despite the giddiness of the Rainy Day Women tune) getting stoned may be dangerous. Further the “poison headache” that the lyrics complain of in the first verse seems to be inflicted on the listener by the song’s loud rasping harmonica. All that the poet can promise is that he’ll stay with the listener whatever happens, which is much as any guide could offer. Like Walt Whitman’s occasional ability to conjure the physical presence of the poet to the reader, as if he stood at the reader’s side, Dylan makes his presence known in this song. This song creates at least the illusion of narrative cohesion for the album in the presence of a guide (a Virgil in the Underworld, as it were) over a long experience. After all, Blonde on Blonde expanded the usual length of an album, which was about 40 minutes at the time to over 70 minutes.

The quality of the poetry, with its regular quatrains rhyming consistently on the second line and the last, attached invariably to the same chorus is not adventuresome in form. The word play of the closing verse however is haunting, tying as it does the concept of “luck” and “accident” to the image of the ambulance. (Dylan’s Desolation Row also cites ambulances, taking away Romeo.) How would it be “lucky” to be in an ambulance? It is good fortune by the simple fact that the there was someone present to call for one when needed. With wry humor, Dylan assures the listener that he or she will “come through” whatever experience Blonde and Blonde exposes the listener to. After all, Dylan himself made it over to the other side, didn’t he?

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