Bob Dylan’s notorious “Blind Willie McTell” is like the flip-side to “Desolation Row”—instead of new life flowering among the ruins, there is only a vast grievance, the unraveling of centuries of corruption and entropy. This song reminds me of a poem by Melville, “Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the Twelfth Century”:
Found a family, build a state,
The pledged event is still the same:
Matter in end will never abate
His ancient brutal claim.
Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
And energy the child of hell:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear
But brims the poisoned well.
This isn’t about the end of the world. This is about a world that would be better if it ended. Dylan recorded this song during the Infidels sessions, but he never included it in any album, supposedly because he wasn’t satisfied with the arrangement. That may be the case, but it’s also possible that Dylan knew this song was bleak enough to sink a record—any record.
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