how does it feel
Murphy is a freelance writer from Cork city, Ireland. She contributes
cultural and political pieces to various magazines and journals
in Ireland and abroad.
2014 the handwritten lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling
Stone fetched $2 million at auction. In 2015, the iconic Dylan
song celebrates it’s 50th birthday.
a Rolling Song emerged from a rather exhaustive tour of England
that Dylan undertook in the Summer of 1965. He scribbled up
to twenty pages of Like a Rolling Stone in the suite of his
London hotel as he was recovering from a bad acid trip.
called what he wrote ‘a long piece of vomit’ but
when he arrived home to the States to record the album Highway
61 Revisited, he decided to clean it up in order to add it to
took himself off to a cabin in upstate New York where he fleshed
out this ‘long piece of vomit’ and turned it into
the song we know today. In June he went off to record his new
album, with the new song in tow.
took two hard days that month, and up to twenty takes, to get
the sound of the song right. An acoustic version didn’t
give justice to the vexed tone of Like a Rolling Stone so Dylan
and co went down the rock route. The electric sound worked for
Dylan and his musicians, except for the record company.
Records were not satisfied with the length or the sound of the
song. At up to six minutes long, Columbia thought it was too
long for radio play while the electric sound veered away from
Dylan’s folk roots.
were persistent Like a Rolling Stone be dropped from the album
but, thankfully it was purposely leaked to some music DJ’s
and as it’s popularity grew with listeners, Columbia backed
down and let the song become part of musical history.
a Rolling Stone is perhaps the one song that bridges together
the folk Dylan and the rock Dylan. The lyrics hang heavy with
the cynical tone of the folk club troubadour but the musical
sound harks of a new era rock star, but it’s subject matter
still garners much debate, even 50 years after it’s incarnation.
subject at which Dylan directs his bitterness in the song has
thrown up several names over the years. Of the many names that
have popped up over the five decades since the song was written,
including Joan Baez and Marianne Faithfull, one name continues
to flaunt strong indications to the character of ‘Miss
strong version of events regarding the song’s conception
is that Dylan was sick and tired of the New York 1960’s
‘it’ girl Edie Sedgwick, with whom he allegedly
had a relationship.
came from a wealthy family and arrived in New York in 1964 to
pursue a career in the modelling business. It didn’t take
long for her to make an impression on the New York social scene
and Vogue labelled her the city’s ‘it’ girl,
but the truth was that Sedgwick was a troubled soul who was
eventually consumed by the very scene that christened her the
‘it’ girl of 60’s New York.
a few years after arriving in the big apple, Sedgwick had squandered
her money on a social life which included a chronic drug habit.
mingled in the same circles as Dylan and grew close to him,
but she also gravitated towards Andy Warhol and became part
of his factory set where she starred in a number of his Avante
Garde films. This did not amuse Dylan, who loathed Warhol and
his weirdo friends.
was fond of the ‘it’ girl but he was shunned for
the bright lights of Warhol’s factory, and while Dylan
was in England conjuring up Like a Rolling Stone, Sedgwick was
in Paris with Andy Warhol.
has never stated publicly who ‘Miss Lonely’ is but,
Edie Sedgwick does paint a strong picture of the rich girl who
falls from grace in Like a Rolling Stone.
opening lines of the song introduce us to the former bourgeois
life of Miss Lonely. ‘Once upon a time you dressed so
fine……’ from there she ends up ‘having
to be scrounging her next meal.’
jugglers and the clowns mentioned in the song are the ones who
perform tricks for her. These clowns are the many men Sedgwick
played around with, for the most part in return for drugs and
what of that ‘chrome horse’ and that ‘diplomat’?
The one who ‘carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.’
was known to drive around Cambridge campus in a Mercedes, that
famous chrome horse perhaps? ‘Once upon a time you dressed
so fine,’ yes this is another aspect of where most of
her money went, it was spent on expensive clothes. She went
to the finest schools, yes, but she was known to party hard
there, she was ‘only used to getting juiced in it.’
diplomat can be Andy Warhol, who was in his mid 40s at the time.
Dylan saw him as nothing more than just another rich New York
socialite. But what of the Siamese cat? Perhaps Dylan just stuck
that in to paint a picture of Warhol as an absurd fame hungry
individual who craves attention for the sake of it.
used to gravitate between the Dylan set and Warhol’s factory
crowd and drifting between these two sworn enemies proved her
downfall was eminent as she eventually lost touch with both
sets by the end of the 60’s, and in Like a Rolling Stone
a haunting warning shot comes from Dylan in the line ‘Beware
doll, you’re bound to fall.’
who was the ‘Napoleon in rags’ and what of ‘the
language that he used’? Again, the indication is that
it’s that great nemesis of Dylan’s, Andy Warhol!
uses this image of Napoleon in rags to show to the world that
Warhol who portrayed the image of the beatnik struggling artist
was in fact a wealthy socialite who spoke elegantly and aloofly.
Dylan also mock’s Warhol’s stature when comparing
him to the pint sized French dictator.
is the mystery tramp? My guess is that it is Dylan himself.
Although he too came form a somewhat well to do back round,
Dylan arrived in Greenwich village to conjure up an image of
himself as the downtrodden bard. When Miss Lonely stares at
the ‘vacuum of his eyes’ this is Dylan’s response
to her, simply meaning he doesn’t care anymore.
Sedgwick’s demise litters the song. References to drugs
can be found everywhere, such as getting ‘juiced’
‘hanging out’ and ‘kicks’. This demise
is somewhat sneered at by Dylan who asks her how it feels that
now she’s on her own, a complete unknown, like a rolling
song is indeed darkly set, as throughout it there is the spectre
of demise which haunts the lyrics. Even the title suggests an
came up with the title, Like a Rolling Stone, with the help
of an old Hank William’s song. In Lost Highway there is
a line: ‘I’m a rolling stone, all alone and lost.’
It sums up the subject of Dylan’s piece, someone who falls
out of favour with the world and becomes a non entity.
once remarked that everyone in the world will find fame for
15 minutes, the alleged subject of Dylan’s song can stand
as testament to that statement.
Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds in the Winter of 1965, it
was said that Sedgwick was left emotionally bereft and socially
bewildered. This was a time when she was finding problems at
Warhol’s factory. She had been squandering her family’s
money while in New York and was not getting an adequate wage
from Warhol and this drove her to an unhappy split from the
factory scene. She then moved in to that den of sin, the Chelsea
Hotel, and turned her attentions back to Dylan, but he was by
then a married man and not enthralled by Sedgwick anymore.
years after Dylan wrote Like a Rolling Stone, Sedgwick succumbed
to the prophecies of the song. She had fallen from her position
in New York’s high society and ended up selling family
heirlooms to fund her drug habit, just like Dylan wrote, ‘take
your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe.’
1970 her drug habit resulted in her hospitalisation. While in
hospital, Sedgwick met a fellow patient named Michael Post and
a year later they married. Not long into their marriage, Post
reportedly woke up one morning to find his wife dead in the
bed next to him after a night of alcohol and drug excess. Sedgwick
or not it is true that Sedgwick was the inspiration behind Like
a Rolling Stone, Dylan always stated that in all his songs there
are real people, and Like a Rolling Stone is no exception. The
lyrics were drenched in an obscure language, you must dig deep
to find the meaning because Dylan has the knack of cloaking
real identities with obscure names such as Miss Lonely, the
Mystery Tramp and the Diplomat.
first known performance of Like a Rolling Stone was at the infamous
Newport Folk Festival on July 25th 1965, where Dylan was blasted
as Judas for going electric.
song’s debut was anything but smooth. Like a Rolling Stone,
which is today revered as possibly the greatest song to date,
was drowned out by boo’s from the angry folkies at Newport.
When you hear Dylan spit put the line ‘When you got nothing,
you got nothing’ to loose’ it can be interpreted
as Dylan singing about himself as well as others.
wrote Like a Rolling Stone during a time in which he was sinking
into deep confliction with himself. He had been drifting away
from the music scene and was honing his skills into prose writing,
but Like a Rolling Stone brought Dylan back to the world of
song is perhaps Dylan’s goodbye note to the folkie, hippie
scene of the 60s. It may also be a disgruntled look at the ideals
of that time which were wasted on getting wasted and at the
heart of this is the character of Miss Lonely who lived up to
the six minutes of Like a Rolling Stone one can find a beauty
within the bitterness Dylan spits out. As the listener, we can
take the song and interpret it our own way to our own life which
may have similar characters such as the mystery tramp, a miss
lonely or a diplomat with a chrome horse! But 50 years on and
the song never fails to impress, and never fails to conjure
up more questions of its meaning.