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There are people who have an appetite for grief; pleasure is not strong enough and they crave pain. They have mithridatic stomachs which must be fed on poisoned bread, natures so doomed that no prosperity can sooth their ragged and dishevelled desolation.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Desolation Row

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, 1965

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8 Comments

  1. I read your remarks in the Times about health care and you are absolutely correct….anyway I clicked on to your blog and your photos are wonderful.I’m going to explore it for some more wisdom,thanks.

  2. Yeesh, that’s a depressing collection of images. How much longer can this last?

    • Well, probably it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The wealthy Right and their redneck pawns are likely to put up quite a fight so I don’t think its going to get nice very fast.

  3. You live in Korea? That’s you in the beard and the hat?
    Candace

    • Yep, that was me 3 years ago in Nebraska playing cowboy. Beardless now and the hat got lost along the way. But if I were back there I’d get another one. How you? I will send you a little shared letter and get you on my emailing list.

  4. That second photo of the cars parked in front of a store in a wet evening is not yours, i.e., it was not taken by you, correct? Yet the fact that it’s there and your name shows up when One scrolls over the photo implies you are saying you’re the author. Please clarify about the photos credits.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,
    JKN

    • I don’t think anyone looking at the photos in American Pastoral(s) would think I took them; I get them off the internet. I suppose I could put credits on them, though I am not inclined to do so. I am against copyrights. My view is that anything put out in the public domain – i.e., made available publicly – is then part of the collective human reality, and belongs to all of us.
      I don’t design the software of WordPress, and I didn’t know that if you scroll over these (I do download off the net as sometimes source URLs fold, and leave an empty space) my name/url would appear. Sometimes, I think, the origin source appears. Anyway I take no credit for the fotos I put on American Pastoral (or the rest of my postings)(though some of them are my fotos). I’ll go put I guess your name on that photo, but I think the digital world really doesn’t care. I guess if I wanted I could mask whatever it was you used to trace what I assume is your work? If it is yours, its nice. If you want me to remove it I will, but that would be sad.

      • I just went and scrolled over the foto and it doesn’t say my name or that I did it. And as I said, I don’t think anyone looking at these would imagine they are mine – for example the following foto is clearly historical, as a few others are, as well as from scientific, etc. sources.


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