Dylan’s albums are “Freewheelin'” into 2003

Kyle Goehner

The overriding theme of Bob Dylan’s first great album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” is loss. The power of the album is evident from first sight; the classic image of Bob Dylan and Suzy Rotolo, his ex-girlfriend, walking down a car-filled New York City Street. On the album cover, Dylan puts himself on the line for all to see and for all to understand. This year marks the 40th anniversary of this classic album. Dylan has aged, the music has not. His first album of mostly original material is forward, subtle, pure and focuses on loss.

The most impressive part of the album is the social consciousness Dylan brings to folk music. Even his hero, Woody Guthrie, focused on normal people and small problems. Bob Dylan focuses on war, the military industrial complex and racism. Of course, he retains his folk roots. Songs like “Girl from the North Country,” “Corrina, Corrina” and “Bob Dylan’s Dream” are throwbacks to traditional folk music. His step forward is infusing folk with the social consciousness that eventually formed “folk-rock.” In “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” Dylan returns to the talking blues pattern popularized by Guthrie before him to deliver a darkly comedic message of an apocalyptic future. He changed an entire genre around on one album, creating a powerful sound that meant something in the turbulent 1960s and still does today. “Masters of War” applies as much to the “military industrial complex” Lyndon Johnson warned against as it does to the current administration.

Throughout the album, including the protest songs, there is the sense of loss. The album opens up innocently enough, with the standard-bearer for protest songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” By the third track, “Masters of War,” Dylan has lost that innocence. He is wishing death upon people who wish war upon the world. “Talking World War III Blues” has Dylan traveling through the streets after an atomic bomb explosion, and seeing things and people that have been lost. Dylan brought social commentary to music, and his statement about society on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is that its innocence is lost.

The more powerful songs on the album revolve around his loss of Rotolo. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is a spiteful song about a bitter breakup. A unique, subtle and poetic combination of irony, sarcasm and outright personal attacks make this the best song on the album. The harmonica and the words sound resentful; his voice and guitar are not. It is this sort of dichotomy which makes this seemingly simple folk album very dense, complex and timeless. “Girl from the North Country” is about the permanent sadness that surrounds feelings of loss. This song is so subtle in its expression of his desire and longing for her, yet also so powerfully evokes those feelings. I think Dylan was honestly pained every time he had to sing the line “Remember me to one who lives there / she was once a true love of mine.” The term “true love” here is appropriate; it is obvious he still loves her and longs to be with her, but the loss that surrounds her perverts his love. It is no longer true.

This album focuses on loss while not losing focus on themes prevalent in previous folk efforts, (like lost love) or Dylan’s new introduction of social commentary to music. Simply put, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is an American classic from a not yet 22-year-old poet who, rambling out of the Midwest and soaking up all of the musical knowledge he could, began a one-man quest to change what he saw could not be the way things were meant to be. No music fan should be without this album. It is simultaneously a moment of history captured and a timeless masterpiece that can be applied even to the tumultuous times of the present.