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Subterranean Homesick Blues

References and allusions

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was, in fact, an extraordinary three-way amalgam of Jack Kerouac, the Guthrie/Pete Seeger song “Taking It Easy” (‘mom was in the kitchen preparing to eat/sis was in the pantry looking for some yeast’) and the riffed-up rock’n’roll poetry of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”.

While Dylan was not a member of the original Beat circles of the 1950s, Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, a novel published in 1958 about the Beats, has been cited as a possible inspiration for the song’s title. Stretching further back, the title alludes to Notes from Underground, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose works were popular with Beat writers such as Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.[citation needed]

The song’s first line is a reference to codeine distillation and politics of the time: “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine / I’m on the pavement thinkin’ about the Government”. The song also depicts some of the growing conflicts between “straight” or “square” (40-hour workers) and the emerging 1960s counterculture. The widespread use of recreational drugs, and turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War were both starting to take hold of the nation, and Dylan’s hyperkinetic lyrics were dense with up-to-the-minute allusions to important emerging elements in the 1960s youth culture. According to rock journalist Andy Gill, “an entire generation recognized the zeitgeist in the verbal whirlwind of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.”

The song also references the struggles surrounding the American civil rights movement (“Better stay away from those / That carry around a fire hose”). (During the civil rights movement, peaceful protestors were beaten and sprayed with high pressure fire hoses ). In spite of the political nature of the lyrics, the song went on to become the first Top 40 hit for Dylan in the United States.


Listed by Rolling Stone magazine as the 332nd “Greatest Song of All Time”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” has had a wide influence, resulting in iconic references by artists and non-artists alike. Most famously, its lyric “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” was the inspiration for the name of the American radical left group the Weathermen, a breakaway from the Students for a Democratic Society. John Lennon was reported to find the song so “captivating” that he didn’t know how he’d be able to write a song that could “compete” with it. The group Firehose (former Minutemen members) took its name from another of the song’s enigmatic warnings: “Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose…” In addition, the opening of the last verse,”Ah get born, keep warm”, provided the Australian garage rock band Jet with the title of their debut album Get Born.

In the same way that Dylan paid homage to Jack Kerouac’s novel, The Subterraneans, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” has been referenced in the titles of various songs, for example, Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien” from 1997’s OK Computer, the ska punk band Mustard Plug’s “Suburban Homesick Blues” from 1997’s Evildoers Beware,”300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” by The White Stripes and the Memphis indie band The Grifters’ “Subterranean Death Ride Blues”, the B-side of a 1996 single. It was also the basis for the title of the second episode of Law & Order’s premiere season, “Subterranean Homeboy Blues”.

Covers of the song span a range of styles, including those by reggae great Gregory Isaacs on Is It Rolling Bob?, his 2004 album of Dylan songs with fellow artist Toots Hibbert, bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien on his 1996 album of Dylan covers, Red on Blonde, rock band The Red Hot Chili Peppers on 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, Cajun-style fiddle player Doug Kershaw on Louisiana Man in 1978, and singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson on his 1974 release Pussycats. The song was also covered by Alanis Morissette when she stood in for Dylan at his 2005 induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In addition, Robert Wyatt’s “Blues in Bob Minor”, on his 1997 album Shleep, uses the song’s rhythm as a structural template.

Promotional film clip

The clip was originally a segment of D. A. Pennebaker’s film, Dont Look Back.

The three locations for the”cue card” clip as seen in Dont Look Back; the film can be seen on Sony BMG’s site.

In addition to the song’s influence on music, the song was used in what became one of the first “modern” promotional film clips, the forerunner of what later became known as the music video. Although Rolling Stone ranked it 7th in the magazine’s October 1993 list of “100 Top Music Videos”, the original clip was actually the opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker’s film, Dont Look Back, a documentary on Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. In the film, Dylan, who came up with the idea, holds up cue cards for the audience, with selected words and phrases from the lyrics. The cue cards were written by Donovan, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Neuwirth and Dylan himself. While staring at the camera, he flips the cards as the song plays. There are intentional misspellings and puns throughout the clip: for instance, when the song’s lyrics say “eleven dollar bills” the poster says “20 dollar bills”. The clip was shot in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London where Ginsberg and Neuwirth make a cameo in the background. For use as a trailer, the following text was superimposed at the end of the clip while Dylan and Ginsberg are exiting the frame: “Surfacing Here Soon | Bob Dylan in | Don’t Look Back by D. A. Pennebaker.” Thanks to the back of the Savoy Hotel retaining much of the same exterior as in 1965 the alley used in the video sequence has been identified as the Savoy Steps .

In addition to the Savoy Hotel clip, two alternate promotional films were shot: one in a park where Dylan, Neuwirth and Ginsberg are joined by a fourth man[citation needed], and another shot on the roof of an unknown building (possibly the Savoy Hotel). A montage of the clips can be seen in the documentary No Direction Home.

Similar videos

The “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film clip and its concepts have been popularly imitated by a number of artists. Influenced and imitative videos of note include:

The video for the 1987 INXS track “Mediate” duplicated the format of the Dylan video, including the use of apparently deliberate errors.

The video clip for Bloodhound Gang’s 1999 song “Mope”, off their album Hooray For Boobies, imitates Dylan’s use of cue cards in the “Subterranean” clip.

“Weird Al” Yankovic used the concept twice: first, for his 1989 song “UHF” and second, for the song “Bob” from his 2003 album Poodle Hat. In “Bob”, the lyrics are all palindromes, and the video depicts Yankovic dressed as Dylan dropping cue cards with each palindrome.

The 1992 Tim Robbins film Bob Roberts features Robbins in the title role as a right-wing folk singer who uses Dylan’s cue-card concept for the song “Wall Street Rap”.

The video for “Buzzards of Green Hill” by Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade borrows the cue card idea from Dylan’s clip.[citation needed]

After being fired from his record company, French singer Alain Chamfort commissioned director Bruno Decharme to make an exact replica of the original video for his song “Les yeux de Laure”.

Filk performer The great Luke Ski recorded two Star Wars-themed parodies of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: “Star Wars Trilogy Homesick Blues”, about the Original Trilogy, and “Star Wars Prequel Homesick Blues”, about the Prequel Trilogy. He also filmed a video for the former, with Ski dressed as Dylan dropping cue cards as in the “Subterranean” clip. For live performances of the songs, Ski reprised his costume from the clip and used cue cards appropriate to the song.

The film clip was referenced in Richard Curtis’s film Love Actually, in the scene where Mark (Andrew Lincoln) tells Juliet (Keira Knightley) that he is in love with her, by holding up cards with messages on them.

The video for “Misfit” by 1980s UK pop band Curiosity Killed the Cat features Andy Warhol standing motionless in an alleyway, dropping cue cards that are blank, while the band’s singer energetically dances to the left of him. Warhol directed the video in New York’s Greenwich Village, although the directorial credit uses a pseudonym.[citation needed]

In an episode of Lost, Juliet holds up cards and removes them in a video she shows Jack to tell him that Ben is not wanted as a prominent figure in the Others community.

The Gothic Archies use the cue card idea for their “Scream and Run Away” video.[citation needed]

The Canadian comedy group The Royal Canadian Air Farce had a segment on their TV show called “Bob Dylan News” which parodied the “Subterranean” clip.[citation needed]

The Flaming Lips parodied the film clip in a television advertisement for their 2006 album At War with the Mystics. In the clip, lead singer Wayne Coyne uses cue cards to inform viewers of the release, while the album’s “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” plays.

Directorial duo Greifer & Krtenbluth shot a promo for the German band Wir sind Helden’s 2005 single “Nur ein Wort”, in which the group’s singer and guitarist use cue cards and other effects.

Scottish band Belle and Sebastian pay homage to the Subterranean Homesick Blues film in the music video for the song “Like Dylan in the Movies” on the album If You’re Feeling Sinister. The video was filmed and edited by band members, and was not released until the 2003 documentary/video compilation Fans Only. Part of the song lyrics are a play on the title of the Dylan documentary: “If they follow you, don’t look back, like Dylan in the movies.”

The American punk band Anti-Flag used the concept in the clip for their song “Turncoat”.

Pop-punk band The Matches created a video for their song, “Salty Eyes”, using televisions as opposed to flashcards – throwing them around and dropping the televisions as the lyrics are said. Also, in tribute to the clip, one television says “Clean Nose”, which when the camera pans back around, shows lead singer Shawn Harris drawing white over letters and changing them to say “However Naive”, one of the Salty Eyes’ Lyrics.

Argentinian singer/songwriter Len Gieco paid homage to Dylan by using cue cards in his video clip for the song El dolo de los Quemados, in his 2001 album, Bandidos Rurales.

Chicago band Sundowner produced a video in 2007 for their song “This War is Noise” as a tribute to Dylan’s clip.

Australian comedy team The Chaser parodied the clip twice. The first featured Chris Taylor advertising the second-half of the 2007 series return for their show, The Chaser’s War on Everything.. The second parody, aired during Episode 14, featured Andrew Hansen in a skit about APEC .

Joe Cartoon parodies the clip for the trailer to Blender Poll 2008.

Convention producers The Madow Brothers did a scene using the card-dropping theme which was shot in a Las Vegas alleyway for the opening video to TBSE 2007.

Joan O’Connor, RN, produced “Just Say No to Big Tobacco Co.” in 2008, a music video of a song written and performed by her. The video was a collaborative project with her ‘Smoking Reduction and Cessation Group for People Living with Mental Illnesses.’ .

In an early episode of the Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, entitled “Don’t Tread on Pete,” Big Pete, while talking about cafeteria food and the different names for a salisbury steak, is shown in black and white dressed as Dylan and holding up cue cards with the different names.

In late 2008, ESPN personality Kenny Mayne used a similar video to promote Mayne Street, a Web-only series on ESPN.com in which he stars.

In 2008, rapper Evidence shot a music video for his single “The Far Left” as a tribute to Subterranean Homesick Blues. The video also includes him holding words to the song and drawn pictures as well.

In the 2008 documentary “Gold and Silver and Sunshine – The Making of Dig Out Your Soul”, the English band Oasis introduced each point of interest using the card-dropping theme from the Subterranean Homesick Blues video.

Singer-songwriter, Julian Velard, pays tribute to Dylan using the card-dropping motif on the intro page to his website.

A 2009 Fruit of the Loom commercial uses a similar tune with the fruit characters walking down a school hallway. Instead of cards, the actual items referred to in the song are held up and dropped.

In 2009 Austrian Oil company OMV uses cue cards in their image commercials.

In December, 2009, Johns Hopkins University released a video which includes Nobel Laureate Carol Greider in a Subterranean Homesick Blues Homage at the :57 point.

In January, 2010, a music video from the humor website Cracked used Bob Dylan’s original video with new lyrics superimposed on the cards to list unanswered questions from the show Lost.


^ uncut.co.uk

^ city-journal.org

^ a b c Andy Gill (1998). Classic Bob Dylan 1962-69: My Back Pages: pp.68-69,96

^ sundazed.com

^ “The Rolling Stone 500”. Rhino Records. http://www.rhino.com/rs500/songs_301_350.lasso. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 

^ Wakin, Daniel J. (August 24, 2003), “Quieter Lives for 60’s Militants, but Intensity of Beliefs Hasn’t Faded”, The New York Times, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04E4DE1539F937A1575BC0A9659C8B63, retrieved 2008-12-09 

^ http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/6596177/subterranean_homesick_blues

^ Michael Gray, 2000, Song & Dance Man III, p. 83.

^ “Leading reggae acts have recorded cover versions of Bob Dylan songs for a new tribute album”. BBC News. 2004-03-17. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3521120.stm. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 

^ Bjorner, Olof (2001). “Covers: Subterranean Homesick Blues”. http://www.bjorner.com/songss.htm#_Subterranean_Homesick_Blues. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 

^ “Alanis Morissette happy to look back”. United Press International. 2005-11-15. http://www.upi.com/Entertainment_News/2005/11/15/Alanis_Morissette_happy_to_look_back/UPI-69371132083303/. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 

^ Amorosi, A.D. (March 1219, 1998). “Review: Robert Wyatt’s Thirsty Ear”. http://www.citypaper.net/articles/031298/dq3.shtml. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 

^ rockonthenet.com

^ musicpilgrimages.com

^ YouTube video of Weird Al’s “Bob”

^ dvdverdict.com

^ alain-chamfort.net

^ lukeski.com

^ “Flaming Lips At War with the Mystics UK Commercial”. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d-OJfaQVV0&eurl=http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=flaming+lips+mystics&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=DuI-Sr6nEcOHtgeejIEH&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&resnum=4&ct=title#&feature=player_embedded. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 

^ filmlounge.de

^ Chasers War On Everything

^ “Chasers War On Everything”. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcACg3aVCcU. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 

^ Just Say No to Big Tobacco Co.

^ julianvelard.com

External links

bjorner.com A long list of covers

bobdylan.com Lyrics and sound clips

musicbox.sonybmg.com Music video

Subterranean Homesick Blues song guide, lyrical and technical analysis, allusions

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Bob Dylan

Studio albums

Bob Dylan  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan  The Times They Are a-Changin’  Another Side of Bob Dylan  Bringing It All Back Home  Highway 61 Revisited  Blonde on Blonde  John Wesley Harding  Nashville Skyline  Self Portrait  New Morning  Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid  Dylan  Planet Waves  Blood on the Tracks  The Basement Tapes  Desire  Street-Legal  Slow Train Coming  Saved  Shot of Love  Infidels  Empire Burlesque  Knocked Out Loaded  Down in the Groove  Oh Mercy  Under the Red Sky  Good as I Been to You  World Gone Wrong  Time Out of Mind  Love and Theft  Modern Times  Together Through Life  Christmas in the Heart

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Before the Flood  Hard Rain  Bob Dylan at Budokan  Real Live  Dylan & the Dead  The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration  MTV Unplugged  Live 19612000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances  Live at the Gaslight 1962  Live at Carnegie Hall 1963


Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits  Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II  Masterpieces  Biograph  Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3  The Essential Bob Dylan  Bob Dylan: The Collection  The Best of Bob Dylan  Blues  Dylan

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Volumes 13 (Rare & Unreleased) 19611991  Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert  Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue  Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall  Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack  Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs

Concerts & tours

Going Electric at Newport (1965)  UK Tour 1965  1966 World Tour  The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)  Tour with The Band (1974)  Rolling Thunder Revue (1975)  Never Ending Tour (1988resent)


Madhouse on Castle Street  Dont Look Back  Eat the Document  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid  Renaldo and Clara  Hearts of Fire  Masked and Anonymous  No Direction Home  I’m Not There  65 Revisited  The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 19631965


Tarantula  Writings and Drawings  Lyrics: 19621985  Drawn Blank  Chronicles: Volume One   Lyrics: 19622001  The Definitive Bob Dylan Songbook

Related articles

Albums  American folk music revival  Awards  The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia  Discography  Electric Dylan controversy  Invisible Republic  List of artists who have covered Bob Dylan songs  Related topics  Songs recorded by Bob Dylan  Songs written by Bob Dylan  Traveling Wilburys  Theme Time Radio Hour

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