Literally Every Single Thought I've Ever Had About
Fourth Time Around By Bob Dylan
BY LAURA JANE FAULDS
ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY
I don’t know where Bob Dylan lives, but I’d like to live there with him. I’d like him to live in upstate New York, in the Catskill mountains, in a log cabin of moderate size. He’d have a fire pit out back, and we’d sit around it in the evenings, and we wouldn’t have a pet, though sometimes stray cats would wander by. We’d feed them the traditional cat treat of a saucer full of milk, or maybe a can of tuna— not in a bowl, just an open can. We wouldn’t name them anything. Bob Dylan would think it was pointless to name an animal.
Bob Dylan would call me Laura Jane: never Laura, never LJ. Laura Jane would sound girlish and old-fashioned to him, like the name of a girl in a Woody Guthrie song. I would call him Bob Dylan, or, if I was feeling playful, Bobby. Our relationship would be entirely non-sexual, since he’s mad old, but I’d probably marry him anyway. I'd want to experience the glory of having every person I’ve ever met find out that that’s what I did, that’s what happened to Laura Jane:
She literally married Bob Dylan. They had, like, a wedding and shit.
Marrying Bob Dylan would coax out my latent flair for handiness. As Bobby’s wife, I’d always be doing some odd job: fixing a leak, painting a wall. I’d wear one of those carpentry belts, with a tape measure tucked into a loop, and I’d have splatters of paint, and grout, on my jeans. I’d dress exclusively in Bob Dylan’s clothes from the 60s and 70s that didn’t fit him anymore: plaid button-ups, denim vests, suede trousers, desert boots. I’d always be carrying around a mug of something: hot cocoa, maybe, with mini-marshmallows in it, or more realistically black coffee. In late autumn, hot apple cider cut with whiskey, no— bourbon. We’d be big bourbon drinkers, Bob Dylan and I.
It’s weird to think about what kind of food Bob Dylan likes to eat. I doubt he has much of a sweet tooth, except maybe for Crackerjacks, and candy corn in the fall. But at a restaurant he wouldn’t be tempted by, like, a slice of Oreo cheesecake or whatever, though on his birthday I’d bake him an apple pie, since there’s no way in hell Bob Dylan wouldn’t go in for a slice of apple pie if the opportunity presented itself. My pie wouldn’t be a massive failure but it wouldn’t be great, and we’d eat it with vanilla ice cream, the yellow kind.
I imagine that Bob Dylan likes to eat a hamburger, with no cheese, only ketchup. For some reason I can’t imagine him eating chicken. He’d eat fish, but only if we caught it ourselves, and then cooked it over our campfire, and ate it with our fingers out of tinfoil.
“I’ll debone it for you,” Bob Dylan would say, and I’d say “That’s what she said.”
He’d eat plain buttered toast and a buttered baked potato, saltine crackers, tins of anchovies and sardines. Tuna melts on rye bread. He’d like Italian food, but he wouldn’t cook it himself— there’d be some mediocre red sauce Italian place in the tiny town closest to our cabin. Mamma Whoever, it’d be called, we’s go there once a month. Heavily-marked up Chianti of average quality and red & white checkered tablecloths, hideous gilt-framed paintings of Roman cityscapes on the wall. We’d share a plate of fried calamari with mayonnaisey sauce and fill up on bread— maybe he’d ask for butter instead of olive oil; I’d like it if he did. I don’t think we’d each have a go-to main that we’d always order; I feel like we’d switch it up. It seems likely that Bob Dylan is the kind of person who would always try the special. A steak maybe, cooked to medium, with a side of steamed veg and a sauce. Steak Diane, whatever that is.
Those would be such special nights for us. They would always feel like holidays. I would drink until my cheeks turned red and he would tell me stories: the story of the time he became a born-again Christian, the story of the time he rode around London in the back of a limo fucked up on heroin with John Lennon and he puked and John Lennon didn’t. “Do you think John Lennon would have loved me?” I’d ask him, and he’d say “You betcha.” “What about George?” I’d ask, and he’d say “George woulda liked you just fine.” He’d say things like “Hell of a night, ain’t it?” and “Snow up to your knees out there” and “I don’t much go in for that sorta thing,” “Fat chance.” I’d make him read every word I ever wrote before I put it up on the Internet, but he’d never give me the reaction I want. His feedback would be scathing, and I wouldn’t take it well. “Okay, Bob Dylan,” I’d pout, “I get it. I’m a horrible writer, and I should probably just give up.”
“Oh can it with the self-pity,” he’d tell me: “You got a helluva talent, Laura Jane.”
I first fell in love with Bob Dylan three summers ago. I fell in love with him because he’s an asshole, but I stayed in love with him because he’s a sweetheart: the same could be said about any meaningful relationship I’ve ever had.
Bob Dylan’s my favourite asshole. He’s a mean dude, a cool jerk, but he’s real deep about it, unlike my other asshole hero John Lennon, whose jerkiness is inelegant, unrefined. It’s genius in a song, but IRL I’m sure I’d find his bad attitude tiresome. John’s the type of dude who instinctively perceives every new person he meets as an enemy until they prove him otherwise, which he doesn’t want them to, so they don’t. That’s cool, I guess, I’m fine with it, but John’s is a generally unproductive ideology to take on if you aren’t blessed with the luxury of being a famous Beatle and having everyone in the world forgive you for your garbage behaviour constantly.
But Bobby Dylan picks his battles. He approaches each new human he encounters with an emotionally neutral point of view, then bums around and chain-smokes while waiting to find out if they’re fucked up. More often than not, they are, in which case, he pounces. He shamelessly sings snarky shit like He’s sure got a lot of gall, to be so useless and all and You’re an idiot, babe/ It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe and I wish that for just one time, you could stand inside my shoes/ You’d know what a drag it is to see you, but it never sounds vengeful, or reactive. A sick burn from Bob Dylan means more than a sick burn from John Lennon because Bob’s are carefully considered. They're thoughtful. One of the Bob Dylan lyrics I think about and relate to most is Find me someone who’s not a parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him; it’s so sweethearted. He’s hating on the parasites, yes, but he’s not inspired by that hatred. He wants the good thing to happen, and when it does, his instinct is to celebrate. He wants to pay the non-parasite a kindness in return.
It’s three summers ago, and I’m on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I’m with Liz Barker, and I’m drinking something: a beer, out of a plastic cup. The sharky ocean is barely blue, and because of the grey in it, you can tell you’re on the East coast. The Atlantic ocean is moody, it isn’t tropical. The air smells, so simply, like fish and salt.
I’m telling Liz about how much I love Bob Dylan, which is new news, because Liz and I have been writing together for six years, have known each other for thirteen, and up until that point, I’d never loved Bob Dylan. I’d liked him well enough,, but before that summer, most of my Bob Dylan opinions were negative. I liked to say things like, “Bob Dylan is a Jack Kerouac poem about a shrew” and “Maybe I could love Bob Dylan, but only if I could punch him in the face first, like really hard in the face, make his nose bleed, get all the hatred out of my system”—
But then that summer hit, and I took ten minutes out of my life to think about Bob Dylan from a Bob Dylan-esque emotionally neutral perspective, and I realized that Bob Dylan was the exact sort of non-parasite I wanted to go out and say a prayer for. And, you know, listening to certain Bob Dylan songs, at certain moments, is probably the closest I’ve ever come in my life to actually praying. Which is not to say that Bob Dylan is a Godlike figure in my mind; if any asshole’s like a God to me here, it’s John, for whom I will forgive for fucking anything, for whose countless trangressions I’ve spent my entire life apologizing.
Bob Dylan’s just a guy to me, my favourite guy, the guy I live with in the Catskill mountains with, who feeds me snapper out of tinfoil. He’s not the idea of the guy to me, he’s the guy he actually is. The guy who sang all the longest songs, wrote all the coolest lyrics, the guy who was the hugest genius out of all the guys I love. I can’t remember exactly what I said to Liz that day, but it would have been something along the lines of that. “All I care about in the entire world is Bob Dylan,” I bet I said, since that’s what I always say, whenever I start to care about a thing.
“I feel like Bob Dylan would really like you,” said Liz, and three years later, I still consider it the nicest thing a person’s ever said to me.
Fourth Time Around was the first Bob Dylan song I ever loved.
I fell in love with it in a May, the greenest May of the greenest spring I’ve ever known, the morning after the night I stayed up talking to a very old man on the phone until dawn— I was in love with him.
When I finally tried to sleep I couldn’t. was distracted by a vision of a fluoro green diamond, same colour as a pile of nuclear waste in an early-nineties cartoon, in front of the black of my closed eyes, floating, pointlessly. I either did or didn’t fall asleep, I can’t remember, and the next morning I went to work wearing high heeled boots, because I’m an idiot. My feet hurt so bad that I can recall the exact pain of it six years later, but while walking home I was too tired to care, and I listened to Fourth Time Around for the first time, and everything in the world was green except my dress, which was— of all colours!— purple.
I listened to Fourth Time Around because my friend’s boyfriend told me to. I don’t usually listen to songs other people tell me to listen to, least of all other people’s boyfriends, the least interesting people in the world to me— since finding cool songs to listen to is one of the things I’m best at. I find them everywhere, under rocks and in old jacket pockets. I wear them like watches, carry them around like keychains, rabbit’s feet, little trinkets, tokens, gemstones, seashells, matchsticks, buttons. There’s not a lot of people who are good at finding Laura songs for Laura to fall in love with but there are some of them.
I gave Fourth Time Around a shot because I already knew Bob Dylan was good at writing songs and because the guy had told me: “It’s the Norwegian Wood of Bob Dylan”: what a sell!
-It was a very green May. I was excited that it was May and I was excited about how green it was, so everything felt really good already, and then I listened to Fourth Time Around and it sounded like the most perfect song a person could be listening to during a very green May, which it was, but only because it happened to be a very green May that May. I think I could have fallen in love with Fourth Time Around during any any-coloured month of any year and it would’ve sounded just as perfect.
-I was in love with a very old man who I thought might love me back. He didn’t, or maybe he did, but if he did it doesn’t matter because he didn’t do anything about it, which is way worse than having somebody not love you at all, because it means they’re afraid of loving you, and that’s so sad for them. Nobody should ever feel afraid of being in love.
The guitar at the beginning of the song twinkles, and it sounds like the optimistic and hopeful beginning of something great, which it is— it’s the beginning of Fourth Time Around. And in my mind I likened that sound to the greenness of the May, and the green and the guitar were proof, I thought, that something else was beginning: a beautiful love story that I was the star of, that the very old man was the other star of.
I was wrong, though. That version of the movie of my life was shelved, unfortunately, because my leading man dropped out, though he was quickly re-cast. He always is.
- The idea of something being the Norwegian Wood of somebody. What’s the Norwegian Wood of me? I wondered. (Regs Norwegian Wood? There She Goes Again by the Velvet Underground? A knock-knock joke? Louie Louie?)
It’s so great, such an accomplishment for actual Norwegian Wood: having a vibe that is so singular, so strong, that other songs can become its.
(Q: What makes a song a Norwegian Wood?
A: Someone has to fly.)
-For years of my life I had the words THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN written on my bedroom window in plastic letters.
(Q: What’s flying?
A: Leaving forever. Never going back.)
-I like the way Bob Dylan knows how to rhyme. He shoves as many little rhymes as he possibly can into one single sentence. I don’t rhyme a ton myself, because I don’t write songs or poems— I write things like this thing, which would be very strange if it rhymed. But I still get a kick out of rhymes, because rhyming is an inherently playful thing to do, and I love writers who you can tell are having fun while writing. I don’t relate to writers who come off like they’re massaging their temples while they write , who are plagued by consistent migraines and drink too many coffees and hate themselves. If I ever started to feel like I was being tortured by my needing to write words down, I’d stop writing. I don’t write because I think writing’s a good idea; I write because I love a good time.
My first favourite sentence from Fourth Time Around was Oh, Jamaican rum, and when she did come, I asked her for some. I like the rhymes, and I like that the word come might be a double-entendre, though I’m not really sure if people said come like that in the sixties. I hope they did. It’s a really nice thought, to me, the idea of being fucked to orgasm by 1966 Bob Dylan and then just lying there, in his crappy bed, covered up by a thin sheet. The sheet would feel cool on my body and he’d light a cigarette in his mouth and then pass it over to me. He'd pitch the idea of drinking Jamaican rum to me and I'd be up for it. I'd askl him to go get it though; I'd feel too serene to move, and Bob Dylan doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d ever be too lazy to stand, to get out of his bed, to do anything. I can imagine that his movements would be eager; he’s a fast walker I bet.
He’d put one rock in the rum. There’d be a fan blowing at you. Hot out. Street noises.
He was carrying a white plastic shopper containing one 2L bottle of Coca-Cola Classic and one of Jamaican rum. The inside of my silly brain did the math very quickly and I thought, “How wonderful! This afternoon was the point of that very green May all along! This is why I fell in love with Fourth Time Around by Bob Dylan— I’m Bob Dylan, and he’s the girl in the song.”
That’s the number one rule of dating me: I always get to be Bob Dylan. The boy is the girl in the song.
-I like the way Bob Dylan needs a lot of words to say things. I relate to that. As far as I’m concerned, the Devil’s not in the details, God is. And less isn’t more, more is.
Regs Norwegian Wood is beautiful, but I’m a person who wears animal prints as neutrals and I think it’s sparse: too sparse. There’s not enough information! Be less vague, John Lennon! He barely tells you anything about anything, it’s more frustrating than poignant:
What was that night all about? What was the vibe, John? What did the girl look like? What did her house look like? Was it even a house? Was it a flat? Was it her flat? Was it somebody else’s? Was she dog-sitting? That happens sometimes. And what did the rug look like? What’s the difference between a rug and a carpet? What was her job? What did you talk about? What did you drink?
Wine. You drank wine.
But what kind of wine? What region was it from? What colour was it? Was it good? Did you like it? Who brought it? What colour shirt did she wear? What’s her favourite colour? Did you eat any food that night? What was the weather like that day? Were you having a good hair day? Good face day? Good skin day? What lessons did you learn? What kinds of things were gum named in the sixties? Did people say come?
-Bob Dylan sings about gum a lot. He sings about drums & trumpets & gum. There’s a drum in Fourth Time Around: I stood there & hummed/ I tapped on her drum/ I asked her how come. When he sings I tapped on her drum I think of a little kid poking their index finger into somebody’s back repeatedly; Pay attention to me Pay attention to me Pay attention to me. I like the idea of Bob Dylan as attention-starved lover. I like the way he always paints the picture of himself as being unlucky in love, a wet rat caught in a thunderstorm. Nothing is straightforward; nothing is malleable. His love affairs are nervy and then arrive at a stalemate. He is clever and tense and abandonable; the women he falls for are supple and at peace. They grow tired of him. They have no time for him. They are Empresses who eat fruit and have long hair.
A couple weeks ago I drew the Empress Tarot card in one of my bi-weekly three-card-draws and tried to be inspired by it. “My life concept for the next four days is the romantic ideal of the Empress Tarot card as would be perceived by Bob Dylan,” I texted a bunch of people, but soon failed: Lord knows I’m no Earth mother. I would never tie a red paisley kerchief round my head and pull a carrot out of the ground, wipe carrot-dirt off the carrot with my skirt, which would be long. I would never say “Don’t get cute” to Bob Dylan in a song. I would say “Stay cute.” I’d say, “Get cuter.”
The gum part of Fourth Time Around is exactly as cute as it needs to be. The first time I ever heard it, all those green Mays ago, I couldn’t figure out what he was saying— I thought I heard the word “mulberry” in the sentence somewhere, “Mulberry Blast?” I wondered. I liked to chew a type of gum named Arctic Blast, perhaps Mulberry Blast was a fruitier variant.
But, “Don’t be an idiot, Laura Jane,” I told myself, “They didn’t name gum things like Blast in the sixties.” I either looked up the lyrics on Google, or listened to the song again.
“I gallantly handed her my very last piece of gum,” he was saying. I gallantly handed her my Mulberry Blast piece of gum.
I love a man with a thirty-four inch waist. I always date little slips of things and then resent them for it.
Me in a bedroom: New York City, January, 1966. Bob Dylan’s jeans are on the floor. He’s just run out to go buy us takeaway coffees (black, which is a cliché, but fine) in one of those Greek-looking coffee cups with “We are happy to serve you” printed across the side, and breakfast: diner bacon egg & cheese on a roll, wrapped in silver foil, American cheese melted then unmelted, cheeze-colour orange and congealed. Bob Dylan’s telling me about something really serious and I’m nodding saying “Yeah, yeah,” very seriously, trying to trick him into thinking I’m a serious person, at the same time as I’m eating a piece of cheese off my fingernail. It’s lodged into my nailbed.
While he’s out I squeeze myself into his jeans. They don’t fit, but kind of do. I can do up the button at least.
What I love so much about Bob Dylan gallantly handing the girl his very last piece of gum isn’t that he gave her the gum, it’s that he considered himself gallant for doing so, and that his celebrating feeling gallant about the gum-giving was a part of what made the whole thing so gorgeous. Selflessness, as a concept, is fine I suppose, but bears no relevance to the raga-esque complexity of actual life. Many years ago, a friend of mine described her then-boyfriend as being “the kind of person who likes making other people feel good about themselves”— “It makes him feel good,” she said.
“I want to be that kind of person,” I thought, and so I became one, and it’s never not worked for me. Nothing in life is more satisfying than performing a kindness for another person that is perfectly-tailored to their exact sensibilities, something that might mean nothing to someone else, but means everything to them, because they are them, and you know what that “them” represents. Selfless acts of kindness, like asking a stranger who tripped up a staircase if they’re alright, or standing up on a subway so that an old person can sit down, are cool, but they’re not very thoughtful. You don’t have to put too much effort into making them happen. And purely self-ish acts of kindness exist too: i.e. the time a boy gave me a Belgian ticket to a Belgian showing of the most recent instalment of the Alvin & the Chipmunks franchise he’d found on the floor of his work as a token of his affection- I could tell he felt very cool to himself for doing it, but it didn’t mean anything about me; it meant everything about him. It meant that he was a person who thought giving a girl a Belgian Alvin & the Chipmunks ticket was cool, but to me it was literally a piece of garbage. I have no affinity for Alvin, Simon, Theodore, the country of Belgium, or even movies at all. It would have meant more to me if he’d fished a grimy Snickers bar wrapper out of a trashcan and given me that. Everyone knows I love a Snickers.
I gallantly offered her the very last bite of my Snickers bar. That would be the end of me.
The white-hot June that came between the very green May and the July it crazy-rained out, I tried to end my relationship with the very old man. I sent him an email that concluded: "This bird has FLOWN, motherfucker!"
I thought I was trying to fly but I wasn't. I was performing a selfish act of kindness by writing that sentence, amusing myself by writing him something I hoped he'd find as charming and hilarious as I did. I'd won him back the first time I won him back by telling him I wanted to make his whole life feel like the guitar solo in You're Going to Lose That Girl, and I thought that "This bird has FLOWN, motherfucker!" was a far superior line.
Perhaps he agreed, but believed me. That was stupid of him.
Fourth Time Around is the Norwegian Wood of me because Bob Dylan is the only sweethearted asshole I've encountered who sucks as hard at flying as I do. Bob Dylan songs always include a bit about Bob Dylan failing to successfully fly. He's always going back: to something, to somewhere, to someone. Bob Dylan going back to find Isis just to tell her he loves her; Bob Dylan peeking through the She Belongs To Me girl's keyhole, down upon his knees. Bob Dylan disobeying the doctor's orders and going to see Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat girl even though it's bad for his health; Bob Dylan not knowing that the One Of Us Must Know girl was saying goodbye for good; Bob Dylan fantasising about meeting Just Like A Woman girl again in the future. And it's his fucking fourth time around, for crying out loud!
Fourth Time Around ends with Bob Dylan rifling through the one girl's personal belongings, which is a sneaky cool jerk move that I respect, then going back to a different chick's house. He walks there, and gives her a shoe, which is nice of him. He celebrates her for not wasting his time, but will most likely change his mind about that in the future, before changing his mind once again. He'll almost certainly go back for a fifth.
"Why do you always bomb the ends of relationships?" my old therapist once asked me, and I said "I don't fucking know, Kyla," but I know now. It's because I'm trying to fly.
"Why do you always bomb the ends of relationships?" my old therapist once asked me, and I said "I don't fucking know, Kyla," but I know now. It's because I'm trying to fly.