Rock stars and their dinners
Bob Dylan - Ballad of a Thin Man
"I can live on rice and beans” deadpans Bob Dylan on the piercing, elegiac Workingman’s Blues #2 from 2006. Looking at him, as I confess I still often do, I don’t doubt it. Could there be a starker contrast than that between Dylan and the last subject Van Morrison? Take a look at them playing together in front of the Acropolis in 1984, Morrison porcine and expressive, Dylan squirrel-like, peeking shyly out from under his hat (you can see it here - trust me, it’s beautiful). I can imagine them having lunch together beforehand - Bob silently picking at a simple Greek salad, just occasionally looking up from his plate whilst the Irishman rages on about Yeats and Donne all the time tearing into a steaming pot of stifado, washed down by thick red wine.
If you’d never seen either of them you could deduce all this from their lyrics anyway. Morrison sings about food with direct sensual passion - it’s a muse. Dylan never does this. Instead he routinely employs edibles as a (usually grubby) metaphor. “I’ve got the pork chop, she’s got the pie” he leers in Thunder On The Mountain - a song richly laden with tumbling innuendo. “You can have your cake and eat it too” he promises wolfishly as he beckons the woman towards his big brass bed in Lady Lady Lay. “Smack that drum with a pie that smells” he demands, most filthily, on “Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bread.”
And then, of course, there’s the whole of the Nashville Skyline song Country Pie:
Raspberry, strawberry, lemon and lime
What do I care?
Blueberry, apple, cherry, pumpkin and plum
Call me for dinner, honey, I’ll be there
Can’t you just see him licking his lips?
...And giving us the wink that of course she’s waiting in the bedroom, not the kitchen. But it’s not unusual to find Dylan’s women at the stove either. Somebody has to do the cooking and his own brief dalliance with catering began and ended with 1975’s Tangled Up In Blue...
I had a job in the Great North Woods
working as a cook for a spell
but I never did like it all that much
and one day the axe just fell…
So by 1978‘s Is Your Love In Vain? it’s maybe unsurprising, but still faintly shocking, that a key interview question for potential lovers had become...
Can you cook and sew, make flowers grow?
And then Po’ Boy on 2001’s magnificent Love and Theft suggests that somewhere along the line he found the candidate he was looking for:
Man came to the door
I said “for whom are you looking?”
he said “your wife”
I said she’s busy in the kitchen cooking…
Not quite reached boiling point? Then I offer you this, from Sweetheart Like You on 1983’s Infidels.
You know a woman like you should be at home
that’s where you belong
Taking care of someone nice
who don't know how to do you wrong
Yeah right...now, just bear in mind that it’s not helpful to take Dylan too literally - like DH Lawrence said “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.” And anyway, it’s pretty apparent that Dylan takes a deeply pessimistic view of his capacity to understand women or for them to understand him. Witness the dialogue at the end of 1976’s Isis, or the whole of What Was It You Wanted from 1989 and most effectively this dining room scene from 1997’s Highlands:
I'm in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Or maybe I do but, I'm just really not sure
Waitress comes over, nobody in the place but me and her.
Well, it must be a holiday, there's nobody around
She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face, with long white shiny legs
I said, "Tell me what I want," she say, "You probably want hard boiled eggs."
I say, "That's right, bring me some."
She says, "We ain't got any, you picked the wrong time to come.”
And so the conversation goes on in the same fractured, awkward manner, until, having failed to make any connection at all, he walks out into “the busy street” alone as ever.
Sad stuff indeed, but not quite as desperate, surely, as a restaurant that runs out of eggs.