“I don’t think it’s cool to be an anarchist,” says Bob Dylan, right in the midst of his most anarchistic phase. Come on, Bob, methinks thou dost protest too much. Seems like they’ve got your number. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is the coolest anarchist anthem ever.
By the way, I don’t know if anyone has noted this, but I find some striking similarities between this song and Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business“. Listen to the songs back to back. The former seems like a rewrite of the latter, from a sixties rather than a fifties perspective. The message is the same: stay aloof and above the fray, away from leaders and followers, keep moving, don’t give in to the temptations of success and convenience, or give in but don’t take them seriously (it’s all “monkey business”). The free spirit of the American youth flits in and out of the institutions that seek to use him or her for their own ends.
Such is my interpretation, at least. One thing I am sure of, though, is that Chuck Berry has never been acknowledged as the enormous influence on Dylan as a songwriter (except by Dylan himself, in Chronicles), since the former is the commercial “pop” craftsman of mass-produced plastic chart-toppers, and the latter a true Artist, full of Authenticity and Importance. But listen to the songs, man! Like Oscar Wilde, Berry’s art is so perfect it seems trivial, and ends up underrated even though universally respected.