June 13, 2004

Dylan's Visions of Sin/Vision of Sin

The NYT Book Review does a cover review of Christopher Ricks's book about Bob Dylan lyrics (which I've been reading, as noted here). The title of the book is "Dylan's Visions of Sin," as you can see in the on-line review. The paper copy, however, gives the title repeatedly as "Dylan's Vision of Sin," and the front section of the paper already has a correction. You'd think if they loved the book so much as to run it as the cover review (and just days ago they had a very positive daily review), they'd get the title right. But the reason they get the title wrong, I think, is the same reason I find myself saying the title wrong repeatedly: "vision of sin" seems more like idiomatic English. Don't we assume that the author would be writing more about Dylan's ideas on the subject of sin, rather than apparitions and hallucinations? If so, the singular is the normal form of expression. English speakers instinctively know there is an important difference between saying "The writer has a vision" and "The writer has visions."

Yet it's quite clear to me why Ricks chose the word "Visions" instead of "Vision." His style of writing throughout this 500-page book is to weave in Dylan's own words and phrases. And "visions" is a Dylan word, most notably in the song "Visions of Johanna." Using this great website, you can search for any word in Dylan's lyrics, and if you do that you'll see he never used the word "vision" to meet a structure of ideas. He only used it [the singular "vision"] once, in "Precious Angel," clearly referring to the religious apparition: "Sister, lemme tell you about a vision I saw." There are five songs in addition to "Visions of Johanna" that use the word "visions":
[I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT] Whose visions in the final end ...

[SOMEONE'S GOT A HOLD OF MY HEART] I keep seeing visions of you, a lily among thorns ...

[BALLAD IN PLAIN D] Countless visions of the other she'd reflect ...

[SAD-EYED LADY OF THE LOWLANDS] And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass ...

[IDIOT WIND]Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin' me see stars.

So Ricks had to make it "Visions" and must suffer for his sin of excessive devotion to Dylan by having his book title misinvoked.


Jas said...

i reckon...but.

John Lopresti said...

Chris Ricks just sent a nice swatch of a monologued interview:
The words are just as important as
the music. There would be no music without the words"; "The words and
the music, I can hear the sound of what I want to say"; "The whole
total sound of the words, what's really going down is

One imagines further inchoate explications, Dylan trying to describe to the interviewer the sound of the knell the muse leaves resonating on the ancient empty beach the surf lapping somewhat like the comedian as the letter C.

Visions are alright, and BD was upfront, as people used to say, about it. That was the ethic: it was alright if you said what you were doing.

It's a lot like practicing law, or any contemplative art.

There is a new book this week in the reviews, a compendium of commentaries mosaicked together to paint a portrait of the musician; in case you would like to read a review of that new book, there.

Dylan's word searchengine must be a database; it shows lots of potential.