Robert Allen Zimmerman, more commonly known as Bob Dylan, is one of the most influential figures in popular music dating all the way back to 1962, when he wrote his first piece “Song To Woody.” Zimmerman is known foremost as a protest song writer whose music greatly inspired the actions of fans in a time of revolution during the 60’s and 70’s. His music is still highly regarded today and he continues to tour and put out new albums even to the present date. Bob Dylan’s songs incorporate a vast amount of poetic devices and often get across points of protest, as can be seen in “Desolation Row.”
The song Desolation Row is extremely rich in allusions that can be found in just about every stanza. In the first stanza “as Lady and I look out tonight” is a reference to Lady and the Tramp in which Dylan refers to himself as Tramp. In the second stanza “Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row” is obviously an allusion to the fairytale Cinderella based upon both name and action. In stanza nine, when “the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls” to go away because Casanova is being punished, Dylan may be alluding to Casanova Giacomo. Giacomo is a famous womanizer who lived during the 18th century and whose name is associated with the seduction of women. In this context, that the Phantom is chasing away the skinny girls supports this thesis. In the last stanza Dylan acknowledges some people mentioned in a letter who were “quite lame” and says that he “had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name.” These words support the idea that all of the people alluded to above as well as the many others alluded to in the lyrics were not only references to fictional characters but also to real people whom Dylan knows.
In stanza seven when Dylan talks about “Dr. Filth,” he may be playing off of the name Dr. Phil, a well known psychiatrist, to show distaste for psychiatry. The following lines “he keeps his world inside of a leather cup but all his sexless patients they’re trying to blow it up,” supports this. The leather cup could be symbolic of psychiatric wards as it is a small container made of a firm material. That the patients are described as sexless could show Dylan’s inferred contempt for how such people aren’t seen by doctors as men and women but rather just as crazy people or even cases. That the patients are described as also trying to blow up the leather cup represents how psychiatric patients often fight the system and try to escape the ward.
“Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan is a powerful piece of music that can be related to many applications of life. This song depicts how life is just like one big metaphor and how all things are related in some way or another. The way that the song flows from one story to the next and yet pieces together to make one long narrative is symbolic of how life is made up of many little stories itself that together define who we are.