Bob Dylan Countdown #158: “Handy Dandy”Posted: February 6, 2012
The best of a bad lot? I don’t think I really have to say “Spoiler Alert” before I tell you that “Handy Dandy” is the last you’ll be hearing from Under The Red Sky on this countdown. I do think the album gets a worse rap than it deserves. After hearing so often that it was lousy, I went in expecting poor songs. In actuality, the songs aren’t really bad, more like they’re just kind of blah, which, for Dylan, is a rarity. The idea to simplify his lyrics may have had merit but it just wasn’t executed in the right way.
That said, “Handy Dandy” swaggers along just like the title character, demanding that you take notice. It’s got some nice organ work from the inimitable Al Kooper, aggressive drumming from Kenny Aronoff, and some stinging guitar from Waddy Wachtel. The guest-star approach to that album was hit-and-miss, but the grouping on this song rips it up pretty good.
The temptation, I suppose, is to view the protagonist as a stand-in for Dylan himself. That’s probably too facile a reading; Dylan would never make it that easy. I just think he’s portraying a guy here whose reputation, even if it is deserved, always colors the opinions of others when they meet him. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when this charismatic cad plays the part because he has no real other choice.
Ultimately, you’re meant to feel both impressed by this character and a little sad for him. The final image of him leaving his sycophants behind hints at a loneliness that no amount of flattery can replace. After all, “Something in the moonlight still hounds him.” It’s an endlessly interesting character, fleshed out by Bob in just a few short strokes. Ultimately, “Handy Dandy” should be known as something more than just the most colorful cat in a black-and-white bunch of songs.