Bob Dylan Countdown #150: “Disease Of Conceit”

“The song rose up until I could read the look in its eyes. In the quiet of the evening I didn’t have to hunt far for it.”

That’s Bob Dylan in his autobiography Chronicles Volume One, talking about the process of writing the Oh Mercy track “Disease Of Conceit.” He said it came on the heels of Jimmy Swaggart’s fall from grace, with that event possibly informing the song’s creation.

He also talks in the book about the fact that conceit isn’t really a disease, and yet his describing it as so is what gives the song its true impetus. Had it simply been a diatribe against the follies of conceited people, it likely would have sounded judgmental and wouldn’t have had the same kind of lovely melancholy.

A common cold or influenza can attack when our immune systems are weakened. What’s insidious about this disease is that it strikes only when we think we cannot be harmed. “Give ya delusions of grandeur and a evil eye/Give you the idea that you’re good to die.” The end result:  “Then they bury you from your head to your feet/From the disease of conceit.”

Note that there is no accusation in Dylan’s voice, only empathy. That tone is embellished by the tender music, highlighted by Bob’s piano playing, which is one of the surprise delights of Oh Mercy.

Dylan is probably being a little modest in saying that “Disease Of Conceit” came to him without having to work hard to get it. But, then again, had he boasted about his songwriting prowess, he might have succumbed to the very calamity he was describing.

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