Bob Dylan Countdown #111: “Song To Woody”Posted: February 16, 2012
Sounding like he’s about 100 years old instead of 21, Bob Dylan essentially introduced himself to the world as a songwriter with “Song To Woody.” Actually, that’s statement is something of a contradiction, because Dylan doesn’t say a whole lot of himself in the song. Instead he places the spotlight on the artists who have preceded him in the world “That seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn/It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.”
As a matter of fact, it’s that hard world, a far different world that the world of cars and teenage girls and dances that dominated the radio at that time, that Dylan is introducing to his audience more than anything else. The artists that he’ mentions sang of this world, but Bob, somehow aware of his destiny, knew that his songs would reach more people than all of the others combined.
“Song To Woody” might just as well have been titled “Song To Those Who Came Before Me.” What a refreshing notion it is, considering the narcissistic nature of the modern music world. The young Dylan was acutely aware and appreciative that his ascent would have been impossible without the trailblazers ahead of him, and he pays them the proper tribute with a song of which any of them, Woody or Cisco of Leadbelly or Sonny, would have been proud.
The last couple lines have always confounded me a bit: “The very last thing that I’d want to do/Is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too.” Is he saying that he wouldn’t diminish the struggles of his favorite artists by suggesting that his own were similar? Or is he saying that he couldn’t possibly sing about that travelin’ as well as they have already done? Or maybe that he’s hoping that the hard world eases up on him in his own future?
Whatever interpretation you choose, there is no doubt that those haunting closing words are filled with gratitude. Dylan allegedly sang “Song To Woody” at Woody Guthrie’s bedside, but he gave his mentor a greater gift by singing the song to an audience ignorant not just of Guthrie and his contemporaries, but also of those hard roads traveled by those not normally glorified in song.