Bob Dylan Countdown #108: “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”Posted: February 17, 2012
Dylan once told an audience that this song title was meant to be read as a math equation. That is, it’s supposed to go Love Minus Zero divided by No Limit. Division is simply multiplying the inverse, and the inverse of no limit would be a strict limit. Love minus zero is simply love. Ergo, the answer is love times a strict limit, which is what exactly? Is Dylan trying to say that the object of his affections only has so much love to offer him? Or have I become hopelessly lost trying to do mathematical equations on intangible emotions?
You can be the judge on that. What is certain is that the quality that seems to fascinate the narrator most about this girl is her restraint. While the rest of the world seems to be falling over themselves trying to figure out the meaning of life, she just accepts her circumstances and sits idly by as everyone is drawn to her inner peace. Still waters run deep.
Look at all the indicators of her calm in the eye of the storm. “She speaks like silence/Without ideals or violence,” and “she speaks softly.” She “winks, she does not bother.” It plays into the old maxim that those with the greatest wisdom are often the ones most reticent to display it.
The narrator is equally reserved in his observations, which is perhaps why he’s so attracted. Note also that there is never any blathering on about her physical appearance. This seems to be a love kindled not by the fire of passion, but rather by the sparks of admiration.
I think Dylan made the right choice going with a full band for this Bringing It All Back Home evergreen. The band fleshes out Bob’s reflections nicely, grounding them while projecting just the right tone of light bemusement. Guitarist Bruce Langhorne answers the singer’s exhortations with graceful, lilting licks.
So that means you’ve got Dylan flashing his descriptive skills, plus one of his great fictional muses inspiring those skills, plus excellent musical backing. It adds up to “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” an understated classic. That’s math we can all understand.
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