"Subterranean Homesick Blues
" is a song
by Bob Dylan
, originally released on the album Bringing It All Back Home
in March 1965. The following month it was issued as a single, becoming his first Top 40 Billboard Hot 100
hit and going Top 10 in the UK. It was subsequently re-released on numerous compilations such as Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits
(1967). One of Dylan's first 'electric' pieces, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was also notable for its innovative film clip
, which first appeared in D. A. Pennebaker
's documentary, Dont Look Back
References and allusions
- "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was, in fact, an extraordinary three-way amalgam of Jack Kerouac, the Guthrie/Pete Seeger song "Taking It Easy" ('mom was in the kitchen preparing to eat/sis was in the pantry looking for some yeast') and the riffed-up rock'n'roll poetry of Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business".
While Dylan was not a member of the original Beat
circles of the 1950s, Kerouac's The Subterraneans
, a novel published in 1958 about the Beats, has been cited as a possible inspiration for the song's title. Stretching further back, the title alludes to Notes from Underground
, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky
, whose works were popular with Beat writers such as Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
The song's first line is a reference to the production of LSD and the politics of the era: "Johnny's in the basement mixing up the medicine / I'm on the pavement thinkin' about the Government". The song also depicts some of the growing conflicts between "straight" or "square" (40-hour workers) and the emerging 1960s counterculture. The widespread use of recreational drugs, and turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War were both starting to take hold of the nation, and Dylan's hyperkinetic lyrics were dense with up-to-the-minute allusions to important emerging elements in the 1960s youth culture. According to rock journalist Andy Gill, "an entire generation recognized the zeitgeist in the verbal whirlwind of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'."
The song also throws up a number of references to the struggles surrounding the American civil rights movement ("Better stay away from those / That carry around a fire hose"). (During the civil rights movement, peaceful protestors were beaten and sprayed with high pressure fire hoses. The common notion was to take the abuse, to bring attention to the struggles, and show the peaceful nature of the movement. Anyone that was not willing to be beaten without fighting back was rejected from the protests.) In spite of the political nature of the lyrics, the song went on to become the first Top 40 hit for Dylan in the United States.
Listed by Rolling Stone
magazine as the 332nd "Greatest Song of All Time", "Subterranean Homesick Blues" has influenced many groups and individuals.
- Most famously, the song's lyrics were cited as inspiration by the American radical left group the Weathermen, (a breakaway from the Students for a Democratic Society); the group took its name from the line "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows".
- The name of the group fIREHOSE was taken from the line "...Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose..."
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered this song on their 1987 album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
- Alanis Morissette performed this song, as well as "Blowin' in the Wind", for a Bob Dylan tribute at The UK Hall of Fame in 2005.
- The title of Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien" is taken in part from the title of Dylan's song, and Robert Wyatt's 1997 "Blues in Bob Minor" uses it as a structural template.
- The American stand-up comedian, satirist, and social critic Bill Hicks sometimes used the start of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" as the opening to his act; it can be heard on the bootleg I'm Sorry Folks - Part 1.
- The second episode of Law & Order's premiere season was called "Subterranean Homeboy Blues".
- Influential Memphis indie band the Grifters released a B-side in 1996 titled "Subterranean Death Ride Blues". It was re-recorded with the vocalist's side-project, Those Bastard Souls, as "Subterranean Death Ride Blues, Pt.2".
- The second track of 3rd Wave Ska-Punk band Mustard Plug's album Evildoers Beware! is titled "Suburban Homesick Blues".
- The opening of the last verse - "Ah get born, keep warm" - provided the Australian garage rock band Jet with the title of their debut album Get Born.
Promotional film clip
In addition to the song's influence on music, the song was used in what became one of the first "modern" promotional film clips - the forerunner of what later became known as the music video. Although Rolling Stone lists it as the 7th on its list of "100 Top Music Videos", the original clip was actually the opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker's film, Dont Look Back, a documentary on Bob Dylan's first tour of England in 1965. In the film, Dylan, who came up with the idea, holds up cue cards for the audience, with selected words and phrases from the lyrics. The cue cards were written by Dylan himself, Donovan, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth. While staring at the camera, he flips the cards as the song plays. There are intentional misspellings and puns throughout the clip, for instance when the song's lyrics say "eleven dollar bills" the poster says "20 dollars". The clip was shot in in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London where Ginsberg and Neuwirth make a cameo in the background. For use as a trailer, the following text was superimposed at the end of the clip while Dylan and Ginsberg are exiting the frame: "Surfacing Here Soon | Bob Dylan in | Don't Look Back by D. A. Pennebaker."
In addition to the Savoy Hotel clip, two alternate promotional films were shot: one in a park where Dylan, Neuwirth and Ginsberg are joined by a fourth man, and another shot on the roof of an unknown building (possibly the Savoy Hotel). A montage of the clips can be seen in the documentary No Direction Home.
The "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film clip and its concepts have been popularly imitated by a number of artists. Influenced and imitative videos of note include:
- The video for the 1987 INXS track "Mediate" duplicated the format of the Dylan video, even in its use of apparently deliberate errors.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic did a song on his 2003 album Poodle Hat entitled "Bob". The lyrics are all palindromes, and the video depicts Yankovic dressed as Dylan dropping cue cards with each palindrome.
- The 1992 Tim Robbins film Bob Roberts features Robbins in the title role as a right-wing folk singer who uses the same cue-card concept as Dylan for his song "Wall Street Rap".
- The video for "Buzzards of Green Hill" by Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade borrows the card idea from this Bob Dylan clip.
- After being fired from his record company, French singer Alain Chamfort commissioned director Bruno Decharme to make an exact replica of the original video for his song "Les yeux de Laure".
- Filk performer The great Luke Ski has recorded two Star Wars-themed parodies of "Subterranean Homesick Blues": "Star Wars Trilogy Homesick Blues", about the Original Trilogy, and "Star Wars Prequel Homesick Blues", about the Prequel Trilogy. He also filmed a video for the former, with Ski dressed as Dylan and dropping cue cards as in the "Subterranean" clip. For live performances of the songs, Ski reprised the costume from the clip and use cue cards appropriate to the song and poking fun at the subject matter (such as a card with the "Prequel" song lyric "Don't forget Jar Jar!" being followed with a similar card stating "Forget Jar Jar", referencing the general fan dislike of Jar Jar Binks). lukeski.com
- The film clip was referenced in Richard Curtis' film Love Actually (2003), in the scene where Mark (Andrew Lincoln) tells Juliet (Keira Knightley) that he is in love with her, by holding up cards with messages on them.
- The video for "Misfit" by 1980s UK pop band Curiosity Killed the Cat features Andy Warhol standing motionless in an alleyway, showing and dropping cue cards that are blank, while the band's singer energetically dances to the left of him. Warhol directed the video in New York's Greenwich Village, although the director credit is given to a pseudonym.
- In an episode of Lost, Juliet holds up cards and removes them in a video she shows Jack to tell him that Ben is not wanted as a prominent figure in the Others community.
- The Gothic Archies use this same cue card idea for their "Scream and Run Away" video.
- The Canadian comedy group The Royal Canadian Air Farce had a segment on their TV show called "Bob Dylan News" which parodied this song's music clip.
- The Flaming Lips parodied the film clip for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in a television advertisement for their 2006 release At War with the Mystics. The clip shows singer Wayne Coyne holding cards informing the viewer of the release date of the record.
- Directorial duo Greifer & Krötenbluth shot a promo for Wir sind Helden's "Nur ein Wort" which uses the Pennebaker concept combined with other effects.
- Scottish band Belle and Sebastian pay homage to the Subterranean Homesick Blues film in the music video for the song "Like Dylan In The Movies" on the album If You're Feeling Sinister. The video was filmed and edited by band members, and was not released until the 2003 documentary/video compilation Fans Only. Part of the song lyrics are a play on the title of the Dylan documentary: "If they follow you, don't look back, like Dylan in the movies."
- The American punk band Anti-Flag use the idea of Bob Dylan in the clip of the song "Turncoat".
- Pop-punk band The Matches created a video for their song, "Salty Eyes", with the goal of creating a modern version of one of the first music videos by using televisions as opposed to flashcards - throwing them around and dropping the televisions as the lyrics were said. Also, in tribute to the clip, one television says "Clean Nose", which when the camera pans back around, it shows lead singer Shawn Harris drawing white over letters and changing the letters to say "However Naive", which is one of the Salty Eyes Lyrics.
- Argentinian singer/songwriter León Gieco paid homage to Dylan by using cue cards in his video clip for the song El ídolo de los Quemados, in his 2001 album, Bandidos Rurales.
- Chicago band Sundowner produced a video in 2007 for their song "This War is Noise" as a tribute to Dylan's clip.
- Australian comedy team The Chaser parodied the clip twice. The first parody featured Chris Taylor advertising the second-half series return for 2007 of their show, The Chaser's War on Everything . The second parody (aired during Episode 14) featured Andrew Hansen in a skit about APEC .
- Joe Cartoon parodies the clip for the trailer to Blender Poll 2008.
- Convention producers The Madow Brothers did a scene using the card-dropping theme which was shot in a Las Vegas alleyway for the opening video to TBSE 2007.
- Joan O'Connor, RN, produced 'Just Say No to Big Tobacco Co.,' in 2008. It is a music video of a song written and performed by her. The video was a collaborative project with her 'Smoking Reduction and Cessation Group for People Living with Mental Illnesses.' .
- In an early episode of the Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Big Pete, while talking about cafeteria food and the different names for a salisbury stake, is shown in black and white dressed as Dylan and holding up cue cards with the different names.