Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Watered-Down Love: Dylan Contrasts Agape With Its Lesser Kin

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."
--I Corinthians 13:1-3

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Last night I saw a trailer for a film in which the main character is trying to work out whether he really loves this person with whom he is in a relationship. There's a snippet in which he is hashing out this question with his mother. The dialogue reminded me of the Young Rascals' song, "How Can I Be Sure?" If you recall the lyrics, he sings, "How can I be sure, in a world that's constantly changing, how can I be sure... with you?"

One of the more famous songs in Fiddler on the Roof begins, "Do you love me?" (The song begin with an inquiry by Tevye, to his wife Golde, whom he wed in an arranged marriage.) This story, too, revolves around meanings of love.

Hollywood love, rock 'n roll love, carnal love, erotic love, brotherly love, All You Need Is Love... Love comes in a whole range of flavors. The Greeks recognized this and used different words to describe four distinct types of love -- storge, philia, eros and agape -- which C.S.Lewis wrote about in his insightful volume The Four Loves.

On the fifth track of his album Shot Of Love (1981), Bob Dylan shares his own insights on this topic in a song called Watered-Down Love. Here are the lyrics, with alternating colors identifying earmarks of a higher love and what it is not. It's an interesting literary device, clarifying what something is by contrasting it with what it is not.

Watered Down Love

Love that's pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won't pull no strings
Won't sneak into your room, tall, dark and handsome
Capture your soul and hold it for ransom.

You don't want a love that's pure
You want to drown love
You want a watered-down love.

Love that's pure, it don't make no claims
Intercedes for you 'stead of casting you blame
Will not deceive you or lead you to transgression
Won't write it up and make you sign a false confession.

You don't want a love that's pure
You want to drown love
You want a watered-down love.

Love that's pure won't lead you astray
Won't hold you back, won't mess up your day
Won't pervert you, corrupt you with stupid wishes
It will not make you envious. It won't make you suspicious.

You don't want a love that's pure
You want to drown love
You want a watered-down love.

Love that's pure ain't no accident
Always on time, is always content
An eternal flame, quietly burning
Never need to be proud or loud, nor restlessly yearning.

You don't want a love that's pure
You want to drown love
You want a watered-down love.

Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

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From June 10 to November 21, Dylan performed this song 41 times in 1981.

What is love? It takes a lifetime to learn... and part of that time is learning what it's not. When we think about life's big questions -- like, Why am I here? -- this is one of the big ones. 

3 comments:

hans altena said...

A nice article about a song that always bugs me, for I find it too obvious and abstract, without those many layers and sudden dives into depths seldom explored but yet felt by most of us, that can characterize a good Dylan lyric. Moreover, the childish melody and jaunty rhythm never fail to puzzle me, so lacking that rootsy sound he can conjure in his best compositions. So, the message is nice, but no thanks, give me an Angelina or Carribean Wind or even A Shot of Love. This one is better forgotten and should have been left of the record together with its counterpart Proporty of Jesus in my humble oppinion, but of course. its his album, so I'd better shut up about maybe, there ain't no going back...

Michael Leahy said...

Fine article about a fine song. If more people absorbed its message it would save a lot of misery and heartbreak.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the comments.

Hans, I understand the reactions of some of Dylan's detractors. Though I personally do like this song it would not make very many "best of " lists. I have a number of other favorites that do come from this "Gospel phase" that Dylan was in. (Interesting that we find the song "Lenny Bruce" directly preceding this, a song about a man whose irreverently shone a light in the power-makers' beds)

Thanks for the note Michael. That is why I shared this on Valentine's Day...