Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 1
Bob Dylan’s “My Own Version of You” an analysis by Kees de Graaf- Part 1.
There cannot be any doubt that we deal with yet another Dylan classic here. As time passes by and we draw nearer to the end of his impressive career as a poet, musician, songwriter and painter, his work seems to become more and more intricated. Also in this song, you sometimes feel as if you are in a labyrinth of elusiveness and you desperately ask yourself “Is there light at the end of the tunnel - can you tell me please?”. A key point is that the “You” and the “My “in “My Own Version of You” are not identified. Objectively seen, the “You” may be virtually anybody or anything. This gives rise to a lot of speculation from Dylan scholars on the internet. Some say that the “You” is a woman. Others argue that the “You” is Dylan himself who continuously recreates himself. Again others, suggest that it is just a sneer at all those critics and analysts – including the author of this article- who make their own version of Dylan and pretend that their “version” is the only one that is authentic? It is not hard to imagine Dylan sitting behind a desktop and having a malicious glee at all those Dylan scholars – including myself- and concluding of all those versions: “They talk all night - they talk all day, not for a second do I believe what they say”. Let’s hope that at least my analysis is consistent. I am warned and I will pledge my case.
But to be honest, what about if we have good reasons to assume that the “You” in this song is supposed to be God? What about if this song has to do with the indelible and irresistible inclination of fallen mankind to be like God and to create a self-made version of God, and in doing so defying God’s first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” and even more importantly defying His second commandment: “You shall not make yourself a graven image” (Exodes 20:3,4 RSV)?. You shall not make an own version of me?
The idea that the “You” in this song is in fact God, is in line with the main theme of this album: “Rough and rowdy ways”. The rough and rowdy ways are the ways of God’s opponent. In our analysis of “False Prophet” we already found these “rough and rowdy ways” incarnated in the False Prophet, alias Satan, the devil. “Good intentions can be evil” we hear Dylan say in his song “Man of Peace” and many a time these intentions are hidden under a cloak of decency. This is the case when we hear the False Prophet say: “I’m the enemy of treason - the enemy of strife, I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life”. This is also the case in this song; the words: “I want to do things for the benefit of all mankind” and “do it with decency and common sense” sound as much benevolent. But – as is so often the case in Dylan’s songs- things are not what they seem. When mankind is stopped short in its never ending endeavour to make an own version of God, mankind can become extremely violent. When all attempts to create an own version of God fail and mankind “gets into trouble”, one would expect that mankind would give up and surrender. But that has not happened. On the contrary, instead of giving up and surrendering, and admitting that mankind in itself has “No place to turn - no place at all” , mankind does the opposite and “hits the wall”. No matter how preposterous and futile all these attempts to create an own version of God are, mankind keeps on trying. Take e.g. “Mister Marx with his axe”; his communism. His attempt to create a secular version of the kingdom of God resulted in millions and millions of casualties who- in the 20th century- were slain by this ideological axe under Stalin’s and Mao’s communism. The same can be said of all religious ideologies, during the Crusades and even “Long ago before the First Crusade”. “God wants it” has often been misused as a pretext to create an own “new imperial empire”, to create an own -secular- version of the kingdom of God which in reality has nothing to do with the heavenly kingdom, on the contrary.(For more details on this, see my analysis of Dylan’s “With God on our side”, elsewhere on this website).
Many analysts see Mary Shelly’s classic novel “Frankenstein” as an important source of inspiration for this song. Although this novel may play a part in the background, it does- in my opinion- not affect the main thought behind this song. Even if you would miss the Frankenstein connection entirely or miss some of the Shakespeare quotes in this song, it will not affect the meaning of this song. Absolutely essential for understanding this song - in my view- are the books of Isaiah,Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The biblical books of the prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel picture in dark colours how futile and ridiculous all attempts to make an own version (image) of God are. The poet sees through it all: “I can see the history of the whole human race, It’s all right there - its carved into your face”. This is confirmed by Jeremiah 51:17,18: “The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge! The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make, for their carefully shaped works are a fraud. These idols have no breath or power. Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! On the day of reckoning they will all be destroyed”(NLT). That is how all attempts “to create an own version of you” will end up. How we can all piece this together, you will see in the next parts of my analysis. Be the first to comment on this article.