Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #43: Motorpsycho Nitemare

What's that they used to say about farmer's daughters? Well, I mean, besides this. I've heard my share of those awful jokes, and while I listened to "Motorpsycho Nitemare", I had every single one of them running through my head; I wonder if Bob chuckled as he wrote the lyrics to this song, thinking about all the crappy farmer's daughter jokes that were old back then. It's hard to believe the song was written at all, honestly, but that's part of the charm, I guess.

This is a stream of consciousness song that doesn't really sound like stream of consciousness; aside from the really wacky stuff like having a Reader's Digest hurled at one's head, Bob could very well have been relating a tale from his sojourn across America earlier that year. Then again, he might've just read On The Road or some other such novel/memoir/whatever about life on the road and wanted to pen his own goofy version of "one night at a strange farm". You never can tell with Bob, can you? At the very least, we got one of his best song titles, and Bob got to do a test run for "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" the next year; the song manages to use both the same (very basic) chord structure, verse construction, and oddball top of the head lyricism. Oh yeah, and there's the matter of that electric business.

What I kind of like about the song is something I usually don't care for: there's a time-capsule feeling around this song, and I'm not just talking about the references to Psycho and La Dolce Vita. I seriously doubt that "farmer's daughters" stories happen anymore; for one, the number of roads that don't have some form of motel or inn or something alongside it is dwindling every year, and our ever-widening societal net means that even rural teenage girls will probably have heard of iPods and the Jonas Brothers and DirecTV and that sort of thing. You're not really going to get guys sleeping in barns and confronted by somebody that looks like the McPoyle sister anymore, let alone Anita Ekberg. I will say that I have lived in the Midwest, and you do see your share of corn-fed gals who might or might not have spent time on a farm. But that's another story.

Not too long ago I undertook a drive from Ann Arbor, MI to Las Vegas. The drive stretched over 2 days and roughly 24 hours on the road, give or take time spent at gas stations and eating really, really unhealthily. I saw some really beautiful stretches of land (Utah, in particular, is a natural marvel) and some boring as hell stretches of land (Nebraska was so flat and dull I actually felt like Charles Starkweather for a few hours). What I didn't see too much of, however, were just isolated farms; I saw a couple of farms, to be sure, but what I saw a lot of were gas stations, McDonald's, rest stops, and lots and lots of open land. Driving through the badlands of Colorado, you can see the sky stretched out before you like a panorama, an endless sea of blue and white that never seems to end. It's enough to make me wish I'd had a camera. Alas.

The point, though, is that the modern-day road trip experience is miles and miles away from what it was like 40 years ago, both for better and for worse. It's certainly better in that having your car break down isn't a life or death experience, and that I can plug in my iPod into my car stereo and have the hours just fly by, and I can stop at a Comfort Inn if I'm tired instead of having to find some stranger to put me up for the night. But it's worse in that so much of the romanticism is gone; all the 7-11s and Arby's tend to take away from the experience of seeing the country, you can actually see areas where the natural beauty of the land has been raped by terrible farming techniques and yet another store with novelty items like clams with googly eyes pasted on them, and the thrill of being out there in the great wide open has been lessened by the urban sprawl reaching out and snatching up more pieces of the country.

Listening to "Motorpsycho Nitemare" is enlightening, not just because Dylan's view-askew writing style is at its most playful here, but because experiences like the one Dylan's parodying were much more common a long time ago than today. Maybe it's just my sense of nostalgia speaking, but I would like to experience an America far more open than it is today, one where every stretch of road was only a line traced through green fields and open forests, where roadside diners were actual events instead of places to grab a burger and eat while driving (not that I ever did that - that is poor driving etiquette!). I will say, though, that the idea of sleeping in a barn does not particularly appeal to me. Well, unless I knew that the farmer who owned that barn had a daughter that looked like Anita Ekberg.

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Cody said...

I have to agree with you on wanting to see the more open America of the past. After reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road, I was saddened when I realized that the adventures of Sal Paradise would be impossible to relive in today's world.

Tony said...

On The Road is a befuddling book; some of the passages (the Mexico section in particular) are incredibly beautiful, suck me in from start to finish, and read like a dream, and others are the very dictionary description of "boring". I enjoy the book and would recommend it, but it's not for everyone. I imagine the "original scroll" is even less so.

I should mention that the complexion of the American landscape isn't the only reason why people can't just up and move around like Kerouac and Neal Cassady did back then. You've got credit cards, mortgage payments, student loans, and a billion other things that chase you around the globe if you want to move around. Moving is beyond a pain in the ass now. It shouldn't be that way, in my opinion.


What a cool idea! Now if I may shamelessly promote my own endeavor...

It's my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which I think you'd enjoy.

It's a murder-mystery. But not just any rock superstar is knocking on heaven's door. The murdered rock legend is none other than Bob Dorian, an enigmatic, obtuse, inscrutable, well, you get the picture...

Suspects? Tons of them. The only problem is they're all characters in Bob's songs.

You can get a copy on or go "behind the tracks" at to learn more about the book.

Professor Batty said...

This is a pretty clever song. Bob manages to run three themes concurrently throughout the song (Farmer's daughter, Psycho, and Cold War Commie hysteria) tying them together neatly at the end (Rita gets a job at a motel!) Bob's sense of humor kind of disappeared for a long time, I think he's rediscovered it in the last few albums.

Moose said...

I love this one and consider it one of his funniest. You are right, though. It is great that it even exists in the first place. It sounded similar to something but now I will never be able unhear the similarity to his 115th, one of my favorites ever. I think I recognized it on some level but never vocalized it.

MrDrysdale1 said...

I'm 49 and I watched Psycho for the first time about 2 years ago. It is fantastic and Bob must have loved it too. Last week I watched La Dolce Vita mostly because of Rita. EVERYONE is beautiful in this movie! I am glad Bob wrote this to mostly honor Psycho and that the record company would even let this go onto an album.