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Andy Warhol’s “Superstar” Edie Segdwick. The True Heroine of Bob Dylan’s "Blonde on Blonde"?

Seminar Paper 2015 18 Pages

subject::m10

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Song Analysis
2.1 Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat
2.2 Just Like a Woman

3 Truth or Rumor? Bob Dylan, the 1960s, and Edie Sedgwick
3.1. Bob Dylan and the 1960s
3.2 Edie Sedgwick

Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

As an aficionado of filmed biographies, I came across the 2007 released movie Factory Girl. This girl, who is better known as Edie Sedgwick or Andy Warhol’s first “Superstar”, was familiar to me due to a Warhol exposition I had seen before. Nevertheless, one thing impressed me: besides her platonic relationship with Warhol, another man in the movie turns out to play an important role. It was a man, with whom the “Factory Girl” falls in love with, but finally is left and therefore influenced on her tragically ending way. Named “Billy Quinn”, this man certainly looks like Dylan and is coincidentally a musician as well. Further, both own a similar motorcycle, talk alike, and live in the New York of the 1960s. Although his name might be confusing, it did not take long to find out that this film character was clearly portraying Bob Dylan. When I thought of my Dylan-knowledge as advanced, I had possibly just been proven wrong. As the biographical movie itself only covers a 90 minute long Hollywood adaption of Edie Sedgwick’s life, I was motivated to learn more about Dylan’s real connection to her, the Factory’s role, and Andy Warhol.

Having attended the Bob Dylan seminar, class six already suspected Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” to have been inspired by someone of his private life. Under the presented suggestions, also Edie Sedwgick’s name had been dropped. Thus, my mission seemed clear: listening closer to Dylan’s albums of the 1960s and checking both biographies as well as related literature in order to find connections between the two artist’s worlds. The difficulty of interpreting Dylan’s songs or arranging the facts one knows about his life made the challenge even more worthwhile. Although the idea of finding a connection between both personalities in his music seemed ridiculously far-fetched during the first albums, I finally hit pay dirt on Blonde on Blonde. Two songs of the album feature ‘Edian’ characteristics and rumors have been supporting this hypothesis for years.

As a result, this work aims on revealing these myths and finding a possible truth between the artist Bob Dylan, two particular songs of his album Blonde on Blonde, and Edie Sedgwick. To begin with, the songs in question (“Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” and “Just Like a Woman”) shall be analyzed closer. After considering its musical and lyrical value objectively, this work attempts to leave room for a rather objective interpretation. Next, the main part of this work is going to portray the time of the song’s emergence, Bob Dylan’s life back then, and in how far Edie Sedgwick’s life has intertwined with the artist’s world. With the help of time witnesses, I will finally try to separate rumors from facts and give an overview of why I am of the opinion that both songs have been inspired by Warhol’s “Superstar”.

2. Song Analysis

In the first place, this part of my work is going to approach both LPs from an objective point of view by examining the song’s lyrics in more detail. Next, it will attempt to ascertain which directions a song’s interpretation could head. Although it is one of Dylan’s talents to support the listener’s individual imagination, one must not forget that it is especially this arbitrariness that leaves many possibilities opened for discussion. Thus, when discussing the songs in question, I would like to emphasize that the interpretation of this work shall not be seen as a final statement.

2.1 Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat

Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” is a song from his album Blonde on Blonde from 1966. Like the other song “Just Like a Woman”, it belongs into the era of Dylan’s Mid-Sixties songs. In general, the song sticks out due to an old blues format and adds slightly electric impressions to some surreal, amusing lyrics. But what can the listener take from a confusing mixture by a usually so eloquent genius like Dylan? My straightforward impression of the song is that the strange atmosphere of the “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” is mostly a fun LP. Doing more research on it, it appears surprising that Dylan has played it on many of his tours. Besides the song’s remarkable feature of an easy to the brain sticking chorus, the opening lines leave the listener wondering about its sense. Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat […]. Well, you must tell me, baby, how your head feels under something like that […]”.[1]

Undoubtedly, one can state that some female acquaintance of Dylan (“baby”) owns a pill-box hat and leaves him wondering about how someone would want to wear this. At first glance, this song is not very atmospheric. Dylan continues by complimenting the women “look[ing] so pretty in it, honey”1 but takes away this compliment with a sarcastically asking “can I jump on it sometime?”. 1 Next, he creates a surrealistic image with his comparison to a “mattress balanc[ing] on a bottle of wine”.1 By now, it seems even harder to find any redeeming sense. Thus, Dylan keeps confusing us in his following passage, giving us a stereotypical romance image of showing his “honey” a sunrise spot, but alleviating the severity by wearing his belt atypically. “Me with my belt wrapped around my head and you just sitting there in your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat”. 1

To my mind, the third passage is the most tangling one in its thematic: concerning the connection between the woman’s doctor, her hat, and Dylan’s dangerous influence being around her. Dylan mentions not only the woman’s doctor, but also her new boyfriend, which leaves interpretational space for Dylan’s position as a possible ex-lover of her. He indicates that he knows what her new boyfriend loves her for, although he stultifies her once more by referring to her new hat. Talking about the woman’s hat, it should also be mentioned that Dylan underlines the woman’s wealth several times in the song as the hat is “brand new”, “that expensive kind”, and she assumes her new partner to want her “because of [her] money”. As a result, she seems spoiled, naïve (according to Dylan’s perceptive position), and to be a woman in whose life brands have a value. In short, the song does not distinguish much by first glance, but stands out for its use of sarcasm. Heading for a rather personal understanding, one might still wonder whether this LP is concerned with a particular woman’s extraordinariness, the ridiculousness of trends, or something completely different.

My first interpretational attempt of the difficulties that emerge with peer pressure and a society that creates so called ‘fashion victims’. If one starts to simplify the lyrics towards a general interpretation, it can be observed sarcasm towards these fashionistas. It is mostly the mental image of this leopard skin pill box hat and everyone’s obsession with it, which underlines this thought. Indeed, this kind of hat was at some point highly fashionable. Although rather known in neutral colors, Dylan’s song covers this accessory even in leopard fabric. On the one hand, this might assume an expensive fur, but on the other hand one can also see the leopard skin often used as a vulgar pattern. This suggests that the song can be interpreted as a critique on the people who are too concerned with their clothes and the ridiculousness of being permanently concerned with how they appear to others.

Next, a rather abstract idea can be assumed if one tries to make sense of the doctor in the song and combines it with my second idea: questioning birth control. The lyrics support that Dylan is not allowed to see the woman, as it is bad for her health. So one could assume that this order is prescribed as being psychologically bad for her, like after the end of something more personal (maybe a sexual relationship). Thus, he sings “I asked the doctor if I could see you. It’s bad for your health, he said. Yes, I disobeyed his orders. I came to see you but I found him there instead”.1

Moreover, it is questionable why the woman was already gone when Dylan came to see her. Did she quit her own stay, or did the doctor just hide her? Did he let her go with some pills on prescription? She might hoard these pills in a pill-box., which would navigate the title into a completely different direction. They could be anti-baby-pills, antidepressants, or painkillers after an abortion. The interpretation seems far-fetched, but by the time of the LP’s creation, the birth-control pills were just about to become available. Also Dylan’s later walk to her garage, in which he sees her making love to her new boyfriend, could be interpreted in this direction. Dylan might have been her ex-lover causing her to take birth-control pills, which enable her to “make love” to many men. In other words, Dylan might know what he really loves her for: the pills and the fun they can have without consequences.

2.2 Just Like a Woman

Also to be found on his seventh studio album Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s song "Just Like a Woman" shall be analyzed through the same criteria. Playing the song, the audience encounters introducing drums. The piano follows and additional guitar chords complete the song’s trilling charm . On the whole, it is a gentle song and in a way comparable to the famous LP “Like a Rolling Stone”. Dylan’s voice appears to be soft – contrarily to the often claimed offensive as the lyrics might appear, which makes it difficult to realize whether the words used are meant in an assaulting way.

Therefore, generality should be the key to the song’s sense as I see it. To begin with, he talks about a young woman again (“baby”), who is famous (“everybody knows”) for her fashion and style, which is always up to date. This topic seems familiar. However, the next image of this woman is rather sad since he recently realizes how “her ribbons and her bows have fallen from her curls”1. It seems like something pretty has fallen off from this woman, although we do not know whether it is her youth, weight, beauty or something else. Still, Dylan seems to know her well because he knows that she “makes love just like a woman”1, she acts and feels like a woman, but as Dylan is presenting it, she “breaks just like a little girl”1, which equals being a woman to an acted role. Dylan seems to stress that the woman is in reality an immature young girl trying to belong to the group of “women”.

Next, he is explaining why this girl cannot deal with society’s pressure, as she is not realizing how ordinary she is. The question remains whether she is “like all the rest” to him, a certain industry or to the society. Nonetheless, she solves her psychical problems with drugs in order to handle being someone, who she is not: a grown up woman. Accordingly, Dylan talks about severe times and feeling pain if he sticks to her. With a stereotypical “it is not you, it is me” –excuse he explains her why it is better to end whatever relation they had. His next plea appears to be rather cruel: he asks her to pretend they never knew each other if they hypothetically meet again in the future. Why is that? Was the girl maybe only an affair? What speaks for the affair-idea is that he was “hungry” and she confident “in her world”1. Although this sounds more like sexual seduction than true love, it shall remain questionable in how far they have been involved with each other.

While trying to interpret “Just Like a Woman” neutrally, one first has to ignore critical claims about the song’s intention being “Dylan at his most misogynistic “. I suppose that the main problem occurring in this song is that Dylan generalizes women as such by his chorus. But is the artist settling a score with a former affair, being ironic, or really criticizing women? From my point of view, the artist’s song works on a more complex level. What militates for Dylan is primarily the passionate voice he sings the song with. He seems truly concerned on a constant level and even confesses pain at parts. Acknowledging his own weakness, Dylan further sings about the power the girl had over him when they were together. With the words “it was your world”, he puts the girl into the position of a ruling queen.

In short, the song does not offer any clear disrespectful statement against women. Expressing that someone “makes love just like a woman” might as well be interpreted as making love like an adult rather than the female gender in general. Besides, one should also respect the complicated situation that Dylan seems to be in. It appears to affect the way he sings about this woman, which one can also hear in his voice. Personally, I take the song from a different perspective as not being a critique on women’s features but rather a critique on society’s pressure of growing up as fast as possible. Thus, Dylan reviews not the complexity of gender here, but the problem of maturity, the succeeding restrictions the girl has by not living up the life she wants, and the consequence of the girl getting lost in a drug-hazed world.

3 Truth or Rumor? Bob Dylan, the 1960s, and Edie Sedgwick

3.1. Bob Dylan and the 1960s

As far as Dylan’s career of the 1960s is concerned, I am convinced that the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was undoubtedly a decisive moment. Being one of the turning points in Dylan’s life, the musician switched his until then acoustic guitar solos for going electric with a band (Wald 2015: 1). Back in the 1960s, this hit on a raw nerve and was not spared from critique. Nonetheless, he made the turn from folk to electrically-supported rock with his following three albums. One of these three (the double-LP Blonde on Blonde)[2] features the two songs in question. Nevertheless, Dylan had already reached a considerable success through one song from the foregoing album Highway 61 Revisited called “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965. However, it was not only due to his electric sound that he gained fame but also due to the lyrical value of his works. Poetry analysis, interpretations, and discussions of his songs keep many fans and critics busy until today. Since Dylan never accurately comments his complex art and wordplays, reading between the lines became a field of endless possibilities. Thus, Bob Dylan became more than a musician. He remains a variable artist full of secrets.

[...]


[1] Please find the complete lyrics on http://bobdylan.com/songs/leopard-skin-pill-box-hat/

[2] The inner sleeve of this album supposedly portrays Edie Sedgwick

Details

Pages
18
Year
2015
ISBN (eBook)
9783656984504
ISBN (Book)
9783656984511
File size
545 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v336829
Institution / College
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen – Department of English
Grade
1,3
Tags
Bob Dylan Edie Sedgwick Andy Warhol Blonde on Blonde

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Title: Andy Warhol’s “Superstar” Edie Segdwick. The True Heroine of Bob Dylan’s "Blonde on Blonde"?