Crazy Flowers

                  the crazy flowers bloom there too (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957)

                  flowers on the hillside blooming crazy (Bob Dylan, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, 1975)

The influence of the Beat movement on Dylan is clear to see. The surreal imagery of Another Side onwards gestures towards Ginsberg, while the restless spirit of Kerouac deeply marks all Dylan’s work. Here, Dylan echoes Kerouac at the same time as he moves away from Kerouac’s world. Kerouac’s image anticipates some of the significance of the flower in the decade to come. The flowers are ‘crazy’, the movement’s complex relationship with madness finely condensed. Kerouac transforms the city, New York, with an image of nature. Dylan exploits Kerouac’s phonic sensitivity – the way /bl/ responds to /fl/ and the way /aʊ/ moves into /u:/, each reaching in Dylan for the /oʊ/ of ‘lonesome’. And the madness remains. But Dylan has retreated to nature more fully. He echoes Kerouac’s words at the very moment he withdraws from the underlying vision of a community of urban madmen. The ‘flowers’ are no longer crazy companions but the backdrop for one relationship: ‘I could stay with you forever and never realise the time’. The more personal vision of Dylan’s mid-‘70s work is evident here. Of course, the flowers are also more than a setting. They distil a sense of abundance, the abundance of the relationship, blooming in its own way. But as the refrain makes clear that relationship is painfully fragile. The implicit transience of the flowers also reflects the fragility of the relationship. While the prospect of a transcendence of time is raised – of blooming without decay – time painfully reasserts itself in the ringing ‘when’ of the refrain.

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