Writings about Music

Silhouetted by the Sea: Bob Dylan in Mississippi

Bob Dylan is addressing Music itself in this song; how he has devoted his life to music’s attraction and pursuit, following “the southern star” seeking the secrets of music, and having “crossed that river” to be with his personification of music. The lyrics and music of the dramatically contrasting stanzas and choruses in Mississippi saltate smooth as sand off each other, gaining increasingly textured tribute, diametrics, and earthy eloquence.

Indian classical musicians believe that Music is God - Swar is Ishwar - and vocalist Pandit Jasraj once told me that God loves music above all else, beginning: "First thing, if you go by shastra, by theory, raga means you can elaborate, and you can sing from five minutes to five hours. And it should not be monotonous. You should elaborate in different way every time. Raga should be, structure should be, the same. And so anybody can listen, and say this is, for example, Raga Shuddha Nat. Apart from that, music is my prayer, my offering, my services towards God. Whenever I start, I pray. And whenever I teach someone, I always explain to them what is mother and father. Mother and father: we cannot repay their debt because they showed us this world, this beautiful world. And you can be from human to god in Hindu Sanskriti. In our culture we believe that man or woman can be a god. If you do something for another person, slowly, slowly, he or she can be a god. In Indian music, many saints, they used to sing. And they, through their music, they had so much power in their music, and their bhakti, devotion."

Bob Dylan also sings about God in Mississippi, intoning: "I was thinkin' 'bout the things that Rosie said" and "I was dreaming I was sleepin' in Rosie's bed" - Rosie being a symbolic name for Jesus Christ, and the bed denoting Eternity. Pandit Jasraj sings to Vishnu, Shiva, and Maa Kali.

It may be that the original inspiration for Mississippi, the second track on Dylan's Love and Theft album, was a prison holler appearing in a 1934 collection by John and Alex Lomax: "American Ballads & Folk Songs."

- Michael Robinson, September 2014, Los Angeles


© 2014 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

Please note that the words of Pandit Jasraj have been edited slightly for readability here. The full interview, linked to the word "told" is an exact record of the words he spoke.

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).