Bob Dylan evokes spirit of Walt Whitman in new song, ‘I Contain Multitudes’

dylan whitman

Bob Dylan evokes Walt Whitman in his new song, “I Contain Multitudes.”

In his epic poem “Song of Myself,” the great Walt Whitman — who wrote most of it while living in Camden — famously wrote:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Bob Dylan, whose writing style has sometimes been described as Whitmanesque, uses the last three words as the title of his latest song, released at midnight April 16. In the song, he also describes himself, quite accurately, as as a “man of contradictions.”

He uses more or less the same writing strategy as he did in “Murder Most Foul” — released in a similar stealth manner, March 27 — throwing throws together a jumble of references instead of telling a linear story. But I think, here, he comes up with something more evocative and of more long-lasting value.

You can listen to the entire song, as well as “Murder Most Foul,” below.

There are references to all kinds of art — Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Beethoven, Chopin, “All the Young Dudes,” “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache” — in “I Contain Multitudes.”

“I paint landscape, and I paint nudes, I contain multitudes,” Dylan sings. Also: “I drive fast cars but I eat fast foods.”

And then there’s this memorable line: “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones, and them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones.”

In an L.A. Review of Books interview that followed the 2016 announcement that Dylan would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, the writer Greil Marcus — whose essays and books about Dylan are essential reading for any serious Dylan fan — said, “I think the first thing I ever wrote about Bob Dylan was a college paper about Bob Dylan and Walt Whitman. All you really need to know about that topic is not what people said in the ‘60s: If Walt Whitman were alive today he’d be playing an electric guitar. No. I think you could say, as Bob Dylan has certainly recognized, that Walt Whitman is his comrade. And Whitman would recognize Dylan as his ‘comerado,’ in his word. You don’t need to say more than that.”

“I Contain Multitudes” is available in various forms at bobdylan.lnk.to/IContainMultitudes.

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