Tears of rage, the afternoon after the Fourth!


Sometimes a generation gap is just a...:
On this day after the Fourth of July, we stumbled back upon Tears of Rage, the Dylan song which opened The Band's inaugural album, Music from Big Pink.

The painful song started like this:
We carried you in our arms
On Independence Day
And now you throw us all aside
And put us all away
What dear daughter 'neath the sun
Could treat a father so
To wait upon him hand and foot
Yet always tell him, “No?”
To hear The Band sing it, click here.

It occurred to us that we'd never read a critical appraisal of the song. We turned to the leading authority, where we learned, among other things, that Roger Waters called Music from Big Pink the second "most influential record in the history of rock and roll," after Sgt. Pepper.

Regarding the song itself, we were struck by this interpretive summary:
Andy Gill likens the song to King Lear's soliloquy on the blasted heath in Shakespeare's tragedy: "Wracked with bitterness and regret, its narrator reflects upon promises broken and truths ignored, on how greed has poisoned the well of best intentions, and how even daughters can deny their father's wishes." He suggests that Dylan is linking the anguish of Lear’s soliloquy to the divisions in American society apparent in 1967, as the Vietnam War escalated: "In its narrowest and most contemporaneous interpretation, the song could be the first to register the pain of betrayal felt by many of America’s Vietnam war veterans. … In a wider interpretation [it] harks back to what anti-war protesters and critics of American materialism in general felt was a more fundamental betrayal of the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights."

A strong Biblical theme runs through the song, according to Sid Griffin, who also notes that "life is brief" is a recurrent message in the Old Testament books Psalms and Isaiah. As a father, Dylan realizes now that "no broken heart hurts more than the broken heart of a distraught parent." Griffin calls the four minutes of this song "as representative of community, ageless truths and the unbreakable bonds of family as anything in The Band's canon—or anyone else's canon."

Greil Marcus suggests that the "famous beginning"—"We carried you/In our arms/On Independence Day"—evokes a naming ceremony not just for a child but also for a whole nation. He writes that "in Dylan's singing—an ache from deep in the chest, a voice thick with care in the first recording of the song—the song is from the start a sermon and an elegy, a Kaddish."
We were struck by how politicized that summary was on balance. Was the song about Vietnam vets? Was the song about anti-war protesters? It has always seemed to us that the song is about what it seems to be about—the breakdown between parents and children which was widely occurring at that time.

When Dylan wrote the song, he was a very new parent. It's hard to know what would have led him to write these painful lyrics:
It was all very painless
When you went out to receive
All that false instruction
Which we never could believe
And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse
But oh, what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?
Good God, that's a pain-wracked song! But as a matter of interpretation, it seems to us that sometimes a brutally painful generation gap may just be a generation gap.

For the record, "false instruction" is everywhere now. False instruction has become extremely big business.

(And now the heart is filled with gold, as if it was a purse.)

Go ahead—click on your TV! If it weren't for false instruction, would there be any at all?


  1. It has never been more clear that Bob Somerby is an idiot. If I may rancorlessly express myself.

    1. Hey, when's the last time anybody took seriously anything you wrote... or even "expressed," however rancorlessly?

  2. We should note that the late, now long gone Richard Manuel wrote the music on the song and sings lead on the Band version. It was in the set the summer I saw them on their last tour.

  3. Give it a 95 Dick. i like the beat.

    1. Give it a 5. Nobody was at the dance.

  4. The Band was all about Southern complaints about losing the Civil War (our last culture war) to the North. Their songs reek of self pity and grievance. That is the undertone that 70s youth responded to and that is attracting today's audiences. It isn't about King Lear although the aggrieved tone is there too. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is a less subtle example.

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