‘Black Diamond Bay’ by Bob Dylan

A number of Dylan songs – ‘Hurricane’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, ‘Brownsville Girl’ – are feats of narrative brilliance, but this is my favourite. It’s a song of close encounters and miscommunication set against a backdrop of impending apocalypse. If you doubt Dylan deserved his Nobel, try listening to (and reading) the opening verse, with its bravura lyrical scene-setting:

Up on the white veranda
She wears a necktie and a
Panama hat
Her passport shows a face
From another time and place
She looks nothing like that
And all of the remnant of her recent past
Are scattered in the wild wind
She walks across a marble floor
Where a voice from the gambling room
Is calling her to come on in
She smiles, walks the other way

And then there’s the final verse, which casts the action in bathetic relief, like one of Munro’s telescopic epilogues. No other writer has ever made storytelling sing like this.

First released on Desire, Columbia, 1976

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