Bob Dylan On Fools

Bob Dylan2Bob Dylan begins episode 47 of his show, Theme Time Radio Hour, with a beautiful instrumental version of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” After a few bars of this tune, it continues in the background as Bob begins to speak:

James Thurber

James Thurber

James Thurber once said, “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time,” and for the next hour we’re going to try to do just that. Welcome back to Theme Time Radio Hour. Today we’re going to talk about patsies, stooges, marks, jesters, jokers, buffoons, clowns, tricksters, harlequins, and the village idiots, because in honor of April first, it’s our fools’ program. Everybody plays the fool sometimes, and for the next hour we’re going to play the greatest records about our favorite halfwits, the fools.

Recently, I provided a post on this blog titled, “Bob Dylan on Madness,” as an entertaining way to practice some of the basic principles I regularly discuss. That post was so popular that I thought, Why not do a similar post utilizing Bob’s show on fools?  After all, in addition to people at times seeking to insult themselves and others by saying such things as “You’re mad” or “You’re crazy,” they do likewise by saying such things as “You’re a fool” or “You’re a buffoon.”  Are there more respectful, helpful ways to deal with situations that give rise to such name calling?  I think so.  Let’s see if we can have some fun thinking about this issue as we review Bob’s show on fools.

Chain of Fools

ArethaAfter Bob’s brief introduction, he dives right into Aretha Franklin’s emotionally charged song, “Chain of Fools.”

For five long years
I thought you were my man
But I found out
I’m just a link in your chain

You got me where you want me
I ain’t nothin’ but your fool
Ya treated me mean
Oh you treated me cruel

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

Every chain, has got a weak link
I might be weak yeah
But I’ll give you strength

Oh, hey
Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

Here we find a woman calling herself a fool because she sees herself attached to a man who treats her cruel. I wonder how I would react to a woman telling me a similar story.  I guess I would not rush into giving her any advice, but rather, give her some time to be with her emotional experience while I listened in a caring, empathic manner.

listeningAs we discussed in an earlier post titled “To Listen, Or To Criticize,” we often jump too quickly into providing advice. If you would like your listening skills to be respected, it helps to summarize, every few minutes, what is being said in a caring manner, thus reassuring the person talking to you that you are indeed listening and accurately hearing what is going on.

After perhaps fifteen minutes or so of listening and summarizing, I would continue to listen, but I might begin to start asking, as gently as possible, a few clarifying questions.  digI often use the DIG Conflict Model to come up with my questions. The letters of the wordDIGwould remind me to ask about what she “desires” in this situation, what isinterfering” with her desire, and if she feels she is “guilty” of doing something wrong. I would gently encourage her to be as specific as she could be.  A statement like, I’m guilty of being a fool” is way too vague to be helpful in coming up with any practical plan.  “I’m guilty of not going out to social events on Friday evenings so I can find a loving relationship with a man who would treat me with respect,” fits better with my image of being specific.

Aretha Franklin’s song continues with these words:

One of these mornings
The chain is gonna break
But up until the day
I’m gonna take all I can take, oh hey

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

We see a glimmer of hope in these words.  That weak link in the chain is not completely unbreakable.  I think that at some point in my relationship with a woman dealing with this type of concern, I might ask what she thinks she might do if the chain would indeed break.  My overall goal at this point in the relationship would be to focus not so much on what is wrong with what is happening in her life, but what she could specifically do to improve her situation.

Further On In the Show

A little later in Bob’s show, he introduces another song:

Hank Snow

Hank Snow

Everyone plays the fool sometime. Hank Snow knew that. We talk about Hank an awful lot [on my show], and he was one of the biggest voices in country music from 1951 and 1955. He had a remarkable number of top ten hits. This is from the tail end of that streak, in 1955–“Now And Then There Is A Fool Such As I.”

Here are some of the lyrics:

Pardon me, if I’m sentimental
When we say goodbye.
Don’t be angry with me should I cry.
When you’re gone, yet I’ll dream
A little dream as years go by.

Now and then there’s a fool such as I.

And now you say that we are through.
I’m a fool, but I’ll love you dear
Until the day I die.
Now and then there’s a fool such as I.

Like the Aretha Franklin song, this Hank Snow song is about someone in love who is feeling like a fool.  As it turns out, almost all of the songs Bob plays over the course of his hour show is about love and someone feeling like a fool.  But they differ nevertheless.  In the first two songs we find out about two people who are calling themselves fools, but the first one is about a woman who feels she’s a fool for staying connected with a man even though he treats her bad.  The second song is about a man who feels foolish for continuing to love a woman even after she said they are through.

In other songs that Dylan plays during his show, a singer is trying to convince her parents that she’s no fool for loving a man that they think is less than ideal.  Then there’s one about a man who is trying to convince a woman that she’s a fool for not loving him despite all that he has to offer.

One of the highlights of Bob’s show is a little audio clip of Humphrey Bogart, as Sam Spade, confronting Mary Astor as the femme fatale, Brigid, in the classic film noir, The Maltese Falcon.

Maltese FalconBrigid, desperately: You’ve been playing with me, just pretending to trap me like this. You didn’t care at all. You don’t love me.

Spade: I won’t play the sap for you.

Brigid: You know it’s not like that! You can’t say that!

Spade: You haven’t played straight with me for half hour at a stretch since I’ve known you.

Brigid: You know down deep in your heart that in spite of everything I’ve done, I love you.

Spade: I don’t care who loves who, I won’t play the sap for you. You killed Miles and you’re going over for it.

As you can see, even when used in the context of love difficulties, the word, “fool,” or its related terms, are used to refer to quite a variety of different circumstances.  

Frankie LymonAs we leave the love arena, we see that the term is used in even a wider set of circumstances. Thus, Bob tells us about the enormously talented singer, Frankie Lymon, who died way too early with a heroin syringe by his side. As another example, he tells us about a couple of football games:

Every field has its fools, and the biggest mistakes are made on the football field. For example, Roy Unsway Regales played for the University of California, and in the 1929 Rose Bowl Game, he got turned around and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction.

Jim, upon realizing his mistake.

Jim, upon realizing his mistake.

That’s nothing compared to Jim Marshal who played for the Minnesota Vikings. On October 25, 1964 the Vikings were playing against the San Francisco 49ers. Marshal recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards in the wrong direction into his own end zone. He was so excited he threw down the ball in celebration. The ball landed out of bounds, resulting in a safety for the 49ers. Fortunately for him, the Vikings won the game anyway, 27 to 22, and I was there that day. Strange but true.

We All Sometimes Play the Fool

Throughout the show, Bob reminds us repeatedly that everyone plays the fool sometime.  He does it in a variety of ways. Thus, before playing the song, “Three Times a Fool,” Bob tells us “It wouldn’t be bad if you were just a fool once a year, but all of us are fools on more than one occasion.”

A  little later, he says:

We’re talking about fools of all stripes here on Theme Time Radio Hour. As Jean Brown once said, “Foolproof systems don’t take into account the ingenuity of fools.”

And still a little later, Bob gives us some quotes from Shakespeare and Twain on the subject of fools.

Shakespeare looking a little foolish in his outfit.

Shakespeare looking a little foolish in his outfit.

Shakespeare spoke quite often about fools. For example, in A Midsummers Night Dream he said, Lord, what fools these mortals be? Twelfth Night gave us the following line, Foolery, Sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere. And From As You Like it, The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.

Shakespeare, hell of a cat.

TwainAs Mark Twain says,”The first of April is the day we remember who we are the other 364 days of the year.

And so when people call us a fool, perhaps we may find that the sting of the comment is lessened if we keep in mind that no doubt these name callers have had their share of playing the fool on plenty of occasions.  And when, out of old habits, we find ourselves calling either ourselves, or someone else a fool, perhaps a little sympathy with the human condition is in order.

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.





Bob Dylan on Madness
Psychiatric Name Calling: What Do People Say About It?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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