Bob Dylan on Lying

Judy becomes bitter when she finds out that her husband, Glen, lied to her. That bitterness leads to a loss of the tenderness she had for him on their glorious wedding day. Despite efforts by Glen to straighten things out, his previous loving relationship ends in divorce.

Of course, not all incidences of lying end so sadly. Nevertheless, how much respect people have for you can be significantly influenced by perceptions of your truthfulness. Thus, the topic of lying is well worth a From Insults to Respect post. 

As regular visitors to this blog well know, it is my habit of utilizing, from time to time, Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour show to provide a literary spin on a topic of interest. To that end, today we’ll turn to his wonderful episode that focused on the theme, “Truth and Lies.” You can listen to the show for free by clicking HERE.

Bob’s Opening Lines

Bob begins his show on truth and lies by lying to us:

Bob Dylan

Heh heh heh…Welcome to the Underground Garage. I’m Little Steven. All right, I’m not little Steven. I’m lying to you. This is Theme Time Radio Hour and today’s show is about veracity and prevarication, and the distance between the two. We’re going to be talking about the gospel truth and dirty lies, big fat lies, little white lies, half-truths, and we’ll be discovering that the truth will set you free…. To start things off, the Chromatics, “Tell a lie.” 

There’s some fine sax and great vocal harmonizing on this song, but I found myself a little taken aback with its lyrics. Here are a few of them.

If the truth will hurt someone you love, 
Tell a lie, tell a lie, tell a lie.
If the truth will bring a tear to her eye,
Tell a lie, tell a lie, tell a lie. 

Yeah, tell her that you love her,
If that will make her smile.
Though you’re lying you will discover,
You’ll mean it after a while.

If the truth will hurt someone you love,
Tell a lie, tell a lie, tell a lie.

Hmmm. This song actually has the singers enthusiastically encouraging us to lie. It focuses in on lying to a woman with whom we are developing, hopefully, a loving relationship. I’m not so sure this is sound advice. Let’s see what Bob has to say about this.

If you are going to tell a lie, make it a white lie. The dictionary defines that as an often trivial, diplomatic, or well-intentioned untruth. According to a survey, 4 out of 5 people admit to telling white lies at least once a day, and I’m telling you that that other guy, he’s lying.

Maybe I’m just taking it for granted, but you all know that it is a bad thing to lie. Just so we say it emphatically one time, it is a sin to tell a lie.

Even if lying is a sin, it is only a venal sin. It becomes a mortal sin only when the intention of deceiving risks mortal consequences. And just as a reminder, here are the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. Let me see, I’m good for about five of them.

Well, after listening to this first part of Bob’s show, I gave it a little thought. As it turns out, although I think of myself as basically an honest guy, if the truth be told, there are times when I told a white lie.

Let’s move a little further into this show to see what else Bob wants to share on this topic.

The Middle of The Show

As the show continues, Bob plays us a sad story about how a lie turned into gossip, and by the end of the day, a guy’s reputation was ruined.

From there, we hear Aretha Franklin doing a soulful version of “Don’t Play that Song.”

Aretha Franklin

Hey mister, don’t play it no more
Don’t play it no more
I can’t stand it
Don’t play it no more (no more), no more (no more), no more, whoa-whoa (can’t stand it)
I remember on our first date (ooh)
He kissed me and he walked away (ooh)
I was only seventeen (ooh)
I’d never dream he’d be so mean (ooh)

Here, in Aretha’s heartfelt rendition of this song, we are provided with pretty much the opposite opinion of “Tell a Lie.”

“Don’t Play that Song” was a major hit not only for Aretha, but for several other musical artists. Its popularity is due, at least in part, to it so powerfully capturing the emotional pain that many experience when it becomes apparent that the person they fell in love with has lied about loving them. Such painful memories can last a lifetime.

Mark Twain

A little further along in Bob’s show he provides us a little of what Mark Twain had to say about the truth:

“Always tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what you said.”

Then Bob tells us that,

“You probably don’t want to hang around with liars at all. You don’t want to be spending a lot of time trying to second guess everything they say. And you certainly don’t want to have to keep saying what Fats Domino keeps saying in this song.”

The song Bob is referring to is “Don’t Lie to Me.” On this one we hear Fats playing some pretty decent piano rifts while singing the following lyrics:

Well, let’s talk it over
Baby from the start
I heard about the way you over do your part
And don’t you lie to me

Oh don’t you lie to me
Because it makes me mad
And I’ll get evil as a man can be
There is two kinds of people I just can’t stand

And that’s a lyin’ woman and a thievin’ man
Oh don’t you lie to me
Oh don’t you lie to me
Because it makes me mad.

Here we get a sense of the anger and evil that can get stirred up when lying occurs. There are  several other wonderful comments and songs in this part of the show, but my time is running short, so let’s move on.

The Closing Few Minutes Of Bob’s Show

The literary side of Bob loves to use some literature in his show to enrich his themes. This show is no exception. Thus, he says:

Carl Sandburg

Before we go, Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about the liars, and it goes like this:

A LIAR goes in fine clothes
A liar goes in rags
A liar is a liar, clothes or no clothes
A liar is a liar and lives on the lies he tells and dies in a life of lies
And the stonecutters earn a living—with lies—on the tombs of liars

A liar looks ’em in the eye
And lies to a woman,
Lies to a man, a pal, a child, a fool
And he is an old liar; we know him many years back

A liar lies to nations
A liar lies to the people
A liar takes the blood of the people
And drinks this blood with a laugh and a lie,
A laugh in his neck,
A lie in his mouth
And this liar is an old one; we know him many years
He is straight as a dog’s hind leg
He is straight as a corkscrew
He is white as a black cat’s foot at midnight

The tongue of a man is tied on this,
On the liar who lies to nations,
The liar who lies to the people.
The tongue of a man is tied on this
And ends: To hell with ’em all.
To hell with ’em all.


Wow, that Sandburg poem packs quite a punch. Utilizing such poetry, along with other items, such as the Bob Dylan show, etc., helps to enrich the part of our brain that deals with lying. I come to that belief from my own experience.

When I was very young, I lied without any forethought. For example, I remember when I was in second grade, one day in the lunchroom a boy at my table announced that he just got a toy Tommy gun for his birthday. Seeing the enthusiastic reaction of some of the guys at my table, I announced that I got one also for my birthday, despite the fact that I hadn’t, and I didn’t even know what a Tommy gun was. The lie just shot right out of my mouth.

Well, immediately after I made this announcement, some of the guys started asking me questions about what a Tommy gun was. I tried to make up some answers, but the guy who actually had the toy, made it pretty clear I didn’t know what I was talking about. Then, a couple of other guys said they wanted to come to my house after school to see my gun. At this point, my red, sweaty face made one more desperate attempt at saving face, and then I hurried away, totally embarrassed.

With experiences like this, along with hearing stories about the trouble other people got into as a result of their lying, I began to catch myself beforehand whenever I was tempted to lie. One of the biggest influences on my ability to have some forethought when it came to lying was meeting a couple of people in high school that displayed a degree of humbleness. I came to admire this. Both appeared comfortable about their shortcomings, and although both had some impressive skills in a few areas, rather than bragging about them, they let their performance speak for themselves. I soon found myself modeling their style, and each time I was tempted to exaggerate something about myself, I found I could catch myself beforehand, and pretty often I chose a more truthful path.

So, there you have it, my From Insults to Respect post for this week. Have a great week, and please join us again real soon.


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.

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Great article on lying! I doubt there’s anybody on earth who can claim they have never lied! White lies is perhaps acceptable because the intention is not to deceive however lying to a person that you love them, when you actually don’t, is the worst form of crime a person can commit! Obviously its for an ulterior motive!

    In relationships, it would differ for every individual, best to clarify in advance what your thoughts on lying, half lies, white lies etc is. There’s no gospel truth in this world!

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