My Back Pages

Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

Songfacts®:

  • This song records a critical transformation in Bob Dylan's life and art.

    Up until his fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan, his music had been lumped cleanly in with the progressive intelligentsia, heavily politicized, with many songs used as anthems for various movements. Though Dylan chose to cut that relationship off and claim he'd never been a political artist, those intellectuals can't really be blamed for their assumptions. Dylan's early songs were clearly about topics politically relevant to the day: American military aggression, racism, sexism, poverty, and paranoia of Communism. Some critics have gone so far as to accuse him of using the scene to launch his career and then abandoning it as soon as he could fly on his own.

    Around the time of this album, Dylan started making it very clear that he didn't see himself as part of any political movement, and claimed his songs were never meant to be political. They were about deeper, or at least more ancient things, than the ebb and flow of politics. Or sometimes maybe they were about nothing at all. Either way, Dylan started seriously resisting the efforts to pigeonhole him.

    At least two other songs on Another Side of Bob Dylan delve into the same topic: "I Shall Be Free No. 10" and "To Ramona." "My Back Pages," though, is really the culmination of Dylan's break. It's the song that's best remembered from the album and is usually considered one of the two best off of it, with the other being Chimes of Freedom.
  • Dylan recorded this with just acoustic guitar. At the time, he was an up-and-coming folk singer, but little known outside of those circles. The song remained somewhat obscure until The Byrds covered it, taking it to #30 in America with their electric rendition in 1967. In 1965, The Byrds went to #1 with an electrified version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."
  • A few months before Dylan recorded this song, the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee awarded him the Tom Paine Ward for social activism. Dylan got drunk at the awards ceremony and dug into the committee during his acceptance speech, telling them they were old, meaning not only in age but in ideas.

    The most telling part from the speech was at the end when he said, "There's no black and white, left and right to me anymore. There's only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics."

    One part of the speech in particular presaged "My Back Pages."

    "First of all they're all young and it took me a long time to get young and now I consider myself young," Dylan told the committee. "And I'm proud of it. I'm proud that I'm young." Those lines clearly mirror the chorus for "My Back Pages," which goes "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
  • In "My Back Pages," Dylan intensely criticizes his younger self for his moral arrogance and intellectual naivety. More than anything, he's mocking his own hypocrisy. His outlook on these subjects, on himself and on the progressive movement he lambasted from the awards ceremony pulpit months before recording this song, are summed up in the lines:

    In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
    At the mongrel dogs who teach
    Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
    In the instant that I preach

    The way Dylan saw it, he was becoming the authoritarian by continuing on his old path. Moving forward, his concern was solely for individual consciousness and personal freedom. Not political, freedom, but something more revolutionary.

    In his next album, Bringin' It All Back Home, Dylan launched into the experimentalism and surreality that came to define the era of his music he is most remembered for. When most people think of Dylan, they're thinking of the 1965–1970 Dylan who churned out an unfathomable amount of music that influenced American popular culture.

    The switch into that iconic rebel Dylan really started right here with "My Back Pages," as Dylan said farewell to the "folk-minstrel political crusader" box he'd been forced into (and helped build himself) and launched out into a new direction that would make him one of the most formative figures of 20th American culture.

Comments: 2

  • Wayne from Western Australia"Fearing not that I'd become my enemy" Is exactly what he's singing, fearing NOT Id become my enemy, does not only not fit In with the context of the song, but also makes NO sense grammatically either.

    In the context of the song, which Is all about distancing himself from his earlier political/ protest/poverty songs, Inspired by his working class idol Woodie Guthrie, he Is publically turning his back on being pidgeon holed as a "protest singer".

    Your comment;
    "But even if that's true, it would be the only thing in this song that makes any sense".
    And " How anyone can pretend to know what this gibberish is about is beyond me" Is hilarious, and makes me wonder what you are even doing commenting on anything to do with Dylans songwriting !

    It sounds to me by the rest of your comment, that just because YOU don't have the intellectual ability to understand anything that Dylan wrote after about 1964, and just because YOU "have no clue what his massive discography of non sequtiers" means ,does not In anyway lessen Dylans songwriting genius and worthy crown as the greatest songwriter ever.

    The obviously unintentional irony of your comment that "Anyone who considers him to be the The Voice of a Generation is just being a pretentious pseudointellectual" had me rolling around crying with laughter, as this song was written by Dylan, specifically to distance himself from the very same people that wanted him to be " The voice of a generation" for their various causes.

    "And I like the guy" really ?

    I think from reading your shallow and uninformed comments here, that your the one who should " be fearing that you become your own enemy" Marty
  • Marty from Cleveland, OhIt sure sounds like he's singing "fearing NOT I'd become my enemy," but it would make more sense if it was "fearing THAT I'd become my enemy."

    But even if that's true, it would be the only thing in this song that makes any sense. How anyone can pretend to know what this gibberish is about is beyond me.

    We earthlings could understand some of Dylan's early classic songs, and they were indeed great. But the more he sang, the less sense he made. Anyone who considers him to the "The Voice of a Generation" is just being a pretentious pseudointellectual. They have no clue what his massive discography of non sequiturs means.

    And I like the guy.
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