My Own Version Of You

Album: Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)
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  • Bob Dylan has a way of writing songs that teeter on the razor's edge of interpretability while remaining bafflingly inscrutable. "My Own Version of You" is one such song.

    Dylan sings about some unspecified person constructing a new human being out of strange parts and ideas. We're never told who Dylan is inhabiting, as he sings from a first-person perspective. We only know it's someone determined to construct a new lifeform.

    Tony Attwood at Untold Dylan thinks that Dylan is inhabiting fans and critics and talking about building a new Dylan as they want to see him. It's an interesting idea worth referencing and checking out, but it's pretty subjective.

    What we do know for certain is that some of the allusions and references in the song can be pinned down definitively.
  • An explanation of some of the references in the lyrics:

    I've been visiting mosques and monasteries

    A mosque is a Muslim house of worship. "Monastery" is a more general term for places where monks of various religious traditions live.

    Looking for the necessary body parts
    Limbs and livers and brains and hearts

    This is a reference to the Frankenstein's monster. For a couple hundred years, the fictional character has been a mainstay in American culture. It first appeared in the 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by English author Mary Shelley. Since then it's appeared in countless films, stories, and songs. It's become a metaphor for the dangers of both science and the ego. The original story is about a scientist (Dr. Frankenstein) who builds a creature out of various body parts in a quest to understand life. The creature ends up being a dangerous monster beyond Dr. Frankenstein's control. To build a Frankenstein's monster, then, is to be dangerously ambitious and to encroach on things we aren't equipped to understand or control.

    Well, it must be the winter of my discontent

    American author John Steinbeck (best known for The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men) published his last book, The Winter of Our Discontent, in 1961. He borrowed the title from Richard III by William Shakespeare, which has the lines:

    Now is the winter of our discontent
    Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York

    The primary theme of Steinbeck's novel is how social pressures force people into decisions that make them unhappy.
  • I'll take the scar-faced Pacino and the Godfather vandal

    This refers to the actor Al Pacino and the film 1972 American film The Godfather. The movie is about organized crime, family, and power. It's one of the most recognizable and referenced films in the United States.

    I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind

    Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language. Arabic is spoken around North Africa and the Middle East.

    And I ask myself, "What would Julius Caesar do?"

    Julius Caesar (100 BC to 44 BC) was leader of ancient Rome. The mention of his name here is a reference to a 2000s trend among American Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians. Those devotees frequently use the question "What would Jesus Do?" as a way to make good, moral decisions in life.

    In the Bible's Matthew 22:21, Jesus says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." The Christian world has a wide range of interpretations concerning the depth of meaning to that passage, but here Dylan's using it for some clever wordplay.

    Dylan references Caesar another time in Rough and Rowdy Ways, in the song "Crossing the Rubicon."
  • I'm gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell
    Like Liberace, like St. John the Apostle

    Leon Russell was a prolific and highly influential American musician. He did all kinds of things in the industry but initially made his name playing piano, an instrument he started playing at age four. Elton John has cited him as a key inspiration. Russell passed away in 2016.

    Liberace was also an important American pianist. Like Russell, he was a piano prodigy.

    St. John the Apostle was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, with "Apostle" basically being a key Jesus follower and member of his inner circle.
  • I'll see you maybe on Judgment Day

    Judgment Day refers to the Christian concept that one day the world as we know it will end and all people will be judged for their moral standing.

    I'll be at the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street

    In the Bible's Book or Revelation, Armageddon is named as the place where the armies will gather for the great war that is supposed to happen at the end of time.

    Also in the Book of Revelation, the Third Horsemen of the Apocalypse (evil creatures that usher in the end of the world) rides a black horse and symbolizes famine. He also appears another time in Rough and Rowdy Ways where he is the central character in Black Rider.

    Can you tell me what it means, to be or not to be?

    This is the opening line from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. It opens a monologue that asks whether life is worth living at all. It's also one of the most commonly referenced lines in US culture, so common that many people who use it wouldn't be able to identify where it even originally came from.
  • Where the Trojan women and children are sold into slavery
    Long before the first Crusade
    Way back 'fore England or America were made

    The Trojans were a people of the ancient world. They lived in the city of Troy, which stood in what is today the nation of Turkey. In the US, they are most remembered today for their involvement in the Trojan War, which itself is best remembered for the appearance of the Trojan Horse (a giant wooden horse hiding soldiers).

    The Greeks sacked Troy, then sold the women and children of the city into slavery.

    The First Crusade occurred in 1096-1099 AD. The name refers a military campaign launched by the Latin Church. Its primary objective was to invade the Holy Land and take it back from Islamic control.

    Mr. Freud with his dreams, Mr. Marx with his ax

    Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939) is one of the most important figures in the history of psychiatry and the study of the human mind. Freud did a lot of work studying dreams and explaining their significance. His models for the human mind and for dreams are largely discredited today, but his importance to the field of psychology is unquestioned.

    Karl Marx was the intellectual who created the ideas of communism and socialism, so much so that the term "Marxism" is often used interchangeably with those ideas. The implementation of Marx's ideas has frequently involved mass bloodshed (particularly with the Bolshevik Revolution and resulting Soviet Communism of Russia), which may be the reason for the "ax" remark. Or it may simply be that Marx took to intellectually cutting down the concepts of capitalism and viewed it as an institution to be completely destroyed.


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