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The Wicked Messenger is a song written and originally performed by Bob Dylan for his album John Wesley Harding. The song was recorded in Columbia's Studio A, Nashville, on November 19, 1967.
Structure and instrumentation
The song's instrumentation is light, a characteristic shared with the rest of John Wesley Harding. It features a repetitive descending bass line that carries the song, and the most prominent instrument used is Bob Dylan's acoustic guitar.
The lyrics have their origins in the Bible. In his book, Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s, Mike Marqusee writes:
||The song title appears to be derived from Proverbs 13:17: "A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health." . [In the song] the character first appears in public, unbidden, as an obsessive[...] The wicked messenger is the artist, the prophet, the protest singer.
Dylan was studying the bible at the time, and he used many biblical reference in the songs on the John Wesley Harding album. His mother, Beatty Zimmerman, revealed in an interview at this time:
||In his house in Woodstock today, there's a huge Bible open on a stand in the middle of his study. Of all the books that crowd his house, overflow from his house, that Bible gets the most attention. He's continuously getting up and going over to refer to something.
The song revolves around a character, a "wicked messenger", who has been sent by Eli, a priest in the Books of Samuel. For the critic Andy Gill, "this eponymous messenger is, of course, Dylan himself, the bringer of harsh truths". The lyrics are somehat opaque ("When questioned who had sent for him/He answered with his thumb/For his tongue it could not speak but only flatter"), and the song ends with a sardonic, slightly cryptic moral, "And he was told but these few words/Which opened up his heart/"If ye cannot bring good news, then don't bring any" perhaps a reference to 2 Samuel 4:10.
Gill's interpretation of the song is that the high priest Eli was one of the more intellectual figures in the Old Testament. To have been sent by Eli implies a reliance on intellect. Gill suggests that "perhaps Dylan felt he had valued rationality too highly over spirituality."
The song has been covered several times, most notably by The Faces on their LP First Step and The Black Keys on the soundtrack I'm Not There.
- ^ Bjorner (2000-05-15). "November 29, 1967". Bjorner's Still on the road. http://www.bjorner.com/DSN01620%201967.htm#DSN01642. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
- ^ "John Wesley Harding [Remaster"]. Muze Inc.. http://www.jr.com/product/music/pm/_532549/#productTabCredits. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
- ^ "Proverbs 13:17". Biblos.com. http://bible.cc/proverbs/13-17.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
- ^ www.google.com Books listing Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s by Mike Marqusee, pp. 248-249
- ^ Gill, 1998, My Back Pages, p. 127.
- ^ Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin Pg. 285
- ^ Gill, 1998, My Back Pages, p. 134.
- ^  Lyrics for "Wicked Messenger"
- ^ Gill, 1998, My Back Pages, p. 135.
- Gill, Andy (1999). Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages. Carlton. ISBN 1-85868-599-0.
- Marqusee, Mike (2005). Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-58322-686-9.