Song of the Week: “Duquesne Whistle” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s “Duquesne Whistle,” co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, opens Dylan’s new album Tempest. The train in the song is a metaphor. This train is really bound for glory, headed through life’s stops toward eternity. The whistle is blowing “right on time.” Dylan still believes in death’s honesty.

Dylan began in Blonde on Blonde to focus in some songs on a woman who was simultaneously religious (“the mother of our Lord” in this song) and earthly (“that woman in my bed”). This is the woman he worships and who keeps him going.

There’s a new element in this song. There isn’t a hope that the train’s end will lead to Heaven’s door. Instead, Dylan writes “I wonder if they’ll know me next time round.” He seems to suggest a belief not in Heaven but in reincarnation, and a chance to get on a whole new train.

-Lawrence J. Epstein

Lawrence J. Epstein is the author of “The Dylan Watch” on The Best American Poetry Blog. He is currently writing a book about the basic beliefs of Judaism.

Questions, compliments, (hopefully not) complaints?

Contact Jackie Clark: jackie [at] coldfrontmag [dot] com.

See all Songs of the Week here.

Follow Song of the Week on Twitter: @nohelpforthat