Classic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A‑Gonna Fall” & More

Screen­writer Todd Alcott has been very busy since we intro­duced you to his hilar­i­ous Mid-Cen­tu­ry Pulp Fic­tion Cov­er project last month.

To restate what should be obvi­ous from the sec­ond, if not first glance, none of Alcott’s titles are real. His aes­thet­i­cal­ly con­vinc­ing mock-ups pay trib­ute to favorite songs by favorite artists: David Bowie, Talk­ing Heads, Joy Divi­sion, Elvis Costel­lo…

The start of the school year finds him in a Dylan mood, ren­der­ing some of his best known hits in a vari­ety of pulp genre for­mats:

Bob Dylan is the per­fect sub­ject for this project, because his work has always been all about quo­ta­tion and repur­pos­ing. From the very begin­ning, he took old songs, changed the lyrics and called them his own…. And it’s not just the melodies, he’s also not shy about lift­ing phras­es and whole lines from oth­er sources. One of the fun things about being a Bob Dylan fan is being able to spot the influ­ences. It’s not just lift­ing lines from clas­sic blues songs, where we don’t real­ly know who “wrote” the orig­i­nals, it’s real, iden­ti­fi­able, copy­right-pro­tect­ed mate­r­i­al. And you nev­er know where it’s going to come from, a book about the Yakuza from Japan, a cook­book, an old Time Mag­a­zine arti­cle, or 1940s noir pic­tures.

I was watch­ing a clas­sic Robert Mitchum noir, Out of the Past, and Mitchum is talk­ing to some­one, and they men­tion San Fran­cis­co, and Mitchum says “I always liked San Fran­cis­co, I was there for a par­ty once.” 

And I was like “Wait, what?” Because that’s a line from a real­ly obscure Dylan song, “Maybe Some­day,” off his album Knocked-Out Loaded. 

I was like “Wait, why did that line stick in Dylan’s mind? Why did he decide to quote that? Is it just the way Mitchum says it? What hap­pened there?” And sud­den­ly a song I had­n’t thought about much became a lot more inter­est­ing.

So for my Dylan cov­ers, I try to car­ry on that tra­di­tion of tak­ing quotes and repur­pos­ing them. So “Just Like a Woman” becomes a sto­ry in a sci­ence-fic­tion pulp, and “Like a Rolling Stone” becomes an expose on juve­nile delin­quen­cy, and “Rainy Day Women” becomes a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic adven­ture sto­ry. 

In a way, it’s what this project is all about, tak­ing dis­card­ed pieces of cul­ture and stick­ing them back togeth­er with new ref­er­ences to make them breathe again.

Just Like a Woman”’s lyrics have nev­er sat par­tic­u­lar­ly well with fem­i­nists. (“There’s no more com­plete cat­a­logue of sex­ist slurs,” author Mar­i­on Meade wrote in The New York Times.)

I think it’s fair to say that Alcott’s bux­om flame-haired cyborg leans in to that crit­i­cism. The cov­er of this faux sci­ence fic­tion mag also harkens back to a time when the depic­tion of sexy female robots left some­thing to the imag­i­na­tion.

From a design stand­point, it’s a great illus­tra­tion of the heavy lift­ing a sin­gle well-cho­sen punc­tu­a­tion change can do.

The magazine’s title is an extra gift to Dylan fans.

The Blonde-on-Blonde Chron­i­cles con­tin­ue with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. Does it mat­ter that the breast-plat­ed, and for all prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es bot­tom­less war­riors are raven tressed?

Only if tongue’s not firm­ly in cheek.

The night­mare vision of Dylan’s sev­en-minute protest song “A Hard Rain’s A‑Gonna Fall” makes for a smooth tran­si­tion to a dis­as­ter nov­el of the 1970s.

In a 1963 radio inter­view with author Studs Terkel, Dylan assert­ed that the song wasn’t direct­ly relat­ed to the nuclear fears all-per­va­sive at the time:

It’s not the fall­out rain. It isn’t that at all. The hard rain’s gonna fall is in the last verse…That means all the lies, you know, that peo­ple get told on their radios and in news­pa­pers. All you have to think for a minute, you know. Try­ing to take people’s brains away, you know. Which maybe has been done already. I hate to think it’s been done. All the lies, which I con­sid­er poi­son.

This writer can think of anoth­er rea­son cit­i­zens might find them­selves fight­ing for their lives in a row­boat lev­el with the very tip­py top of the Empire State Build­ing. So, I sus­pect, can Alcott.

Or maybe we’re wrong and cli­mate change is noth­ing but fake news.

Alcott gets some mileage out of anoth­er rain-based lyric on Maggie’s Farm, a steamy rur­al romp whose creased cov­er is also part and par­cel of the genre.

Who’s that young punk on the cov­er of Like a Rolling Stone? Beats me, but the girl’s a dead ringer for Warhol super­star, Edie Sedg­wick, the pur­port­ed inspi­ra­tion for the song that shares the novel’s name. Ms. Sedgwick’s real life fig­ure was much less volup­tuous, but if the genre cov­ers that sparked this project demon­strate any­thing, it’s that sex sells.

Visions of Johan­na is pos­i­tive­ly under­stat­ed in com­par­i­son. While many pulp authors toiled in obscu­ri­ty, let us pre­tend that Nobel Prize win­ner and (faux) pulp-nov­el­ist Dylan wouldn’t have. Espe­cial­ly if he had a series like the pseu­do­ny­mous Brett Halliday’s pop­u­lar Mike Shayne mys­ter­ies. At that lev­el, the cov­er wouldn’t real­ly need quotes.

Though what harm would there be? There’s plen­ty of neg­a­tive space here. Read­ers, which line would you splash across the cov­er if you were this prankster, Alcott?

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so qui­et?

We sit here strand­ed, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it

And Louise holds a hand­ful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it

Lights flick­er from the oppo­site loft

In this room the heat pipes just cough

The coun­try music sta­tion plays soft

But there’s noth­ing, real­ly noth­ing to turn off

Just Louise and her lover so entwined

And these visions of Johan­na that con­quer my mind

In the emp­ty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain

And the all-night girls they whis­per of escapades out on the “D” train

We can hear the night watch­man click his flash­light

Ask him­self if it’s him or them that’s real­ly insane

Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near

She’s del­i­cate and seems like the mir­ror

But she just makes it all too con­cise and too clear

That Johanna’s not here

The ghost of ’lec­tric­i­ty howls in the bones of her face

Where these visions of Johan­na have now tak­en my place

Now, lit­tle boy lost, he takes him­self so seri­ous­ly

He brags of his mis­ery, he likes to live dan­ger­ous­ly

And when bring­ing her name up

He speaks of a farewell kiss to me

He’s sure got a lot­ta gall to be so use­less and all

Mut­ter­ing small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall

How can I explain?

Oh, it’s so hard to get on

And these visions of Johan­na, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the muse­ums, Infin­i­ty goes up on tri­al

Voic­es echo this is what sal­va­tion must be like after a while

But Mona Lisa mus­ta had the high­way blues

You can tell by the way she smiles

See the prim­i­tive wall­flower freeze

When the jel­ly-faced women all sneeze

Hear the one with the mus­tache say, “Jeeze

I can’t find my knees”

Oh, jew­els and binoc­u­lars hang from the head of the mule

But these visions of Johan­na, they make it all seem so cru­el

The ped­dler now speaks to the count­ess who’s pre­tend­ing to care for him

Sayin’, “Name me some­one that’s not a par­a­site and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”

But like Louise always says

“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”

As she, her­self, pre­pares for him

And Madon­na, she still has not showed

We see this emp­ty cage now cor­rode

Where her cape of the stage once had flowed

The fid­dler, he now steps to the road

He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed

On the back of the fish truck that loads

While my con­science explodes

The har­mon­i­cas play the skele­ton keys and the rain

And these visions of Johan­na are now all that remain

You can see more of Todd Alcott’s Mid-Cen­tu­ry Pulp Fic­tion Cov­er project, and pick up archival qual­i­ty prints from his Etsy shop.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costel­lo, Talk­ing Heads & More Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers

Bob Dylan Pota­to Chips, Any­one?: What They’re Snack­ing on in Chi­na

Bob Dylan Hates Me: An Ani­ma­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day - no rela­tion to Brett — is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 24 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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