Issue # 50
June 21, 2001
Bob's Clues
By Rich Wilhelm

One evening last week, Jimmy asked his mom and me if he could watch a Blue's Clues video. It was early yet, and the video was short, so we said yes. As Blue's Clues began, Jimmy settled in next to me on the couch and said, "Dad, can we listen to Bob Dylan?"

If you're surprised to hear a three-year-old asking to hear Dylan, then you just haven't heard Jimmy's Dylan impersonation yet. Jimmy and his friend Ryan both do ace impressions of Dylan singing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and lest you think it was me who instigated this, it was actually Ryan's dad, my friend Pat. Naturally though, this led me to pull out my Dylan records to introduce Jimmy to the man himself.

However, we generally do not play music while the TV is on, so I told Jimmy we could listen to Dylan if we turned the video off, or at least turned the volume down. He didn't like either one of these options, so my copies of Nashville Skyline, Slow Train Coming, John Wesley Harding, etc., stayed on the shelf and we watched Blue's Clues instead. After the video, Jimmy went off to bed, and I got to thinking.

What I got to thinking was, maybe Jimmy was on to something when he wanted to listen to Dylan and watch Blue's Clues at the same time. Maybe there is some sort of connection between the two, sort of like the connection between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. In case you missed that, supposedly if you sync up the classic Floyd album to begin playing at the very same time you begin watching The Wizard of Oz, you'll discover all kinds of amazing "coincidences" that will amaze and mystify you. Of course, it helps if you're in some kind of altered state while doing this, but I wouldn't know anything about that.

Anyway, it all started to make sense to me, and here's what you need to know for it to begin to make sense to you: Bob Dylan is, of course, the legendary singer and songwriter. Blue's Clues is an acclaimed, currently-running children's television show in which Steve, who is an amiable but clueless human, lives in a computer-animated house with Blue, his computer-animated puppy, and a bevy of computer-animated friends, who include Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper; Paprika, the baby-girl Salt and Pepper love child; Shovel and Pail; Side Table Drawer; Mailbox; and the Felt Friends. Steve and Blue play this game where Blue leaves three paw-print clues to a mystery that, when solved, will answer a certain question. Of course, Steve solves the mystery while sitting in his Thinking Chair.

Immediately the Dylan/Blue's Clues connection was clear to me: Blue and Steve search for clues to solve a mystery. For decades now, music fans and various types of pop culture critics have scoured Dylan's lyrics for clues to the enigma that is Dylan himself. Somebody even had a brief career stealing Dylan's garbage to find clues. But now at 60, Dylan remains as inscrutable as ever, though I just think of him as a guy who writes really great songs.

Here's what I did: after Jimmy was sound asleep that night, and Donna was surfing the 'Net for awhile, I made myself a cup of tea (my stimulant of choice these days--hey, I'm a 36-year-old father and it was a weeknight--even a beer or two would have messed me up for work the next morning) and cued up the Blue's Clues "Storytellers" video. Then I popped Dylan's classic Blonde on Blonde (recently named Dylan's greatest and most essential album by my former Temple News colleague and current Pittsburgh Post-Gazette music writer Ed Masley) in my portable CD player. I simultaneously pushed the play buttons and this is what I found, listed in Blonde on Blonde song order:

"Rainy Day Women # 12 and 35"--Steve's first line: "Hi, out there. It's me, Steve. Have you seen Blue, my puppy?" Bob's first line: "Well, they'll stone you while you're trying to be so good." OK, maybe this isn't so promising after all. But then Dylan sings, "I would not feel so all alone," as Steve searches for Blue. A-ha! I told you I had something going on here.

Next, Steve begins to blow away the paw-print that Blue left on the television screen at exactly the same time as Dylan begins to blow his first harmonica solo on the album. Coincidence? I think not. Finally, Steve finds the first clue to answer the question, "what story does Blue want Steve to read?"--unfortunately, he finds bricks, not stones. But bricks are kind of like stones. Sort of.

"Pledging My Time"--Steve is helping Blue, Shovel, and Pail (who are, of course, a shovel and a pail) act out the "Jack and Jill" nursery rhyme. Dylan sings the lines, "Well, they sent for an ambulance/then one was sent/somebody got lucky/but it was an accident," just as Jack and Jill are falling down the hill in the dramatic climax of the rhyme.

"Visions of Johanna"--One of Dylan's greatest and most enigmatic songs, certainly filled with clues to something. But what? Could "visions" refer to the photographs in the album Steve and Blue are looking at while this song plays? And when Dylan sings, "Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial," just at the moment that Steve points out a snapshot of Blue and her friend Magenta fingerpainting, is he providing his own veiled critique of modern fingerpainting by colorful computer-animated dogs as a valid art form? Meanwhile, Steve finds the second clue, a wolf.

"One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"--Of course, the title is the big tipoff, since, sooner or later, one (or all of us) must know what Blue's three clues are, and what they mean. As the song starts, Steve and Blue have "skidoo-ed" (that is, entered a framed picture on the wall) to Storybook Forest, where they are visiting the Bear Family. Steve has just played a mean joke on Baby Bear, basically taunting the poor thing by saying, "Oh, you're not hungry, are you Baby Bear?" Of course Baby Bear, being both a baby and a bear, is starving, and tells Steve this in no uncertain terms. At this point Dylan chimes in as Steve's conscience, singing, "I didn't mean to treat you so bad/You shouldn't take it so personal."

Later in the song, Dylan sings, "I couldn't see what you could show me," as the voiceover kids on Blue's Clues find the third clue (pigs) for Steve, who, truth be told, couldn't find a clue if one walked up to him, announced itself as a clue and then bit him on the nose.

"I Want You"--Steve hits the Thinking Chair during this great Dylan tune and figures out that the answer to the question, "What story does Blue want to hear?" is "The Three Little Pigs." As Steve prepares to read the story, the Bear Family shows up and Dylan sings, "Honey, I want you," honey clearly being something the bears want.

After Steve tells the story, he sings the show's closing song, which begins, "Now it's time for so long..." At the same time, Dylan sings, "because time is on his side."

And so it went, as I watched the second Blue's Clues episode on the tape and listened to more of Blonde on Blonde. While singing "Stuck Inside of Mobile with Those Memphis Blues Again," Dylan mentions Steve's friend Mailbox ("the post office has been stolen/and the Mailbox is locked") and alludes to the French-accented Mrs. Pepper ("speaking to some French girl who says she knows me well").

During "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat," the cover of "The Princess and the Pea" story book, in which the extra-sensitive princess sleeps on 20 mattresses, is shown when Dylan sings, "it balances on your head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine."

Finally, Steve begins to wind down the second and final episode on the tape as Dylan sings "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine."

The list of beguiling "coincidences" goes on, but I think I've made my case. The connection between Dylan and Blue's Clues is as clear as the Dark Side of the Wizard of Oz. Whether Blue's Clues is nothing more than an extended homage to Dylan or whether Dylan, being the visionary that he is, anticipated these episodes of Blue's Clues nearly 30 years before the show even existed is open for debate. One thing is for certain though: the next time Jimmy wants to watch Blue's Clues and listen to Dylan at the same time, I'm going to let him. With the sound turned up on both, of course.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)

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