friday feast: sniffing out if dogs run free by bob dylan and scott campbell

photo by John Cohen (1970)

Throw me a bone: we’re going to the dogs today in honor of Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday tomorrow. Ruff!

So, am I the only Dylan fan who’d never heard “If Dogs Run Free”? A 50’s beatnik send-up embellished with Al Kooper’s jazzy piano riffs and Maeretha Stewart’s sassy scat-singing, this oddsauce number was included on Dylan’s album NEW MORNING (1970).

Actually it’s kind of silly to call anything the Archbishop of Anarchy has done “odd,” given his penchant for innovation, reinvention and doing whatever he durn well pleases. Yet this one is indeed unlike anything else in his vast catalog of 600+ songs. It’s spoken word, very Jack Kerouac, black berets, smoky coffee house. It’s so laid back you end up in front.

Hear for yourself:

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If dogs run free, then why not we
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain
The best is always yet to come
That’s what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you’ll be king
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, why not me
Across the swamp of time?
My mind weaves a symphony
And tapestry of rhyme
Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be
To each his own, it’s all unknown
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, then what must be
Must be, and that is all
True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall
In harmony with the cosmic sea
True love needs no company
It can cure the soul, it can make it whole
If dogs run free


*finger snaps*

 So deep, Daddy-O.

And there’s more. This song was recently made into a picture book illustrated by Scott Campbell, who took the “kids love dogs” theme and ran amok with an animated visual narrative. Celebrating the free-spirited joys of childhood and championing fearless individuality, there’s not a beatnik or beret in sight — just lots and LOTS of dogs.

We follow a wide-eyed girl, her little brother and their perky pooch as they race, climb, frolic, tumble, float, soar and gambol through the pages. Everywhere they go, they are surrounded by more and more happy, playful, tail-wagging canines of different breeds and sizes, doing just about everything you can imagine in the name of fun: roller blading, picnicking, bike riding, swinging, sliding, playing musical instruments, drifting in hot air balloons.

Is their energy contaigious? Yes! Do we want to run free just like them without a care in the world? YES! Do we want to be overrun by friendly, four-legged fur machines? YES YES! And after a full day of playing hard, do we want to return to our safe and comfy home where Mom is waiting to greet us? Sign me up! Yip!

Kids will enjoy poring over the pages — who can resist a scruffy pup on a unicycle, a cookie-eating mini mutt on skates, or a doggie barbecue? My favorite spread is of the kids and dogs rolling down a hillside.

Though some kids may puzzle over “swamp of time,” “symphony and tapestry of rhyme,” and “cosmic sea,” the over-arching message of ‘bask in freedom’ and “just do your own thing” comes through loud and clear. A good “let’s gear up for summer” book and a nice keepsake for Dylan fans of all ages. 🙂

photo by John Cohen (1970)

“If Dogs Run Free” was recorded in just one take and wasn’t performed live until 2000. True to form, Dylan changed it up (compare both versions here). The jury has always been divided — is this song a clunker or a charmer? I like it — I think he had fun with it and it effectively evokes the spontaneous rambly philosophizing of the beat poets. Now I just need to find my black turtleneck.

Happy Birthday, Bob!

Like, every dog has his day, man — you’re one cool cat. Good to see you’re still cookin’!


*   *   *


written by Bob Dylan
illustrated by Scott Campbell
published by Atheneum BFYR, 2014
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.

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photo by David Michael Kennedy (1980’s)


🐶 The original handwritten lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” will be sold at auction by Sotheby’s on June 24, 2014. Estimated going price: $1 – 2 million. (Just thought I’d mention this in case you want to get me an early birthday present :)).

AP photo/Sotheby’s

🐶 The first American exhibition of Dylan’s “Drawn Blank Series” runs through May 30 at the Ross Art Group gallery in NYC. The series consists of 4 dozen reimagined sketches created between 1989-1992. According to critics, Dylan has yet to paint his masterpiece.

🐶 Just released last week: The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Simon & Schuster, 2014) by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Kinney, explores the underground world of obsessive Dylan fandom. Read this interesting article about how researchers have uncovered more than 1,000 articles lifted from other authors in Dylan’s 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume I.

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poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Violet Nesdoly is hosting this week’s Roundup. Freely run over and enjoy all the cool poetic offerings being served up in the blogosphere. Have a good holiday weekend and don’t forget to shake your windows and rattle your walls at least 73 times tomorrow in honor of Mr. Dylan.



How does it feel?


*All spreads copyright © 2013 Scott Campbell, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

36 thoughts on “friday feast: sniffing out if dogs run free by bob dylan and scott campbell

  1. Totally unrelated, but I stumbled upon this video the other day and thought you might like it. It’s John Green revealing “47 charming facts about children’s books”. I knew some of the facts, but not all. Hope you like, too. 🙂

    And happy birthday to your musical idol! *pets doggie*


  2. A lovely post. The book is excellent .. Quite a library of bob themed children’s books building up. I was lucky enough to hear IDRF in concert.

    You may enjoy BD posts on the immortal jukebo.


    1. Hi Thom,

      Nice to meet another Dylan fan — since IDRF has only been performed live about 100 times or so, you’re indeed very lucky! Thanks for the heads up — will check out your site :).


  3. Great tune and – Wow – the fun, crazy chaos of those illustrations!
    Here’s to dogs and Dylan!


  4. My husband was a huge Dylan fan, so it makes me wonder if he knew this one, Jama. I love the words, and in the picture book, that page ‘the swamp of time’ is wonderful. How great you discovered and shared this with us. Look how young Dylan looks in that Get Born pic! Long time ago…


    1. I probably would never have found out about this song if it weren’t for the PB — I didn’t own either of Dylan’s 1970 albums. Besides New Morning, he released Self Portrait just months before.

      I do like the idea of running across the swamp of time — Campbell’s illustration of the animal symphony is great :). Nice to know your husband loved Dylan too.


  5. Love that this book is bringing Dylan to a new generation (well probably two new generations–the kiddos and their wee parents.) Thanks for sharing all the fun pictures of Bob and dogs!


    1. There are 3 (I think) PB’s based on his songs: Forever Young, Man Gave Names to all the Animals, and this one. Also like Gary Golio’s When Bob Met Woody. 🙂


  6. What fun was this! I love Dylan — have some wax and cassettes to prove it. Your posts are always a potpourri of information and delight (only this time you didn’t tell us what he eats, or cooks — oh well, another time).

    (Thanks for the “lovely and talented VN” – have I met her?)


    1. Hello Lovely and Talented VN! Impressed that you’ve kept your Dylan wax and cassettes. It’s a challenge finding out what Bob likes to eat — several years ago he shared his recipe for either meat loaf or spaghetti sauce on his radio show. I think he likes Chinese food too — many moons ago his cook took Chinese cooking lessons from my sis Sylvia in Malibu.


  7. What an adorable book!!! Glad someone thought of turning that song into a picture book. Wish I could buy you those lyrics! 🙂


    1. I do agree with Rolling Stone Magazine that “Like a Rolling Stone” is the greatest rock song ever written. I’d love to see those lyrics in person but would be very nervous about keeping them. I’m sure they’ll end up in a museum eventually. 🙂


  8. Hi, Jama. I didn’t know the song either, but what a wonderful line about the blades of grass! Perfect for a picture book. Thank you for sharing it today.


  9. Wow! First of all, loved this jazzy oddity by Dylan! I’ve never heard that before! and secondly, a picture book! I think kids ran more freely in my childhood than they do today with so much scheduled play time! Let them out of the house to run wild with the dogs! Yes indeed!


    1. You’re absolutely right — nothing wrong with a little unstructured time now and then. It was also “safer” to run wild and free when I was growing up.


  10. HB to BD!

    Wow, I never heard of this one. Echo and I love his spoken version! I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll have to buy HRH a beret. Or throw away his leash in the name of “freedom.” 😉

    Then, what a switch of mood–that picture book! Ha, one of the illustrated pooches looks just like Echo.



  11. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t heard this song before. Wonder if Slatts has?

    You need to read this book to Echo. Of course he should have a beret :).


  12. Oh yes, I know this song well! Thanks for the flood of memories, Jama. What a fun idea to turn it into a picture book. Saw Bob Dylan in concert once– double bill with the Grateful Dead. Unfortunately, true to his “do whatever he durn well pleases” nature, he decided he didn’t want to be on stage for very long. I guess it was more of a Dead Head crowd anyway.


    1. I’ve seen him in concert several times — and you just never know what you’ll get. Sometimes you can’t understand a word he’s singing, sometimes he doesn’t face the audience or interact with them at all, and sometimes he’ll actually smile!


  13. This fascinates me! Not anything I would have EVER thought about for a picture book, but it seems like it works. Hmmm…


    1. The lyrics are simple enough to work for a PB and the illustrator was able to do his own spin on them. Unlike his other songs made into PBs, this one isn’t exactly a “sing-a-long” so no CD is included.


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