The following is an excerpt of a speech I gave in 2002 to a group of High School Seniors upon their graduation.
I recently unearthed it and thought it worthy a second look.
In a song of his called Tombstone Blues from his album Highway 61 Revisited, the great American philosopher Bob Dylan once said , “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” These sage words deeply resonate in the core of my understanding of the world.
Why, though? What does he mean and why should I have adopted this as a personal philosophy?
Let’s examine this statement carefully, shall we?
Let’s begin with the first clause: “The sun’s not yellow.” On the surface, the semantics of this are pretty straight forward. According to Mr. Dylan, the sun, the flaming ball of gas at the center of our solar system which is responsible for all life on this planet, is not really the hue we as a society have mutually agreed upon to call “yellow.” This is true. If you are brave enough to risk a peek at the sun in the sky, it really does not look like any shade of yellow I have ever seen. It’s more a shade of white, I think. Yet, as a society, we have agreed to call the sun “yellow.”
Just look at the drawings of five-year-olds. They always choose yellow to capture the essence of the sun. The often also put a smiley face in the middle of their representation. This goes to show you that you should never trust a five-year-old.
But I digress.
Going back to my original point concerning Bob Dylan’s assertion that the “sun’s not yellow.”
I think we can all agree with Mr. Dylan and his assessment of the color assignment of the sun. Once we agree with this assertion, though, we should, as sentient beings, try to figure out why we have decided to call the sun “yellow.” This small fact will probably elicit some larger truth about us as a people.
But this is neither the time nor the place to begin a true deconstruction of American society based on its assumptions of color designations. Rather, I am working on a single philosophical notion, i.e. “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.”
Ok, I think I’ve made the case for why Dylan can logically declare that “the sun’s not yellow,” but why does he then state that “it’s chicken”? It is only through the addition of the second clause, “it’s chicken,” that we can truly understand what it is in fact that Dylan is actually positing.
First off, let us examine the second clause in detail. Now it is my assertion that Mr. Dylan is in no way suggesting that the flaming ball of gas in the center of our solar system should in any way be confused with poultry. No. Dylan is NOT saying that the source of light and heat for our planet , the celestial body that guarantees the continuation of life, our sun, is actually an enormous barnyard fowl pecking the dirt in search of meal worms to eat. Rather, Dylan is using the more colloquial definition of the word “chicken.” He is saying that the sun is afraid. When you call something “chicken,” you are referring to a lack of bravery on the part of that thing in a given situation, and this is what Mr. Dylan is referring to.
So how does this all fit together and why is he calling the sun a “fraidy cat” anyway? What the second clause of the statement “it’s chicken” does is make us reexamine our previous assumptions about meaning of the first clause, “the sun’s not yellow.” If, in the second clause, Mr. Dylan is referring to the lack of bravery in the sun, why is he referring to its color in the first clause? The key is the word “yellow.” With the addition of the second clause we are suddenly forced to look at this word anew.
Since Dylan is talking about a bravery issue in the second clause, there must be a corresponding posit in the first clause. “Yellow” is a color. I think we can all agree on that. But it also, like “chicken,” has a colloquial definition. This definition also has to do with casting aspersions upon and individual’s level of bravery in a given situation.
When you call someone “yellow,” you are, in effect, calling them … ummmm …. “chicken.”
|A Yellow Chicken|
So if, as Dylan claims, “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken,” what he is doing here is clearly showing us how easy it is in this world to look at things in more than one way and that we should never never never rely or relax into our assumptions about the nature of existence.
Just because we have been told something is one way, doesn’t mean we should naturally assume that it is correct. I mean we still call ourselves a “Democracy,” for goodness sake.
The important lesson to be learned from Bob Dylan’s sage words, “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken” is that nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever what it seems to be and that only idiots and the easily duped accept things on a surface value.
This is something you should all take to heart.
The moment you begin to accept things as being true and unchanging, that is the time when it can turn around and pull the ugly, vaguely southwestern rug that you found at the end of your driveway out from under your tushy.
Ask yourself, “is the sun really yellow, or is it chicken?”
Now get the hell out of here and make something of yourselves!
The following is Richie Haven's doing a cover of Dylan's Tombstone Blues. It will have to suffice.