“Thunder on the Mountain,” the chugging boogie-blues song that kicks off Bob Dylan’s great album Modern Times, begins with images of apocalypse and moves swiftly to the singer’s lust for Alicia Keys. This is followed by more End Times imagery (“All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town/ Looks like something bad is going to happen, better roll your airplane down”), some leering double-entendres (“I’ve got the pork chops, she’s got the pie”), tenderness ("I’ve been sitting down studying the art of love/ I think it will fit me like a glove”), bile ("I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams”), and deliciously strange bursts of poetry: “Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches/ I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages/ I been to St. Herman’s church, said my religious vows/ I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows.” All in all, “Thunder on the Mountain” is a tour de force, a perfect example of why Dylan is currently in one of the most fertile periods of his career.
The video for “Thunder on the Mountain,” which Slate is proud to premiere, is a whirlwind tour of the many phases, and faces, of Bob—from fierce ‘60s folk-rock tyro to white-makeup-caked troubadour to craggy old bard with a gleam in his eye and a Vincent Price mustache. The video draws on several decades of archival footage, some of it previously unseen. It’s a panorama of 40-odd years of American musical history, and—for Dylan freaks—a trainspotter’s dream.
Now, Slate is running a contest that will allow all you “Bobcats” to put your unhealthy Dylan fandom to good use. One winner will walk away with a grand prize that’s sure to impress pals at your next “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” campfire singalong: Columbia Records has donated a guitar that’s been autographed by Bob Dylan himself.
The contest rules are straightforward:
We’ve chosen 20 images from the “Thunder on the Mountain” video, and numbered them 1 through 20. Contestants must identify the year in which each piece of footage was filmed. Twenty images of Dylan, 20 years—simple as that. (Although it’s possible that multiple images hail from the same year.)
And then there’s the tiebreaker challenge, which calls upon contestants to summon their inner Bobs and craft one four-line, 12-bar blues lyric, to be sung to the tune of “Thunder on the Mountain.” Entries will be judged by Slate’s panel of expert Dylanologists. Your lyrics can be serious, parodic, or—best case scenario—as weird and uncanny as Dylan’s own verses.
Contestants should e-mail their entries to email@example.com. Entries must be received by Dec. 15, 2006. A complete entry includes: a numbered list, from 1 to 20, that identifies the year in which each of the below images was shot; an alternate verse for “Thunder on the Mountain”; the contestant’s name, date of birth, address, e-mail address, and phone number. Incomplete entries will not be considered. One entry per person. (For complete contest rules, click here.) We’ll announce the winner on Dec. 20 and post some of the best alternate “Thunder on the Mountain” verses. Good luck!