My sources suggest that the forthcoming Bob Dylan album may well include a song about the Titanic: a song that is about 14 minutes long. I know no more - and I can't really “know" even that much. But if it turns out to be true, it's surely a very rare example of his releasing something to tie in so handily with the centenary of a famous event.
Not that it would be Dylan's first allusion to this maritime disaster. As I wrote in Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, he first mentions the Titanic in ‘Desolation Row':
“The most striking evocation of impending catastrophe [in the song is] achieved very simply - in the one arresting line ‘The Titanic sails at dawn'. That summarises concisely the tone and colouring of the whole song."
Then there is Dylan's evocation of this same sense of foreboding in a rather later song. Quoting again from Song & Dance Man III:
“In 1981’s ‘Caribbean Wind’ (issued on Biograph, 1985)...the ‘Street band playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’' is not only an allusion to the meaning-loaded event of the sinking of the Titanic... but to the group of blues songs that arose to express it decades before Dylan first uses its symbolic clout himself in 1965’s ‘Desolation Row’: a group of songs which includes Hi Henry Brown’s ‘Titanic Blues’: ‘Titanic sinking in the deep blue sea / And the band all playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.' "
The footnote attached to that paragraph includes this: “The clutch of such songs reflected African-American delight at the sinking of the Titanic, because it signified whitey’s come-uppance, pride coming before a fall and so on. This feeling, however, was not restricted to black Americans. The Russian symbolist poet Alexander Blok wrote: ‘The sinking of the Titanic has made me indescribably happy; there is, after all, an ocean.' "
Hi Henry recorded his song 20 years after the sinking of the ship. I'm interested to know, 80 years further on, whether Bob's forthcoming Titanic track (if it exists, and if it is forthcoming) will draw upon any of these old blues songs, perhaps interweaving some of their lines of blues lyric poetry into his own 2012 text.