Sunday, June 7, 2015

High Water (For Charley Patton)

These flood-water blues
Don't pick and choose. Just? Unjust?
You will get rained on.

Dylan's song "High Water (For Charley Patton)" comes from his 2001 album "Love and Theft." It's a pastiche of old blues song lines (dust my broom, Bertha Mason, the cuckoo is a pretty bird and so on), and named for a song by the late blues master Patton. It's a strong, compelling song, full of the dark foreboding of storm clouds and rising flood waters. It also contains one hell of a banjo part. Like many of Dylan's more recent song, each verse feels self contained.

How the high water is making things (note that each line is sung before the words "High water everywhere"):
- Nothing standing there
- It's tough out there
- Things are breakin' up out there
- It's rough out there
- It's bad out there

What's happening:
- Gold and silver being stolen
- Big Joe Turner made it to Kansas City. He's thinking dark thoughts on the corner of 12th and Vine. High water.
- Shacks are falling
- People leaving
- Possessions lost
- Bertha Mason says: "You're dancin' with whom they tell you to or you don't dance at all."
- Coffins dropping in the street
- Water in Vicksburg
- The judge is looking for Charles Darwin trapped out on Highway 5.
- The cuckoo is a pretty bird, as we know from the old folk song.
- Fat Nancy isn't feeding Bob like he asked.
- Bob's thinking about dusting his broom in the morning, like Robert Johnson said.
- Thunder over Clarksdale, Mississippi. 
- Bob can't be happy if you're not happy.

There's one break in the doomy spell:

"I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed
Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties on the board
I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I’m no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind."

At least someone's having fun down in the flood.


Here's a good live recording from Hoboken, New Jersey:



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