Sunday, July 19, 2015

Nobody 'Cept You

Nothing pleases him
Except you. You remind him
Of pretty church hymns.

Here's a sweet little outtake from the "Planet Waves" sessions with the Band. Left off that 1974 album, it appeared on the first volume of the Bootleg Series in 1991.

Things for which she's an exception:
- Believes in nothing
- Nothing is sacred
- Tries for nobody
- Nothing worth living or dying for
- Nobody sees him
- Nothing pleases him
- Nothing hypnotizes him
- Nothing holds him in a spell
- Everything runs by him like water
- Everybody wants his attention
- Everybody wants to sell him something

Things she does:
- Reaches him
- Is admired by him
- Sets his soul on fire
- Matters

Things she's like:
- A church hymn he used to hear

And then there's this sweet, weird lyric from the grave:

Used to play in the cemetery
Dance and sing and run when I was a child
Never seemed strange
But now I just pass mournfully by
That place where the bones of life are piled
I know somethin’ has changed



Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead-End Street)

They're with others, but
Hook up after a party.
They go past first base.

This is about a crash of the heart, not a literal crash. I think the lyrics, pasted below, are clear. I included Hank Snow's version as well as Dylan's, which appeared on "Down in the Groove" in 1988. Snow's version is sad, but peppy. Dylan's is just sad.

I took you home from a party and we kissed in fun
A few stolen kisses and no harm was done
Instead of stopping when we could we went right on
Till suddenly we found that the brakes were gone.

You belong to someone else, and I do too
It's just crazy bein' here with you
As a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.

I didn't want to want you, but now I have no choice
It's too late to listen to that warning voice
All I hear is thunder of two hearts beat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.

You're not free to belong to me
And you know I could never be your own
Your lips on mine are like a sweet, sweet wine
But we're heading for a wall of stone.

Warning signs are flashing ev'ry where, but we pay no heed
'Stead of slowing down the place, we keep a pickin' up speed
Disaster's getting closer ev'ry time we meet
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Yeah, ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Well, ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.




900 Miles From My Home

I'll come back home
If you don't want your husband
To be a hobo.

Originally known as "500 Miles," with another 400 miles added by Dylan and the Band during the Basement Tapes sessions of 1967. It's the old folk tale of the hobo roaming far, missing his straight life as a husband, and wishing he could come back, but he can't because he's ashamed of himself. Dylan adds some oddball lyrics, particularly "Even down on the ocean side, no she don't wade in just to bang my pride." From Volume 11 of the Bootleg Series.

But I’m down here on this track
Not a shirt upon my back
I will sell to you this allen that I own
Yes I feed the mouths I took
But as down winds on the brook
Lord I’m 900 miles from my home

If my old lady she says so
I’ll railroad no more
Sidetrack this engine but I still roam
Yes I’ve given it my coal
I’ve gladly given it all
Cause I’m 900 miles from my home

If I get down by the bank And the river still does run
Yes and everything I see turns to foam
Even down on the ocean side
No she don’t wade in just to bang my pride
Cause I’m 900 miles from my home

Oh Mary don’t you moan
Don’t you weep on the ground Oh Mary don’t you weep and don’t you moan
If I get myself in line
I will be there in due time
Cause I’m 900 miles from my home



Next Time on the Highway

Several highway trips
Seem like several too many.
They might be fatal.

Another completely bizarre track from the 1967 Basement Tapes. I don't have lyrics anywhere for this, so I wrote them myself as best as I could understand them. After the second verse, Dylan starts ragging on Richard Manuel of the Band, then starts singing again, then stops. You can find this song on volume 11 of the Bootleg Series.

Next time on the highway
I was six years old
xxxxxxxx she was lined up with gold
Next time on the highway
Was told it xxxxxxxxx
Third time on the highway
She got failing and fire
Soon in on the highway
But don't set me free
Next time on the highway
Gonna be the death of me

Third time on the highway
It was nineteen and ten
They was treating the men 
Just like they was treating the men
Next time on the highway 
It was nineteen and twelve
Treating your brother
Just like you treat yourself
Third time on the hgihway
It don't bother (?) me.
Next time on the highway
Gonna be the death of me

Yes, listen to Richard play that piano. Go on, Richard, just play that piano, that shit xxxx. Just on the fucking piss on that shit... (Another website says Dylan exclaims, "Go on Richard, just play that piano, all shitfaced.")

Well the next foot time on the blanket I was smoking my cigarette, in fact you don't -- (Cuts off)



New Pony

Bob's new pony is
Sexier than the last one.
He's gonna ride her.

I've heard a bizarre charge regarding this song: Dylan, that sexist, is comparing a woman to a pony, therefore he's a sexist. Let's leave that alone from the outset. There are plenty of songs that use animals as a metaphor for people, and sometimes in a sexual way, and when Dylan has expressed more caveman-like views toward women, he hasn't been shy about it (as much as I dislike it). "Ballad of the Absent Mare," "Milk Cow's Calf Blues," "Honeybee," "Closer to God" (I've noticed nobody ever gives Trent Reznor a hard time for his blunt and honest line, "I want to fuck you like an animal") and so on. The difference between those songs and this is Dylan's "naked" intent. He's singing about lust and sexual confusion, and the dirty, grinding blues of the song underlines his intent. It's one of his most raw songs, and I think it's effective. The blues guitar solo in the middle is rude and bad-ass, and is exceeded only by the nasty sound of the saxophone on the fade-out. The backup singers, sometimes off the beat, bellow, "How much longer?" in a terrifying way as Dylan growls through the verses, including his vocal fills, like "well-lllllll" and so on. I love this song. You can find it as track 2 on the 1978 album "Street-Legal."

Once I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
She broke her leg and she needed shooting
I swear it hurt me more than it could ever have hurted her

Sometimes I wonder what’s going on with Miss X
Sometimes I wonder what’s going on with Miss X
You know she got such a sweet disposition
I never know what the poor girl’s gonna do to me next

I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
Well, I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
She got great big hind legs
And long black shaggy hair above her face

Well now, it was early in the mornin’, I seen your shadow in the door (This verse is not in the recording)
It was early in the mornin’, I seen your shadow in the door
Now, I don’t have to ask nobody
I know what you come here for

They say you’re usin’ voodoo, your feet walk by themselves
They say you’re usin’ voodoo, I seen your feet walk by themselves
Oh, baby, that god you been prayin’ to
Is gonna give ya back what you’re wishin’ on someone else

Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you (I always thought he was singing, "I want to climb up on top of you." Whichever...)
Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you
Well, you’re so bad and nasty
But I love you, yes I do



New Morning

Days in the country,
Rabbits, groundhogs, blue skies and
You in the morning.

The title song from the "New Morning" album of 1970 is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. Most of the album contains songs that live in the country, with sunlight pouring out of them, along with rural dirt roads and old cars, running water, blue skies, cool mornings and hot days, and old wooden houses on the farm. This one is the epitome of the feeling, an impressionist's painting from the middle of the meadow on a day where you can see forever. The phrase "new morning" must be more than just a literal new morning. I would assume that he's talking about a new chapter in life -- wife, family, a dog, all that kind of thing. But why load meaning into a song that is crystal clear? The music matches the mood. It's just great, and every musician and singer sounds like they're into the vibe. Go listen to it. (Separately, there is an alternate version released on "Another Self Portrait," volume 10 of the Bootleg Series, which contains a horn section. It gives the song a completely different sound, but I can't decide which one I like better. I'm only sorry that I couldn't find a version of that to post here. The album version retains Al Kooper's French horn solo, which can warm you up in the middle of the coldest winter.)

Can’t you hear that rooster crowin’?
Rabbit runnin’ down across the road
Underneath the bridge where the water flowed through
So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you

Can’t you hear that motor turnin’?
Automobile comin’ into style
Comin’ down the road for a country mile or two
So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you

The night passed away so quickly
It always does when you’re with me

Can’t you feel that sun a-shinin’?
Groundhog runnin’ by the country stream
This must be the day that all of my dreams come true
So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you

So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you
New morning . . .



New Blue Moon

Waiting for this girl
Is like waiting for blue moons.
Sightings are quite rare.

"New Blue Moon" from the second Traveling Wilburys album nearly didn't make it into this collection as it feels much more like a George Harrison song. Still, Bob gets a decent slice of the minimal lyrics to himself, the verse that begins with "So many moons have come and gone." Because of that, I included it. I think the words and their relationship to the haiku are clear.

I don't want nothing
Nothing but you
Am I waiting
Looking for a new blue moon

I'm so tired waiting
Waiting for you
Am I waiting
Looking for a new blue moon

So many moons have come and gone
And none of them were blue
Too many times the sun came up
But it came up without you, you, ya yoo hoo oo

You don't call me
Call me lonely
Am I waiting
Looking for a new blue moon

So many moons have come and gone
And none of them were blue
Too many times the sun came up
But it came up without you, you, you, ya yoo hoo oo

Someday when you hold me
Someday you may see
I was waiting
Looking for a new blue moon
I was waiting
Looking for a new blue moon

Blue moon



Never Say Goodbye

Snow and frozen lake
At dusk make setting for me
To say I love you.

"Never Say Goodbye" is one of those unadulterated love songs that Bob Dylan wrote so few of that he leaves you wondering what could have happened if he'd spent more time producing them. He might be the master of the abstract and the symbolic, not to mention the bitter and sour, but he knew how to write a simple love note like few others. This one is from the "Planet Waves" album of 1974. The only unusual note is the line about how his dreams "are made of iron and steel." I've always assumed that this is a personal reference to his metalwork sculptures. I've included the lyrics below, specifically to point out the third verse, which does not appear in the recording, but does appear on his website.

Twilight on the frozen lake
North wind about to break
On footprints in the snow
Silence down below

You’re beautiful beyond words
You’re beautiful to me
You can make me cry
Never say goodbye

Time is all I have to give
You can have it if you choose
With me you can live
Never say goodbye

My dreams are made of iron and steel
With a big bouquet
Of roses hanging down
From the heavens to the ground

The crashing waves roll over me
As I stand upon the sand
Wait for you to come
And grab hold of my hand

Oh, baby, baby, baby blue
You’ll change your last name, too
You’ve turned your hair to brown
Love to see it hangin’ down



Never Gonna Be the Same Again

Woman changes man,
And he stays changed even when
She breaks up with him.

"Never Gonna Be the Same Again" is an unfairly ignored song on a throwaway album, "Empire Burlesque" from 1985. Producer Arthur Baker was seeking a big, electric '80s sound to make Dylan sound more modern for contemporary audiences and hopefully the resulting album sales. It didn't work out that way, and people generally don't like most of the songs from this period. This song is one of my favorites from that period, though. The backup singers add serious punch, particularly at the fade as they and Dylan improvise on the vocals -- "You're too hot, baby," "Come on, darlin'" etc. It fairly swings as it makes it exit. The lyrics are so so, but what can you do...

As for the haiku, there's no point at which Dylan says that they're not together anymore. He even says "Now you're here beside me, baby... And every time you get this close, it makes me want to scream." Hideous lyric, but the implication is that she's there. Same for "You give me something to think about, baby, every time I see you. Don't worry, baby, I don't mind leaving, I'd just like it to be my idea." But he consistently sings about other things in the past tense: "You touched me," "Sorry if I hurt you baby," "But you meant more than everything," "You taught me how to love you," "Now I can't go back to what was, baby, I can't unring the bell," "You took my reality and cast it to the wind..." To me, that implies that he's been forever changed, even though she might be gone. And that's my argument for the haiku, probably more than it deserves.


Nettie Moore

Nettie Moore is gone,
Bob's getting along somehow
In his lonely hours.

"Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o'er
Winter's gone, the river's on the rise
I loved you then and ever shall
But there's no one here that's left to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes."

"Nettie Moore" is 12 verses and a chorus (see above -- it's taken from an old song, which I've included below). It's a tangled, deep but spare song that appears on "Modern Times," Bob Dylan's expansive 2006 album that builds itself on a pastiche of blues song references and a variety of other literary sources. Some say there's active plagiarism at work. I see a mix and match of inspiration. For every obscure line from someone's book or song or folk tale that ends up in here, there are explicit references to source material, from the Robert Johnson "blues falling down like hail" line in this song and the further adventures of Frankie and Albert, to a hat tip to Merle Haggard on "Workingman's Blues #2." The song doesn't tell a linear story, though Dylan keeps returning to missing Nettie Moore and having no one with whom he can share his feelings. He sings the song gently, slowly, with minimal drumming that almost suggests a funeral, though the tone is light and wistful instead of muffled and dark.

Here is the rest. None of it, regrettably, made it into the haiku. I open each couplet with a clue since I don't know what he's after here:

The state of things:
Lost John sitting on a railroad track
Something's out of wack

Robert Johnson and what comes after:
Blues this morning falling down like hail
Gonna leave a greasy trail

Dylan on perpetual tour:
Gonna travel the world is what I'm gonna do
Then come back and see you

Trying his best:
All I ever do is struggle and strive
If I don't do anybody any harm, I might make it back home alive

I don't know about the crazy part, but the band part is true:
I'm the oldest son of a crazy man
I'm in a cowboy band

Redemption song:
Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain't got time to hide
I'd walk through a blazing fire, baby, if I knew you was on the other side

Dylanlogists?
The world of research has gone berserk
Too much paperwork

Justice:
Albert's in the graveyard, Frankie's raising hell
I'm beginning to believe what the scriptures tell

This I can't interpret:
I'm going where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog
Get away from these demagogues

Nor this:
And these bad luck women stick like glue
It's either one or the other or neither of the two

Watch out:
She says, "look out daddy, don't want you to tear your pants.
You can get wrecked in this dance."

Refers to Dylan songs "Minstrel Boy" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" and whatever the origin is of "top of the hill."
They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don't think it will
I'm riding with you to the top of the hill

Resolution:
Don't know why my baby never looked so good before
I don't have to wonder no more

Could be that food is just food, or maybe it's a sexy thing:
She been cooking all day and it's gonna take me all night
I can't eat all that stuff in a single bite

Redemption #2:
The Judge is coming in, everybody rise
Lift up your eyes

I'm just a singer/songwriter:
You can do what you please, you don't need my advice
Before you call me any dirty names you better think twice

It's about time:
Getting light outside, the temperature dropped
I think the rain has stopped

Who's he talking to?
I'm going to make you come to grips with fate
When I'm through with you, you'll learn to keep your business straight

On stage:
The bright spark of the steady lights
Has dimmed my sights

Love note:
When you're around all my grief gives 'way
A lifetime with you is like some heavenly day

Tangled up in Blue:
Everything I've ever known to be right has proven wrong
I'll be drifting along

Love note #2:
The woman I'm lovin', she rules my heart
No knife could ever cut our love apart

Belief:
Today I'll stand in faith and raise
The voice of praise

Life is hard:
The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light
I wish to God that it were night

The title comes from the folk song "Gentle Nettie Moore," which I have included here. And here are those lyrics:

In a little white cottage.
Where the trees are ever green,
And the climbing roses blossom at the door,
I've often sat and listen'd
To the music of the birds,
And the gentle voice of charming Nettie Moore.

Chorus.
Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore,
And my happiness is o'er,
While a spirit sad around my heart his come;
And the busy days are long,
And the nights are lonely now,
For you're gone from our little cottage home.

Below us in the valley,
On the river's dancing tide,
Of a Summer eve I'd launch my open boat;
And when the moon was rising,
And the stars began to shine,
Down the river we so merrily would float.-Chorus.

And often in the Autumn,
Ere the dew had left the lawn,
We would wander o'er the fields far away;
But those moments have departed,
Gentle Nettie, too, is gone,
And no longer sweetly with her can I stray.-Chorus.

Since the time that you departed,
I have long'd from earth to rise,
And join the happy angels gone before;
I can not now be merry.
For my heart is full of woe,
Ever pining for my gentle Nettie Moore.-Chorus.

You are gone, darling Nettie;
I have mouru'd you many a day;
But I'll wipe all the tears from my eyes;
For as soon as life is past,
I shall meet you once again,
In heaven, darling, up above the skies.-Chorus.





Saturday, July 18, 2015

Neighborhood Bully

They call Israel
A neighborhood bully, but
It's not the bad guy.

Bob Dylan wrote "Neighborhood Bully" for the 1983 album "Infidels." After his period of Christian music, it was interesting to see him embrace, to some extent, his Jewish origins, particularly with this song about Israel's attempts to defend itself against hostile neighbors while being labeled the bad guy. The shot of Dylan in Jerusalem on the album's inner sleeve reinforces the notion that Dylan was looking elsewhere besides the cross for inspiration.

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him
’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
He’s the neighborhood bully

He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep
He’s the neighborhood bully

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command
He’s the neighborhood bully

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
He’s the neighborhood bully

What’s anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed
He’s the neighborhood bully

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully



Need a Woman

She's like salvation
And Bob needs her pretty bad,
Maybe more than God.

In the midst of his Christian music period, Bob Dylan wrote "Need a Woman." Copyrighted in 1982, the song appeared on the first volume of the bootleg series in 1991. He avoids the God theme for most of the song, though suggests to her toward the end that religious belief is a private matter, quite the opposite of what he had been practicing in those years:

"Well, believing is all right, just don’t let the wrong people know what it’s all about
They might put the evil eye on you, use their hidden powers to try to turn you out."

What Bob needs:
- Someone who can see him as he is
- Someone who doesn't give a damn
- Someone to be his queen

His situation:
- Patience wearing thin, fire in his nose
- Searching for truth the way God designed it, though he might drown before he finds it

His research:
- He's been watching her for five years
- She doesn't know him, but he knows her laughter and tears
- She doesn't frighten him, though she does make his heart beat faster
- She appears to be in need of a man
- He's seen her boot heels spark
- He's seen her in the day and in the dark



Narrow Way

Heaven's a hard climb,
So if I get tired, Jesus,
Come down and see me.

I didn't realize quite how Biblical this song was until the Genius website helpfully pointed it out. I got the impression that "Narrow Way," which appears on the 2012 album "Tempest," was an old codger telling a younger woman that she'll need to slow down a bit and give some of herself if she wants to put up with him and his old codger ways. Maybe that's so, but these 11 verses contain a ton more besides. Here's what I more or less lifted from Genius:

I'm gonna walk across the desert 'til I'm in my right mind (Exodus of the Jews)
I won't even think about what I left behind (Sodom and Gomorrah)
Nothing back there anyway that I can call my own
Go back home, leave me alone
It's a long road, it's a long and narrow way (Book of Matthew - Walk the straight and narrow)
If I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday (God meets you halfway if you meet him halfway)

I saw you drinking from an empty cup (Last Supper)
I saw you buried and I saw you dug up (This one's obvious)

You went and lost your lovely head
For a drink of wine and a crust of bread (Last Supper again)

Your father left you, your mother too
Even death has washed its hands of you (Resurrection)

You got too many lovers wailing at the wall (Wailing wall)
About a thousand tongues, I couldn't count them all (Martin Luther hymn: Oh dass ich tausend Zungen haette: If I had a thousand tongues)
Yesterday I could've thrown them all in the sea
Today, even one, may be too much for me

Been dark all night but now it's dawn
The moving finger is moving on (Apparently from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam)

The old haiku that I wrote was this:

I'm tired and old.
If you want to be with me,
You'll have to slow down.

Clearly it was time to change it. (Interestingly, the song from which Dylan borrows his chorus is "You'll Work Down to Me Someday" by the Mississippi Sheiks, and in that case, he singer DEFINITELY is addressing a woman.)






My Woman She's a-Leavin'

Woman's hard to please.
Her man is a rolling stone,
And now she's leaving.

This sounds like a Dylan original from the Basement Tapes sessions of 1967. The sound quality is quite good given the low-fi nature of the recordings, none of which were meant to be released commercially, but it's nearly impossible to understand many of Dylan's words. The ones that are distinguishable also are nuts. I transcribed as best I could. You can find this peppy little number on volume 11 of the Bootleg Series. I think it's another case of him trying out words and rhymes rather than attempting to make sense or to write an actual song. Still, it's entertaining background music. 

Broken out and fighting
But she's all right out of of need
And she's already mourning my hand
She's open as some pages 
But I don't have the need
But she's already cheating my stand
Every time you morning plea
I open this heart to please
But she's already held me in my hand
Now early in the morning she's a hot and a hand to hold
I'm a rolling stone of desire
Well bless my potato she's hungry but she's feeling
And she's all mashed up like to die
But she's don't leave me no combination
And I don't need no congregation
And she hear them preaching on the fire

Well xxxxxx 
hear no bell a ring man
xxxxxxxxxxx
Reason on the panda mama's kitchen
But she's all messed up with desire
Well I hate to be no streetin'
But my woman she's a leavin
And my feel no stand she's no liar



My Wife's Home Town

My wife is trouble.
She makes me do bad things, and
Her home town is hell.

"Hell is my wife's home town." It's one of the stranger choruses that Bob Dylan has ever sung, and I like it. "My Wife's Home Town" is a Dylan/Robert Hunter composition with a big dose of Willie Dixon in it. I don't know who the wife is supposed to be in this song, but she sounds like the crusty old Dylan who put this on the 2009 album "Together Through Life" has met his match.

Regarding the wife:
- Hell is her home town
- She makes you steal
- She makes you rob
- She gives you hives
- She makes you lose your job
- She makes things bad
- She makes things worse
- She has more potent poisons than a gypsy curse
- She will make me kill someone
- She makes me lose my reason
- She ensures that I love only her

My favorite lyrics from the song:

"Well there's reasons for that and reasons for this
I can't think of any just now, but I know they exist."

"Well there's plenty to remember, plenty to forget
I still can remember the day we met."

"State gone broke, the county's dry
Don't be looking at me, with that evil eye
Keep on walking don't be hanging around
I'm telling you again that Hell's my wife's home town"



My Bucket's Got a Hole in It

I can't buy no beer.
My beer bucket has a hole.
I'm going to scream.

This is an old song by Clarence Williams, the fascinating jazz pianist, composer, singer and publisher (notably of "race records" in the first two decades of the 20th century) of songs with provocative titles such as "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None o' This Jelly Roll," "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," "You Missed a Good Woman," "I Can Beat You Doing What You're Doing Me" and "Cake Walkin' Babies From Home."

The most well known version is by Hank Williams, whose lyrics I've included below under the slightly different ones that Bob Dylan sings with the band during the 1967 Basement Tapes recordings. The haiku contains a reference to a scream, one of which Bob lets loose during the song. You can find it on volume 11 of the Bootleg Series.

Well, my bucket's got a hole in it
Yes, my bucket's got a hole in it
Well, my bucket's got a hole in it
I can't buy no beer

Well, I went upon the mountain
I looked down into sea
I seen the crabs and the fishes
Doin' the be-bop-bee

'Cause my bucket's got a hole in it
Yes, my bucket's got a hole in it
You know, my bucket's got a hole in it
I can't buy no beer

Aaahhhh!

Oh, there ain't no use
Of me workin' so hard
I know there ain't no use
Of me workin' so hard
'Cause I got a woman
In the boss man's yard

'Cause my bucket's got a hole in it
Yes, my bucket's got a hole in it
You know, my bucket's got a hole in it
I can't buy no beer


Hank Williams version:

Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
I can't buy no beer. 

Well I'm standin' on a corner - With a bucket in my hand
I'm waitin' for a woman - That ain't got no man. 

'Cause My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
I can't buy no beer. 

Well, I went upon the mountain - I looked down in the sea
I seen the crabs and the fishes - Doin' the be-bop-bee. 

'Cause My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
I can't buy no beer. 

Well, there ain't no use - of me workin' so hard
When I got a woman - in the boss man's yard. 

'Cause My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
I can't buy no beer. 

Well, me and my baby - we just bought a Ford
And now we sit together - on the running board.

'Cause My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Yea! My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
I can't buy no beer.




My Back Pages

It's easy to preach
When I think I know it all.
But I know nothing.

Bob Dylan spent two notable periods of his songwriting life as a preacher. The second was his three-year, three-album journey into Christianity, while the first was the period for which he is best remembered - that of a protest singer. "My Back Pages," so the interpretations go, is his renunciation of those kinds of songs. One of the difficulties for many of Dylan's original fans, as well as those who weren't even born at the time this song appeared (on "Another Side of Bob Dylan" in 1964), is accepting his music and therefore the songwriter as they see him despite much evidence that he is something else. The idea that Dylan was a folksinger or a protest singer is off base, somewhwat, and it plainly galled him that his career and identity would be defined that way. It was a career option at the time and it brought him fame, money and popular success, but like anyone who becomes known for something, we often want to transcend it, become known for how we want to be seen or how we really feel, and keep all the rewards that we've earned from that role into which we're typecast. The have/eat cake problem, in other words. Dylan's fans liked what they heard from him, and often have reacted poorly to what seem like abrupt changes, both as he grew as an artist and has he tried to shake off admirers who in many ways became demanding and irritable when he did change what he wanted to change about himself. I suppose there are plenty of postmodern theories that you can use to discuss identity versus the real person, and I know that writing about it well requires more drafts and more rewriting than the quick job that I'm giving it here.

So what has all this to do with "My Back Pages?" This slow-moving, densely worded song is a statement of intent, one that shuts down the old machine shop of protest songs and socially conscious songs and songs written for the people. It looks forward to new kinds of songs, the ones that took a more aggressive stance toward rejecting what he had become known as. Songs like "Maggie's Farm," for example. And change he did. Folksinger to rock singer to country singer to middle-of-the-road country crooner, all to pursue that art that he wanted to pursue, while losing in his rearview mirror the people whose criticism of his new music must have aggravated him... though I am sure that any criticsm of anybody's work hurts the laborer who produced it. I don't know how it couldn't.

In this song, Dylan presents a series of scenes that describe his old self. Some of them are abstract, some less so. I've read various descriptions of these words as being like those of William Blake, though with the songs of experience coming first, then the songs of innocence. The recurring line "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" refers to the idea that shedding the old, weighty concerns of his previous songs allows for new, different and deeper songs to spring up. Or so I think, at least.

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ’neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now


Here's a nice live version from Columbia's 30th anniversary celebration for Dylan. He appears alongside George Harrison, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Tom Petty. I'll never understand concert appearance that require seven guitar players as well as bass, but this sounds pretty good.



Monday, July 13, 2015

Must Be Santa

Beard, red cap, red nose.
Please issue an APB;
It must be Santa.

"Must Be Santa" was the standout song on Bob Dylan's Christmas music album, "Christmas in the Heart" from 2009. It's a polka-style German drinking tune done as a call-and-response to identify Santa Claus. The original song, by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks, was first recorded by Mitch Miller. Dylan mixes the names of post-war U.S. presidents into the list of reindeer. The video, if you haven't seen it, is a must. It starts off as a Christmas party and ends as a completely inexplicable chase scene involving a reveler who turns out to be some kind of villain. Both song and video are much fun.

Who's got a beard that's long and white
Santa's got a beard that's long and white

Who comes around on a special night
Santa comes around on a special night

Special Night, beard that's white

Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus

Who wears boots and a suit of red
Santa wears boots and a suit of red

Who wears a long cap on his head
Santa wears a long cap on his head

Cap on head, suit that's red
Special night, beard that's white

Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus

Who's got a big red cherry nose
Santa's got a big red cherry nose

Who laughs this way HO HO HO
Santa laughs this way HO HO HO

HO HO HO, cherry nose
Cap on head, suit that's red
Special night, beard that's white

Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus

Who very soon will come our way
Santa very soon will come our way

Eight little reindeer pull his sleigh
Santa's little reindeer pull his sleigh

Reindeer sleigh, come our way
HO HO HO, cherry nose
Cap on head, suit that's red
Special night, beard that's white

Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen

Reindeer sleigh, come our way
HO HO HO, cherry nose
Cap on head, suit that's red
Special night, beard that's white

Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus




Muleskinner Blues

Muleskinner likes work.
He finally finds some, then spends
Payday cash on girls.

Bob Dylan performed this old Jimmie Rodgers song in 1962 at the Finjan Club in Montreal. Its only authorized release that I'm aware of is on the ultra-rare "50th Anniversary Collection" album that extends the copyright on a bunch of material that Dylan recorded in 1962. It's a yodel about a mule skinner, as you might expect. I can't find the Dylan recording online so I'll share Dolly Parton's version. A muleskinner is a mule driver.

Good morning captain,
Good morning son.
Good morning captain,
Good morning son.
You don't need another mule skinner
Out on your new road line.

Yodle-aa-heeee!
Yodle-aa-heeee!
Yodle-aa-heeee!

I can't do that one.

Well I like to work,
I'm rolling all the time.
Well I like to work,
I'm rolling all the time.
I can pop my initials
Right on the mules behind.

Well it's hey little waterboy,
Bring your water round.
Well it's hey little waterboy,
Bring your water round.
If you don't like your job,
Set that waterbucket down.

I'm a-working on the new road
At a dollar and a dime a day.
I'm a-working on the new road
At a dollar and a dime a day.
I got three women waiting on a saturday night
just to draw my pay



Mozambique

Summer holidays
In Mozambique sound like fun.
Watch out for landmines.

"Mozambique" is one of the stranger songs in Bob Dylan's canon. It appeared on the 1976 album "Desire," and was, like most of the songs on the album, written with psychoanalyst, English professor and "Oh! Calcutta!" musical director Jacques Levy. It's a short song about a romantic getaway to the sunny beaches and tropical paradise of Mozambique. At that time, the southeastern African nation and former Portuguese colony was just getting over a 10-year insurgency against its former colonizer, and was busy being mined to the gills. It was, perhaps, an imaginary Mozambique in another universe.

Attributes of the fake Mozambique:
- Sunny sky, aqua blue
- Couples dance cheek to cheek
- Nice place to visit for a week or two
- Lots of pretty girls
- Lots of time for romance
- Lots of time to hang out and chat
- Opportunities to find a lover
- Opportunities to say hello with a glance
- Time to hang out with your honey on the beach



Motorpsycho Nitemare

Right-wing farmer hosts
Bob for the night. Saucy
Daughter flirts with him.

"Motorpsycho Nitemare" is Bob Dylan's extended joke on the traveling salesman/suspicious farmer/sexy daughter story, blended with a few plot elements from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," Fidel Castro's beard, and the Communist witch hunts in America during the prior 10 years to the song's release. Dylan also drops in a Fellini/La Dolce Vita reference. The song appeared on the 1964 album "Another Side of Bob Dylan."

I pounded on a farmhouse
Lookin’ for a place to stay
I was mighty, mighty tired
I had come a long, long way
I said, “Hey, hey, in there
Is there anybody home?”
I was standin’ on the steps
Feelin’ most alone
Well, out comes a farmer
He must have thought that I was nuts
He immediately looked at me
And stuck a gun into my guts

I fell down
To my bended knees
Saying, “I dig farmers
Don’t shoot me, please!”
He cocked his rifle
And began to shout
“You’re that travelin’ salesman
That I have heard about”
I said, “No! No! No!
I’m a doctor and it’s true
I’m a clean-cut kid
And I been to college, too”

Then in comes his daughter
Whose name was Rita
She looked like she stepped out of
La Dolce Vita
I immediately tried to cool it
With her dad
And told him what a
Nice, pretty farm he had
He said, “What do doctors
Know about farms, pray tell?”
I said, “I was born
At the bottom of a wishing well”

Well, by the dirt ’neath my nails
I guess he knew I wouldn’t lie
“I guess you’re tired”
He said, kinda sly
I said, “Yes, ten thousand miles
Today I drove”
He said, “I got a bed for you
Underneath the stove
Just one condition
And you go to sleep right now
That you don’t touch my daughter
And in the morning, milk the cow”

I was sleepin’ like a rat
When I heard something jerkin’
There stood Rita
Lookin’ just like Tony Perkins
She said, “Would you like to take a shower?
I’ll show you up to the door”
I said, “Oh, no! no!
I’ve been through this before”
I knew I had to split
But I didn’t know how
When she said
“Would you like to take that shower, now?”

Well, I couldn’t leave
Unless the old man chased me out
’Cause I’d already promised
That I’d milk his cows
I had to say something
To strike him very weird
So I yelled out
“I like Fidel Castro and his beard”
Rita looked offended
But she got out of the way
As he came charging down the stairs
Sayin’, “What’s that I heard you say?”

I said, “I like Fidel Castro
I think you heard me right”
And ducked as he swung
At me with all his might
Rita mumbled something
’Bout her mother on the hill
As his fist hit the icebox
He said he’s going to kill me
If I don’t get out the door
In two seconds flat
“You unpatriotic
Rotten doctor Commie rat”

Well, he threw a Reader’s Digest
At my head and I did run
I did a somersault
As I seen him get his gun
And crashed through the window
At a hundred miles an hour
And landed fully blast
In his garden flowers
Rita said, “Come back!”
As he started to load
The sun was comin’ up
And I was runnin’ down the road

Well, I don’t figure I’ll be back
There for a spell
Even though Rita moved away
And got a job in a motel
He still waits for me
Constant, on the sly
He wants to turn me in
To the F.B.I.
Me, I romp and stomp
Thankful as I romp
Without freedom of speech
I might be in the swamp



Motherless Children

Mom dies, kids get by.
Dad will try, sister will fly.
On Jesus don't rely.

From what little I know about music, it seems like Eric Clapton's version of this song, the opener on "461 Ocean Boulevard," is the one that most people know. It was first performed by (and written by?) Blind Willie Johnson in 1927 or so. The original was called "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time." 

The original:
Well, well, well, ah
A motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have a hard time, mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go, wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time Nobody on earth can take a mother's place when, when mother is dead, Lord
Nobody on earth takes mother's place when, mother's dead
Nobody on earth takes mother's place, when you were startin', paved the way
Nobody treats you like mother will when Your wife or husband may be good to you, when mother is dead, Lord
They'll be good to you, mother's dead
A wife or a husband may be good to you, but, better than nothing has proved untrue
Nobody treats you like mother will when, when mother is dead, Lord Lord, Lord, Lord
Yeah, well, ah
Well, some people say that sister will do, when mother is dead
That sister will do when mother's dead
Some people say that sister will do, but, as soon as she's married, she turn her back on you
Nobody treats you like mother will And father will do the best he can, when mother is dead, Lord
Well, the best he can when mother is dead
Father will do the best he can, so many things a father can't understand
Nobody treats you like mother will A motherless children have a hard time, when mother is dead, Lord
Motherless children have a hard time, mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go, Wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time

Dylan's version, as performed in 1962 at the Gaslight Cafe, and available on the album of the concert that was released in 2005. 

Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead
Motherless children run a hard road, a hard road, a hard road
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead

Your father will do the best he can when your mother is dead
Your father will do the best he can when your mother is dead
Your father will do the best he can, but he just does not understand
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead

Now, there's some people say your sister might do when your mother is dead
Now, there's some people say your sister might do when your mother is dead
Some people say your sister will do; soon as she married, turn her back on you
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead

You can dig my grave with a bloody spade when I'm dead
You can dig my grave with a bloody spade when I'm dead
You can dig my grave with a bloody spade; see that my digger gets well paid
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead

Jesus won't be no mother to you when your mother is dead
Jesus won't be no mother to you when your mother is dead
Jesus won't be no mother to you; his trials and tribulations won't see you through
Motherless children run a hard road when your mother is dead






Sunday, July 12, 2015

Most of the Time

You're not on his mind,
And you haven't been for years,
But sometimes you are.

"Most of the Time" is a great set of lyrics, but an outtake from the "Oh Mercy" sessions of a different version of the song shows that it owes half of its beauty to the production treatment that Daniel Lanois gave it. Over its five minutes and five seconds, it proves itself to be worth a full box of tissue because it's a weeper. Dylan sings about how he doesn't miss a woman anymore, except every once in a while. Lanois brings up the bass and a snarling lead guitar to the front of the mix, along with a repeated and echoing drum pattern, and lets Dylan tell his easy rhymes that strike at the center of your heart.

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path, I can read the signs
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

Most of the time
It’s well understood
Most of the time
I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up, I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive, I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

Most of the time
My head is on straight
Most of the time
I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ’til it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time

Most of the time
She ain’t even in my mind
I wouldn’t know her if I saw her
She’s that far behind
Most of the time
I can’t even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was with her

Most of the time
I’m halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it went
I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time





Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)

You say you love me,
But you don't. You love him,
Though you say you don't.

"Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" is a breakup song off the album "Blonde on Blonde" from 1966. Musically, it's well known for its distinctive trombone flourish between verses. Among musicians, it's well known because the guy who played the trombone played the bass at the same time as he blew on the horn. 

1. You say you love and and think of me: you might be wrong.
2. You want to hold me? Not that strong.
3. I can't beg you anymore.
4. Letting you go, and I'll go after you, and we'll see who wins.
5. You say you disturb me and don't disturb me. Of course, you're also a liar.
6. You say you're shakin'/achin', but you try too hard.
7. I'm through with you.
8. You say you're sorry for telling stories that I think are true.
9. One true story is the one you tell me about having another lover.
10. That's it for you and me.



Moonshiner

Drinking will kill me,
Women good, drinking better.
I'll drink till I die.

This is Bob Dylan's take on an old Irish or American folk song. He recorded it in 1963 during the sessions for the album "The Times They Are a-Changin'," but it did not appear commercially until 1991 on the first edition of the Bootleg Series. Here are the lyrics:

I've been a moonshiner,
For seventeen long years,
I've spent all my money,
On whiskey and beer,
I go to some hollow,
And sit at my still
And if whiskey dont kill me,
Then I dont know what will,

I go to some bar room,
And drink with my friends,
Where the women cant follow,
And see what I spend,
God bless them pretty women,
I wish they was mine,
Their breath is as sweet,
The dew on the vine,

Let me eat when I am hungry,
Let me drink when I am dry,
A dollar when I am hard up,
Religion when I die,
The whole world's a bottle,
And life's but a dram,
When the bottle gets empty,
It sure ain't worth a damn.



Moonlight

It's pretty tonight.
Man meets woman in moonlight.
They cross the river.

"Moonlight" is another combination of elegy to the day and the seasons and the defiance of an old man who still has something to offer the world, not to mention a woman. It's an old-style pop song that appeared on the 2001 album "Love and Theft." Here are the events as depicted in the song:

1. Seasons turnin', heart yearnin' for the song of the bird. Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?
2. Dusky light, orchids, poppies, black-eyed Susan. Earth/sky like flesh/bone.
3. Air thick/heavy on levy. Geese in the countryside. 
4. "Well, I’m preachin’ peace and harmony
The blessings of tranquility
Yet I know when the time is right to strike
I’ll take you cross the river dear
You’ve no need to linger here."
I know the kinds of things you like." I have wondered if this is supposed to be some reference to a murder ballad, but the tone of the song is sweet enough that I would prefer to think that they're literally crossing a river and not crossying the river Styx.
5. Clouds turnin' red, leaves falling. Branch shadows on stone.
6. Cypress trees, "masquerades of birds and bees" (haha). Petals and wind.
7. Moss and mystic glow, purple blossom, Bob's tears. "It takes a thief to catch a thief." "For whom does the bell toll for, love? It tolls for you and me." Maybe it IS a murder ballad...
8. Pulse beat, hills and yellow fields with twisted, groaning oaks.



Mixed-Up Confusion

Mixed up and confused
Man keeps walking and searching
For mixed-up women.

"Mixed-Up Confusion" is Bob Dylan's first single, issued on the other side of the song "Corrina, Corrina." These two were the only songs from the sessions for the 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" that were released with electric instruments backing him. The song feels like a conscious attempt at an easy-going hit single, though it didn't perform that way. The song is a compact lament:

1. I have mixed up confusion. It's killing me. It's hard to please so many people.
2. I'm walking around with my hat in my hand looking for a woman who's as mixed up as I am.
3. I have lots of questions and a fever. I don't know whom to ask for answers.
4. I'm still walking. Every time I see my reflection, "I’m hung over, hung down, hung up!"

The first commercially available version of the song after the single appeared was on the "Biograph" compilation in 1985. When the first volume of the "50th Anniversary Collection" came out, a copyright extension collection of songs from 1962, it included seven of the 11 takes of the song that Bob performed. They're all slightly different. I have included three takes here.