Monday, May 25, 2015

Hallelujah I've Just Been Moved

I have just been moved.
Was it because of God or
Was it your daughter?

There's more laughing than lyrics as Bob Dylan and the Band go for a rowdy gospel turn in this song from the Basement Tapes sessions of 1967. The song mostly sticks to the straight-and-narrow idea of being born again, but there's a sly reference to a daughter buried in the improvised singing that gave me the direction for this haiku.

Had a Dream About You, Baby

Bob dreams of a girl
He picks up. They go dancing,
Then they get coffee.

As far as dreams go, "Had a Dream About You, Baby" sounds like a good one. The song comes from Bob Dylan's widely panned 1988 album "Down in the Groove." It also appears in the soundtrack to the film "Hearts of Fire," a universally despised film in which Dylan co-starred with Rupert Everett. It's a decent song, though Dylan was unlikely to win any awards for profundity with this song.

1. He has to see her.
2. He had a dream about her.
3. She has a strange rhythm when she walks. She makes him nervous when she talks.
4. For once, Dylan's the driver and the girl's the hitcher. She says to take her to the nearest town.
5. They go dancing. The joint, as expected, is "jumpin'."
6. Later, she kisses him in the coffee shop. He gets nervous.
7. She's wearing a rag on her head and is wearing a dress of fire engine red.

Gypsy Lou

Elusive girlfriend:
The pursuit of Gypsy Lou
Is a full-time job.

You'll need a second girlfriend if you make Gypsy Lou your first. Gypsy, as Bob sang way back in 1963 when he recorded this song for the Witmark Demos collection, is not a reliable life companion. He demonstrates:

"She’s a ramblin’ woman with a ramblin’ mind
Always leavin’ somebody behind.
Hey, ’round the bend
Gypsy Lou’s gone again
Gypsy Lou’s gone again."

The singer searches the country to find her. He tires out his feet. You would too. She's been to:

- Old Cheyenne
- Denver town
- Wichita
- Arkansas
- Gallus Road, Arlington (I'm assuming this refers to Gallows Road in Fairfax County, Virginia)
- Washington
- Oregon
- Gallus Road (again)
- A Memphis calaboose (prison)

Her itinerary ends in the calaboose, unfortunately. One of the boys she left behind committed suicide.

Guess I'm Doing Fine

No cash, much trouble.
Without my sunny nature,
Life would suck much more.

"Guess I'm Doing Fine" appears on the Witmark Demos album, which is volume 9 in the Bootleg Series. It's from 1964, I think, and is a fair enough ballad of the archetypal annoying optimist. Predating "Moonshadow" by a few years, the song lists a host of unfair omissions and grievances, but the singer bounces back with the "yes, but at least I have X" resilience of the perpetually irritating happy-go-lucky wandering folksinger. I'm trying to imagine Burl Ives singing this while playing Big Daddy.

- No childhood, no friends. But I have my voice!
- No money, but I'm still around!
- Trouble on my mind. But other people have more trouble than I do!
- No armies. But I have one good friend!
- People have kicked me, whipped me, trampled on me and shot at me. But I'm alive!
- Rocky road. Stones cut my face. But at least I have a road!

Grumble grumble, get off my lawn.

The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar

Jesus: kept waiting
At the altar while Claudette
Plays runaway bride.

There are times when you can't help but love Bob Dylan's mind and appreciate the mystery of how it works:

"What can I say about Claudette?
Ain't seen her since January,
She could be respectably married or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires."

That he manages to put that into the galloping hard-rocker that is "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" is a testament to his quicksilver tongue and his quicksilverer thinking (I can invent my own comparatives if I want). The song, a 1981 single that was added to later editions of "Shot of Love," is one of Dylan's best attempts to merge pop music with the evening news. The timing was good too. This song came out as the news began, at least in my mind, to enter the modern era of terrorism, dirty and less organized wars and the sophisticated coldness of the 1980s, when rock and roll singers started wearing suits and discovering that in the gleaming corridors of the 51st floor, the money can be made if you really want some more.

Dylan's tale is half complaint, half wire service report. What makes it click for me is his ability to shove out long sentences in single verses, hitting 20 or 21 syllables if not more at a time, and never making it sound like he was forcing too many words into the space:

1. We find him praying in the ghetto with his face in cement. There's a dying boxer, the massacre of innocents. A woman walking down the halls (away, presumably), as the walls fall apart.
2. Pure at heart = arrest for robbery. Shyness = aloofness. Silence = snobbery. How mad it is to become what you never were ment to become.
3. Claudette? Whatever I say can and will be used against me. I had to leave her as soon as she began to want me. God have mercy, I would have done anything for her if she weren't expecting it already.
4. Do I have a fever, baby? If you want something, take it. You might not be able to keep it.
5. Cities on fire, phones aren't working, fighting on the border, nuns and soldiers (hello Iris Murdoch!) getting killed. Claudette could be up to one thing or the other.

And the chorus, of course:

I see the burning of the stage,
Curtain risin' on a new age,
See the groom still waitin' at the altar.

Most people wonder whether the groom is supposed to be Jesus, who made a number of appearances on Dylan songs at the time, or whether he's Bob or someone else. We're here to have fun, not to figure out what Dylan really meant. I went with Jesus because it was the easy choice. There's also a quote from the Book of Revelations about the lamb getting ready for a wedding and the bride making herself ready. I wouldn't be surprised if the lamb -- an agent of God, a symbol for Jesus, a scapegoat, a sacrifice in the Old Testament and a human sacrifice in the New -- weren't what Dylan was referring to.

Gotta Travel On

My feet itch again.
Time to hit the road. I might
Go home forever.

"Gotta Travel On" appears on the "Self Portrait" album from 1970. It's a shuffling, slightly funked-up version of an earlier folk song by Paul Clayton, who killed himself in 1967, reportedly by adding an electric heater to his bath. The song is basic enough:

1. I've been around this town too long. Winter's coming.
2. Going home to stay.
3. I'll catch a train and go home hobo-style.

In all this is a great verse that captures emotional anguish with an outsider's cold precision. I'm just not sure what it has to do with the rest of the song.

Papa writes to Johnny, Johnny can't come home
Johnny can't come home, Johnny can't come home
Papa writes to Johnny, Johnny can't come home
Johnny's been out on the road too long

I don't see how Johnny can be the narrator of the rest of the song since Johnny can't come home. Details...

Side note: Dylan credits Clayton and three other songwriters with authorship. I don't know if that's true, but it seems likely. I do know that I've seen it credited to Webb Pierce, but that might not be true either. There are early versions of the song by the Kingston Trio and Billy Grammer. Then there are versions by Bill Monroe, Bobby Bare, Harry Belafonte and Glen Campbell, not to mention others.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gotta Serve Somebody

Whatever your job,
You can choose one manager:
The Devil or God.

The opening song on the 1979 born-again-Christian-themed album "Slow Train Coming" is one of Bob Dylan's masterpieces. "Gotta Serve Somebody" makes clear that whatever you choose to do in your life, you're serving one master or the other, and if it's not God or the Devil, it's someone else. The argument cuts across class, race and every other way we slice up humanity. Dylan won a Grammy Award for best male rock vocal performance for this song.

Things you could be, while still having to serve somebody:

- Ambassador to England
- Ambassador to France
- Gambler
- Dancer
- World heavyweight champion
- Socialite with pearls
- Rock n' roll addict
- Drug dealer
- User of women
- Businessman
- High-tech thief
- Doctor
- Chief
- State trooper
- Young Turk
- TV network executive
- Rich
- Poor
- Blind
- Lame
- Expatriate or emigre
- Incognito
- Construction worker
- Mansion inhabitant
- Dome inhabitant
- Gun runner
- Tank seller
- Landlord
- Banker
- Preacher
- City councilman taking bribes
- Barber
- Mistress
- Heir
- Wearer of cotton
- Wearer of cotton
- Drinker of whiskey
- Drinker of milk
- Eater of caviar
- Eater of bread
- Someone sleeping on the floor
- Someone sleeping in a bed

Names by which you might know Bob:
- Terry
- Timmy
- Bobby
- Zimmy
- RJ
- Ray
- Anything else you can think of

Here is someone's strange, homemade remix of the song. Oddly compelling.

Got My Mind Made Up

You used me all up.
I’m off to Libya, or
Wherever you aren't.

The obscure song "Got My Mind Made Up" from the 1986 album "Knocked Out Loaded" brings great attitude courtesy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but the song is guaranteed to curdle your milk. Bob complains about a woman whom he helped and who in turn used him and quite probably abandoned him. Now he's done with her and off to Libya to meet a man who's been living in an oil refinery for three years. We're not clear on his plans.

1. Don't try to change me or convince me that I was wrong.
2. Off to Libya.
3. Call your mother in Florida and tell her everything's going to be fine.
4. I gave you money and connections and everything else.
5. Don't worry. Someone (God? A new boyfriend?) is looking after you and wouldn't do anything to you that I wouldn't do too.
6. The best line of the song: Well, if you don't want to see me, Look the other way. You don't have to feed me,
I ain't your dog that's gone astray."

Gospel Plow

Keep your hand on it.
(I'm talking about your plow)
Think about heaven.

Some people must wonder if the rest of us must spend so much time incorporating juvenile sex innuendo into our art. I wonder why we don't spend more. Given the chance, a cheap laugh gets you a big laugh. Well, maybe it does if you're a more talented comedian than I am. In any case, this is "Gospel Plow," a traditional American song and one of the songs on Bob Dylan's debut album from 1962. The title, Wikipedia informs me, comes from Luke 9:62 in the Bible:

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Context? In the book of Luke, Jesus has just spent some quality time exorcising a demon from a child. The disciples argue about one thing or another. Jesus gives them a ration of shit about this. He then gets pissed off because John says to him that they saw another exorcist getting busy with an exorcism, and then didn't allow him to follow Jesus. Jesus says, he who is not against us is for us, so what is your problem? Then they decide to go to Jerusalem, and they pass through villages in Samaria where he and the disciples are unwelcome. James and John suggest asking God to rain fire on their houses and burn the people to death. Jesus explains why this is somewhat Old Testament-style thinking. Then they find another guy who wants to follow them. Jesus complains that he has nowhere to sleep that night. Another guy wants to join up, but says he has to bury his father first. Jesus says, are you kidding? Let the dead bury their dead. You're with me or not with me. Another guy says, "Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house." At that point, Jesus lectures him about the man with the plough. 

The song, like the verse, equates holding the plough with keeping your eyes on the heavenly reward. In other words, once you have your hand on the plough, you need to keep looking forward. Looking backward makes you screw up the straight line. Now you know.

Gonna Get You Now

This is not a threat,
It's a promise: Bob will come
And get you right now.

The value of trying to score decent haiku off some of the Basement Tapes tracks is debatable. If I weren't wired to be such a completist, I probably would have given up on this 90-second raw take. "Gonna Get You Now" sustains itself purely on good atmosphere. The words are barely intelligible. Here's what I was able to get. These lyrics could be all wrong. I'm not good at transcribing on these bad recordings:

Gonna get you now!
Word to your grandpa, come on home.
Well xxxxxx afternoon
Drama ain't cold and brown.
Late last night on the top
She was heading to calling me 'round.
Gonna get you now.
Gonna get you now!
Word to your grandpa, come on home
Well I was daydreaming on Sunday.
Monday came both ways.
Big storm, man,
it don't bother me,
But I can't seem to get it straight
Gonna get you now!
Going to your grandma, you'd better best come home.

Make of it what you must.

Gonna Change My Way of Thinking

There's a new playbook:
Do what God says, get yourself
A Christian woman.

"Gonna Change My way of Thinking," from the 1979 album "Slow Train Coming," is the Bob Dylan contender for best use of cowbell in a pop song. In fact, the band is on fire, just as it is for much of the album, Dylan's first of three born-again Christian-themed offerings. It might not make you see the light, but it won't fail to make you feel the music. This song is a hard-edged blues song with a great horn section and fine lead guitar playing from Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.

Basic themes:

1. Change way of thinking. Make new set of rules. Best foot forward. No more fools.
2. Too much oppression. Sons marrying their mothers. Fathers turn daughters into whores.
3. You're covered in stripes, stabbed by swords and blood flows everywhere.
4. Sinner 1: does his own thing. Sinner 2: Tries to be cool. Both sinners: remember brass ring, forget golden rule.
5. You can mislead people, but the only real authority is God.
6. I have a Christian girlfriend. She fears God and she doesn't cost me too much money.
7. Jesus said "Be ready, for you know not the hour in which I come." (Matthew 24:44, Matthew 25:13, Luke 12:40) My favorite line of the song is here: He said, "He who is not for me is against me," just so you know where he's coming from. Even born-again Christians can do sly humor.
8. Heaven: no pain of birth. As Bob says, "The Lord created it, mister, about the same time he made the earth."

Here's the original:

And here's a great live version from 2011 in Tel Aviv which features different lyrics:

Golden Loom

Bob recalls his tryst
With a fisherman's daughter
Whom he failed to hook.

"Golden Loom" is of a piece with "Mozambique," that supreme piece of laid-back vacationland music from the 1976 album "Desire." This song didn't make it to that album, surfacing instead in 1991 on the first volume of the Bootleg Series. The haiku tells the story.

Fisherman's daughter shows up at just the right time, carrying a loom. It's a smoky, starry night in autumn. Boats in the bay, eucalyptus in the air. They wash their feet at the shrine, drink wine, she starts crying. She takes off in the summer (the loom goes with her). Later, he walks across the bridge "in the dismal light." Stripped cars, and such. He sees trembling lion with a tail made of a lotus flower. When he thinks he's kissing her, she's not really there.

Goin' to Acapulco

Rose Marie awaits
In Mexico. I see her,
Have fun and go home.

The Rose Marie of "Goin' to Acapulco" from Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes sessions of 1967 sounds like a chipper gal. My suspicion is that she's a sometime-girlfriend with a world of her own who doesn't mind performing some body work on Bob when he needs his annual inspection. Either that or she's a madam down in Mexico. I would imagine that this is the case because she:

- Never does him wrong
- Puts it to him plain
- Gives it to him for a song
- Offers him quick eats
- Lets him blow his plum (not sure what that's about) and drink his rum

He also pumps on the well when it breaks down. That sounds like a visit to Acapulco to me.

As for the singer, he's your typical guy:
- Wicked life, but everyone has to eat.
- He's like everyone else, scratching for his meat.
- He tries to tell the truth and not listen to jokes or engage in pranks.
- He just wants to have fun.


I’m going down to Rose Marie’s
She never does me wrong
She puts it to me plain as day
And gives it to me for a song

It’s a wicked life but what the hell
Everybody's got to eat.
And I'm just the same as anyone else
When it comes to scratching for my meat.

Goin’ to Acapulco – goin’ on the run
Goin’ down to see soft gut – goin’ to have some fun
Yeah – goin’ to have some fun

Now whenever I get up and
Can't find what I need,
I just make it down to Rose Marie’s
And get something quick to eat (?).

It's not a bad way to make a living
And I ain't complaining none
For I can blow plum (?) and drink my rum
And then go on home and have my fun.

Goin’ to Acapulco – goin’ on the run
Goin’ down to see soft gut – goin’ to have some fun
Yeah – goin’ to have some fun

Now, if someone offers me a joke
I just say no thanks
I try to tell it like it is
And keep away from pranks

Now every time you know when the well breaks down
I just go pump on it some
Rose Marie, she likes to go to big places
And just set there waitin' for me to come

Goin’ to Acapulco – goin’ on the run
Goin’ down to see soft gut – goin’ to have some fun
Yeah – goin’ to have some fun

For what it's worth, the lyrics printed on the Bob Dylan website differ dramatically in two verses. Here they are:

It’s a wicked life but what the hell
The stars ain’t falling down
I’m standing outside the Taj Mahal
I don’t see no one around

There are worse ways of getting there
And I ain’t complainin’ none
If the clouds don’t drop and the train don’t stop
I’m bound to meet the sun

I don't know who "soft gut" is in the song, but the printed lyrics change the name to "fat gut."

You can find the song in two places. One is the official Basement Tapes album from 1975. It contains significant overdubs recorded by the Band eight years after they first recorded the song with Dylan. For the original, seek out volume 11 of the Bootleg Series, which contains the bulk of the recordings from upstate New York in 1967.

Goin' Down to New Orleans

You don't understand.
I'm going to New Orleans.
I have some troubles.

Bob Dylan's "Goin' down to New Orleans" is an early track, mostly a variation on Muddy Waters's "Louisiana Blues." Waters focuses more on getting a mojo bag that he'll use to impress the ladies. Dylan is more concerned with some unkown trouble that he's just found out is chasing him. He had a good idea after visiting the fortune teller, who tells him that he's all right, but he's cursed by bad luck. Of course, his wandering means leaving a woman. You can find Dylan's song on the super-rare "50th Anniversary Collection" compilation.

The song:
I'm goin' down to New Orleans, baby, behind the rising sun
Goin' down to New Orleans, baby, behind the rising sun
Lord, I've just found out, my trouble has just begun.

Oh, went to see a gypsy woman, have my fortune told
Went to see that gypsy woman, have my fortune told
She said: "You're a good boy, Bobby. Man, you just got a bad luck soul."

I got a 32 special built on a cross of wood
I got a 32 special built on a cross of wood
I got a 38-20, man, that's twice as good

I'm goin' down to New Orleans with my hat (head?) in my hand
Goin' down to New Orleans, mama, with my hat (head?) in my hand
Now, I hate to leave you, but you just don't understand

I'm goin' down to New Orleans, baby, behind the rising sun
Goin' down to New Orleans, baby, behind the rising sun
Lord, I've just found out, my trouble has just begun.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad

If you're feeling bad,
You should go somewhere warmer
Where water's like wine.

This blues song has been around a long time. Bob Dylan's version with the Band, recorded during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967, sounds like a campfire singalong. There are other versions out there, including ones from Woody Guthrie and the Grateful Dead. The lyrics often vary from version to version, but they center on wandering poor folks and hobos who are tired of being treated as such, and looking at moving somewhere like Florida or elsewhere where the water tastes like wine and the temperature is more accommodating to outdoor activities.

Here are the Dead's lyrics:

Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' where the climate suits my clothes. Goin' where the climate suits my clothes. Goin' where the climate suits my clothes. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' where the water tastes like wine. Goin' where the water tastes like wine. Goin' where the water tastes like wine. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' where the chilly winds don't blow. Goin' where the chilly winds don't blow. Goin' where those chilly winds don't blow. I don't want to be treated this away.

Goin' Back to Rome

You can have New York.
I'll take the Coliseum
As I'll be in Rome.

"You can keep Madison Square Garden, give me the Coliseum." This wisp of a song, "Goin' Back to Rome" got one performance live in 1963, and is available on the super-hard-to-find "50th Anniversary Collection 1963" album. Here are the lyrics that I swiped off a website somewhere. I don't know what he's singing in the ?? parts either.

Well you know I'm lying 
But don't look at me with scorn.
Well you know I'm lying 
But don't look at me with scorn.
I'm going back to Rome
That's where I was born.

Buy me a ?? I can carry
Keep it for my friends.
Buy me a ?? I can carry
Keep it for my friends.
Don't go to Italy
All around the bend.

You can keep Madison Square Garden
Give me the Coliseum.
You can keep Madison Square Garden
Give me the Coliseum.
So I can see the gladiators,
Man I can always see 'em.

God Knows

God's got your number.
He'll see you through even if
You don't know the way.

"God knows it's a struggle," Bob Dylan sings on the song "God Knows," and I agree with God and Bob on this song. In fact, most of the songs on the 1990 album "Under the Red Sky" resist analysis and interpretation. The album also resisted sales and happy listeners. It's widely regarded as a disappointment, full of heavy-duty rock production by Don Was and a cast of thousands from Elton John to George Harrison to Slash (oh, there are more: Jimmie Vaughan, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Hornsby, Paulinho da Costa, Al Kooper, Waddy Wachtel, David Was, Don Was) who aren't doing much but sounding like a bar band. I think the standout performer on this song is Kenny Aronoff, who knows how to stutter the drums to vary up a song that has not too much to work with.

As for the song? It resists haiku. Like some of Dylan's songs from the time, it's not textured enough. Sometimes you can rummage around in rumpled velvet carpets of his songs and find all sorts of money that someone left there. This one either hides the goods too well, or perhaps there's nothing to hide. I did my best.

What God knows:
You ain't pretty (it's true)
There's nobody who can take your place
It's a struggle
It's a crime
No more water next time, just fire
It's fragile
Everything could snap right now like scissors on a string
It's terrifying
Everything that unfolds
When you see it, you cry
The secrets of your heart
There's a river
How to make that river flow
You won't take anything with you when you go
There's a purpose
There's a chance
You can rise above the worst of anything
There's a heaven
It's invisible
We can get there from here even if we have to walk a million miles with only a candle

And just like that, the song fades out.

Girl From the North Country

If you go up north,
Check on my former girlfriend.
She might get chilly.

"Girl From the North Country" appeared on two Bob Dylan albums. The first version, sad and bleak, appeared on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" in 1963. The second was a duet with Johnny Cash, warm and friendly, which opened the 1969 album "Nashville Skyline" and carries a suitably memorable scene in the film "Silver Linings Playbook." The song is simple enough: the singer pines for his former lover, far up north, presumably in Minnesota's north country where Bob came from. Who the woman in the song is really supposed to be is up to the Dylanologists and the Picayunese to research.

If you go north, you'll discover hard winds by the border. If you see my ex, please say hello. I used to really love her. By the way, check to see if she's wearing her coat. The river will freeze and there will be snow. Is her hair still long? I remember that look well. I wonder if she remembers me. I still think about her, day and night.

Here are both versions, each beautiful in their ways.

The Girl on the Greenbriar Shore

Go with Greenbriar gal?
You'll be sorry, Mama said.
She wasn't lying.

This song, which I think was performed first by the Carter Family, is the simple tale of what happens when a boy chooses a girl against his mother's wishes. Dylan performed the song live in 1992, and you can find it in volume 8 of the Bootleg Series.

'Twas in the year of '82, 
In the springtime of the year, 
I left my mother and a home so dear 
'Twas in the year of '82,
In the springtime of the year,
I left my mother and a home so dear
All for that girl on the Greenbriar shore.
My mother, she says, "Son, don't go.
Don't leave me here alone.
Don't leave your mother and a home so dear.
Never trust a girl on the Greenbriar shore."

But I was young and reckless too,
And I craved a reckless life.
I left my mother and a home so dear
And I took that girl to be my wife.

Her hair was dark and curly too
And her lovin' eyes were blue;
Her cheeks were like the red red rose
That girl I loved from the Greenbriar shore.

The years rolled on and the months rolled by;
She left me all alone.
Now I remember what my momma said,
"Never trust the girl on the Greenbriar shore."

Get Your Rocks Off

Everywhere you go,
Everybody says one thing:
Get your rocks off me.

Most people know that "get your rocks off" means, generally speaking, to have an orgasm. I think that Bob Dylan and the Band knew what they were saying when they recorded this silly blues number during the Basement Tapes sessions, but the way they use the phrase is all together different.

- Old maid 1 says to old maid 2 as they're lying in bed: Get your rocks off of me.
- Man 1 says to man 2 up on Blueberry Hill: Get your rocks off of me.
- Man 1 says to man 2 down on Mink Muscle Creek: Get your rocks off of me.
- Children shout at Bob and company as they drive by in a Greyhound bus: Get your rocks off of me.

Bob at one point begins to cackle as he sings, which makes this bizarre track charming. Whoever in the Band does the bass voice accompaniment ("Get 'em off!") is an effective clown.

Below is Dylan's version, but first is the official release of the song in 1972 by four-man British group - Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint:

George Jackson

Prison guards kill George.
They were afraid of his love.
Being black? No help.

"George Jackson" is one of the few Bob Dylan songs in his commercially available catalogue that is nearly impossible to find. He released the song as a single in November 1971, with a band version on the A side and an acoustic version on the B side. You can buy the single on vinyl through various online shops. The acoustic version also appears on the "Sidetracks" album that accompanies the complete Dylan album collection reissues series. The "big band" version is available on a compilation album called "Masterpieces," released in 1978, but only in Japan and Australia. It's possible to find copies in the USA, but usually at a prohibitively high price.

The song is a fictionalized account of the death of George Jackson, who was shot dead by guards as he tried to escape from San Quentin Prison in August of the same year. Jackson was a Black Panther leader after being introduced to Marxism and Maoism through a friend. He was sentenced to one year to life in 1961 for armed robbery ($70 from a gas station), and was 18 when he went to jail. He became a celebrated author, though prison authorities said he was a sociopath who had no interest in revolution. The tale grew darker from there, and you can read about it online. He died on Aug. 21 after securing a gun and attempting to break out of the prison. He and other inmates took guards hostage, and six were killed while several others were shot and stabbed, but survived. Jackson was shot in the prison yard.

Dylan's song does not mention these events, instead making a more general statement about long prison sentences disproportionately handed out to black men, and pointing to a system that dehumanizes people and leads to violent behavior.

I woke up this mornin’
There were tears in my bed
They killed a man I really loved
Shot him through the head
Lord, Lord
They cut George Jackson down
Lord, Lord
They laid him in the ground

Sent him off to prison
For a seventy-dollar robbery
Closed the door behind him
And they threw away the key
Lord, Lord
They cut George Jackson down
Lord, Lord
They laid him in the ground

He wouldn’t take shit from no one
He wouldn’t bow down or kneel
Authorities, they hated him
Because he was just too real
Lord, Lord
They cut George Jackson down
Lord, Lord
They laid him in the ground

Prison guards, they cursed him
As they watched him from above
But they were frightened of his power
They were scared of his love.
Lord, Lord,
So they cut George Jackson down.
Lord, Lord,
They laid him in the ground.

Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard
Some of us are prisoners
The rest of us are guards
Lord, Lord
They cut George Jackson down
Lord, Lord
They laid him in the ground

(Note: in fairness to copyright holders, I wouldn't normally post the lyrics in their entirety. Given the lack of easy availability of the song for most music buyers today, I thought it would be OK in this case)

Gates of Eden

Nothing is good here.
The only hope lies beyond,
Where it's unlikely.

"Gates of Eden" is the second song on side two of the 1965 album "Bringing It All Back Home." It's one of a series of surreal Fleurs du Mal-style songs, describing inner landscapes wracked by fever and populated by obscene or absurd characters, and illuminated by Dylan's cantankerous misanthropy. See below:

Dramatis personae:
Curfew gull
Four-legged forest clouds
Cowboy angel
Wailing babies
Savage soldier
Shoeless deaf hunter
Hound dogs
Utopian hermit monks
Golden calf
Lonesome sparrow
Motorcycle Black Madonna
Two-Wheeled Gypsy Queen
Silver-studded phantom
Gray flannel dwarf
Birds of prey
Friends and other strangers
Free men
Bob's lover

1. Truth twisting and the cowboy angel ride happen except when beneath the trees of...
2. No sound from the gates of...
3. Ships sail toward the...
4. Laughter from the gates of... (despite no sound coming from the...)
5. No kings inside the gates of...
6. No sins inside the gates of...
7. What's real doesn't matter inside the gates of...
8. There are no trials inside the gates of...
9. There are no truths outside the gates of... (implying that everything inside the gates is true)

As for the haiku:
There are many bad things happening outside the gates of Eden.
- Twisting truth, a candle waxed in black and lit into the sun, the wailing babies in holes, the crash of "all in all," the complaining soldier, the barking dogs, Aladdin and the monks on the golden calf (idolators), promises of paradise (which must be false), people condemned to suffer succeeding kings, the screaming dwarf, wicked birds of prey who snap up the dwarf's tiny sins, rotting kingdoms, jealous poor people, the royalty taken up with the discussion of what's real (they are wasting their time), Bob's inability to ever find a home (he's always in a hot foreign place in someone else's room), and finally Bob's lover, who doesn't bother to analyze her dreams. This is all what's outside the gates of Eden. Inside sounds like it should be a paradise, but if you check it out, it doesn't sound like Bob is giving you a very hard sell.

Full Moon and Empty Arms

Wish upon the moon
And it might bring what I want,
Which, of course, is you.

"Full Moon and Empty Arms" is the first song on Bob Dylan's 2015 album "Shadows in the Night." Frank Sinatra popularized the song, written by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman, in 1945, and Dylan made it the first release from the new album. The song's melody comes from the allegro scherzando movement of Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. The lyrics are simple.

1. Singer and moon: present. Lover: absent.
2. It's a nice night. A kiss might not just be there to build a dream on, but a memory too.
3. Singer wishes on moon.
4. The wish is: you'll appear by the light of the next full moon.
5. Singer wishes on moon again.
6. He repeats the wish.

From a Buick 6

The wife has the kid.
But the mistress has the fun.
She is resourceful.

For a song that has no apparent meaning, lots of people online like to discuss "From a Buick 6," one of the songs on Bob Dylan's 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited." Whether there's anything to it, I can't say. The idea that I came across that seized me is that the song is about two women. The "graveyard woman" is perhaps the narrator's wife, and probably the mother of his child. But the song isn't about her. It's about the "soulful mama," who must be the mistress. She's multifarious and skilled in the home arts (cooking, sewing), dancing, riflery and tact. You also get the impression that she might be the death of the narrator.

Graveyard woman:
Keeps his kid

Soulful mama:
Keeps him hid
Gives him bread
Sews him up with thread
Doesn't talk too much
Doesn't make him nervous
Walks like Bo Diddley sans crutch
Keeps a loaded gun
Brings him everything (and more)
Ready to put a blanket on his dying bed

Bob cracked up on the highway and the water's edge
The steam shovel that keeps away the dead
The dump truck to load his head.
The Buick 6.

The original song is here:

An alternate version, released in error on the first pressing of "Highway 61 Revisited," is here:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Froggie Went a-Courtin'

Froggie wants to wed.
He gets his mouse, snake eats her,
And a duck eats him.

"Frog Went a-Courting," also known as "A Moste Strange Weddinge of the Frogge and the Mouse," "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" and by other titles, has been around for nearly 500 years, judging by the evidence that I dug up in my research (on the, uh, Internet). I know it because I remember a music teacher making our class sing it a long time ago. Whatever we sang, it didn't end as grimly as the version that Dylan performed on his 1992 album "Good As I Been to You." The story is straight, if not succinct, and it's a murder ballad. I even wrote a haiku about it for those of you who don't have six minutes. Here are the lyrics (my favorite verse is the last one, and I can't tell you how much I enjoy his version, which closes a wistful album on a wistful note):

1. Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride.
With a sword and a pistol by his side, Uh-huh.

2. Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door, Uh-huh,
Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door, Uh-huh,
Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door.
Gave three loud raps and a very big roar, Uh-huh.

3. Said, "Miss Mouse, are you within?" Uh-huh,
Said he, "Miss Mouse, are you within?" Uh-huh,
Said, "Miss Mouse, are you within?"
"Yes, kind sir, I sit and spin," Uh-huh.

4. He took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
Took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
Took Miss Mousey on his knee.
Said, "Miss Mousey, will you marry me?" Uh-huh.

5. "Without my uncle Rat's consent, Uh-huh
"Without my uncle Rat's consent, Uh-huh
"Without my uncle Rat's consent.
I wouldn't marry the president, Uh-huh

6. Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides,.
To think his niece would be a bride, Uh-huh.

7. Uncle Rat went runnin' downtown, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat went runnin' downtown, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat went runnin' downtown.
To buy his niece a wedding gown, Uh-huh

8. Where shall the wedding supper be? Uh-huh,
Where shall the wedding supper be? Uh-huh,
Where shall the wedding supper be?
Way down yonder in a hollow tree, Uh-huh

9. What should the wedding supper be? Uh-huh,
What should the wedding supper be? Uh-huh,
What should the wedding supper be?
Fried mosquito in a black-eye pea, Uh-huh.

10. Well, first to come in was a flyin' moth, Uh-huh,
First to come in was a flyin' moth, Uh-huh,
First to come in was a flyin' moth.
She laid out the table cloth, Uh-huh.

11. Next to come in was a juney bug, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a juney bug, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a juney bug.
She brought the water jug, Uh-huh.

12. Next to come in was a bumbley bee, Uh-huh
Next to come in was a bumbley bee, Uh-huh
Next to come in was a bumbley bee.
Sat mosquito on his knee, Uh-huh.

13. Next to come in was a broken black flea, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a broken black flea, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a broken black flea.
Danced a jig with the bumbley bee, Uh-huh.

14. Next to come in was Mrs. Cow, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was Mrs. Cow, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was Mrs. Cow.
She tried to dance but she didn't know how, Uh-huh.

15. Next to come in was a little black tick, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a little black tick, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a little black tick.
She ate so much she made us sick, Uh-huh.

16. Next to come in was a big black snake, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a big black snake, Uh-huh,
Next to come in was a big black snake.
Ate up all of the wedding cake, Uh-huh.

17. Next to come was the old gray cat, Uh-huh,
Next to come was the old gray cat, Uh-huh,
Next to come was the old gray cat.
Swallowed the mouse and ate up the rat, Uh-huh.

18. Mr. Frog went a-hoppin' up over the brook, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin' up over the brook, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin' up over the brook.
A lily-white duck come and swallowed him up, Uh-huh.

19. A little piece of cornbread layin' on a shelf, Uh-huh,
A little piece of cornbread layin' on a shelf, Uh-huh,
A little piece of cornbread layin' on a shelf.
If you want anymore, you can sing it yourself, Uh-huh.

The French Girl

French girls are trouble.
They will love you and leave you.
Au revoir? Jamais.

This is a song from Ian & Sylvia's 1966 album "Play One More." It's a bittersweet tale of what happens when you hook up with a French girl who won't tell you her name. She's undoubtedly bent on maintaining her independence, as you can see:

1. She wears three silver rings on the crazy Saturday night that you spent at her place.
2. But first: Saturday morning! It's raining, you go walking on winding roads back to her house.
3. You drink Red wine (French wine, of course) at her place. You get it on, fall asleep.
4. She wakes up and you make small talk. You have to go, but you promise to meet her. She names a place.
5. When you go to the French cafe, nobody there speaks English so they can't tell you where she is. (This is Canada, so I'm assuming that the inability to find a single person to speak English on such an important affair is stretching it.)
6. You tell another guy that he might run into this girl in Canada, and that the chances of managing to keep her are low because she's too much for you.
7. PS, after your affair with her, you'll never be the same.

Dylan recorded the song with the Band during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967.

Freight Train Blues

I'm a train person.
When the freight trains start moving,
I do the same thing.

"Freight Train Blues" is the template for songs about men who can't keep stay home and maintain healthy relationships because they're always catching a train somewhere. Dylan's wandering/train songs/ship songs usually deal with men who are traveling because they're sad, because they're seized by wanderlust, because they're trying to get out of a bad relationship, because they're looking for work and so on. This train song, which Dylan performed on his debut album, is more like a justification of rambling for the sake of rambling. The flaneur must flaner because of his inherent flanerie. Hank Williams and Roy Acuff have done the song as well.

1. Lived in a shanty by the railroad track.
2. Train taught me to cry.
3. Driver's holler my lullaby.
4. Train blues in my shoes.
5. Will never lose these blues.
6. Daddy was a fireman. Mama was an engineer's daughter.
7. Sweetheart a brakeman.
8. Only southbound train whistles make me laugh.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Frankie & Albert

Frankie kills Albert
After he cheats. She feels bad,
Goes to jail, and hangs.

Wikipedia's editors, as ever, know their way around old Americana. Here's the background on this one, courtesy of them:
1. It's been covered something like 256 times.
2. Murder: 212 Targee Street, St. Louis, MO. 2am, October 15, 1899. Accused: Frankie Baker (1876-1952), 22 years old, shoots 17-year-old Allen/Albert Britt. Albert was out with Nelly Bly, AKA Alice Pryor, at a "cakewalk." Their crime: dancing. Baker was acquitted and send to a mental institution.
2. Murder 2: Frances "Frankie" Stewart Silver. Murdered husband Charles Silver, Burke County, North Carolina, 1832. She was executed, rather like the Frankie in Bob Dylan's version of the song on the album "Good As I Been to You."

Some say the song goes back to before 1830. Others find that strange because its sheet music dates from 1925 or so. Either way, Bob's version is a timeless acoustic rendition that plays up the deadpan nature of the observer at the crime without cutting into the sadness of the sordid tale.

1. Frankie was a good girl.
Everybody knows.
Paid $100 for Albert's new suit of clothes.
He was her man but he done her wrong.

2. Albert said, "I'm leaving you.
Won't be gone for long.
Don't wait up for me.
A-worry about me when I'm gone."
He was her man but he done her wrong.

3. Frankie went down to the corner saloon.
Get a bucket of beer.
Said to the bartender.
"Has my lovin' man been here?"
He was her man but he done her wrong.

4. "Well, I ain't gonna tell you no stories.
I ain't gonna tell you no lies.
I saw Albert an hour ago.
With a gal named Alice Bly."
He was her man but he done her wrong.

5. Frankie went down to 12th Street.
Lookin' up through the window high.
She saw her Albert there.
Lovein' up Alice Bly.
He was her man but he done her wrong.

6. Frankie pulled out a pistol.
Pulled out a forty-four.
Gun went off a rootie-toot-toot
And Albert fell on the floor.
He was her man but he done her wrong.

7. Frankie got down upon her knees.
Took Albert into her lap.
Started to hug and kiss him.
But there was no bringin' him back.
He was her man but he done her wrong.

8. "Gimme a thousand policemen.
Throw me into a cell.
I shot my Albert dead.
And now I'm goin' to hell.
He was her man but he done me wrong."

9. Judge said to the jury.
"Plain as a thing can be.
A woman shot her lover down.
Murder in the second degree."
He was her man but he done her wrong.

10. Frankie went to the scaffold.
Calm as a girl could be.
Turned her eyes up towards the heavens.
Said, "Nearer, my God, to Thee."
He was her man but he done her wrong.

4th Time Around

The grass doesn't grow
Under Bob's feet. One girl down,
He finds another.

Another in the "peevish lovers" edition of the Dylan catalogue, "4th Time Around" is widely seen as a response or a parody or an affectionate love tap in return for John Lennon's song "Norwegian Wood," itself a fairly clear take on a Dylan song. The song appears on the "Blonde on Blonde" album from 1966, and finds the singer taking selfish positions against his lovers even as he knows that it pisses them off.

Verse 1:
She says he's a liar and they indulge in a staring contest. He's had enough, she reminds him that you don't get a free lunch in this universe. The implication is that she's the lunch.

Verse 2:
He questions the free lunch philosophy. She says, "don't get cute." He hands her a stick of gum, presumably as payment. You can see at this point that the conversation probably won't improve.

Verse 3:
It doesn't. The gum doesn't impress her so she tosses him onto the street. He forgot his shirt so he asks for it. While she gets it, he contemplates a picture of "you," whom I've always taken to be the second woman in the song.

Verse 4:
The picture of "you" leans against the first woman's bottle of Jamaican rum. He asks for some, she says no. He says he doesn't understand her because of the gum in her mouth. She finds this extremely upsetting, and he seems to feel that he has scored points. He checks out her drawers, takes something from it, and then...

Verse 5:
He heads over to see "you." He and the second woman embark on an affair, only to have him chastise her for leaning too heavily on him when he never did anything of the sort.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Four Strong Winds

Canada drifter
Invites girl to Alberta,
But halfheartedly

If you're not listening closely to the words in this Ian and Sylvia song, you (as in "I") get the impression that it's a weepy song about lost love and the pain of enforced separation of lovers. But it's not. It's a far more ambiguous song about the selfish singer and the lover whose affections seem real, while his are suspect. 

The song begins with the brilliant beginning of the repeated chorus:
"Four strong winds that blow lonely, Seven seas that run high."
"All these things that don't change, Come what may.

And then...
"But our good times are all gone,
And I'm bound for moving on.
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way."

You can tell that he's not into it anymore, so he's looking to light out on the road. To where? The middle of frigging nowhere, of course. And he leaves her with a promise, of course. "I'll look for you if." If!

At that point, he thinks:

"Think I'll go out to Alberta,
Weather's good there in the fall.
Got some friends that I can go to working for..."

Just at the point you think that he's happy that he's gotten her out of his hair, he makes this plea:

"Still I wish you'd change your mind
If I asked you one more time,
But we've been through that a hundred times or more."

Who's the ambivalent one in this relationship? My money is on the singer, especially given the maybe-maybe-not of the next lines:

"If I get there before the snow flies,
And if things are going good,
You could meet me if I send you down the fare.
But by then it will be winter, there ain't too much for you to do,
And those wind sure can blow way out there."

Maybe I read too cynically. Maybe they both know the relationship is dead, and he can't bring himself to make a clean break.

Whatever it's all about, it's a lovely song, and it hits you with the heartbreak of the big sky and the prairie just like a good song should.

Bob Dylan recorded this with the Band during the 1967 Basement Tapes sessions. It's a rough job, but has its own flawed beauty. Here it is, followed by a live performance by Ian and Sylvia from 1986 and Neil Young's performance of it from the film "Heart of Gold." I recommend his studio version on "Comes a Time." It's my favorite version.

Forgetful Heart

When the heart forgets
How it used to love, the mind
Is doomed to recall.

The Bob Dylan of recent years writes elegies to love and companionship, but usually with a dose of misanthropy. I loved you, you loved me. We parted, and you know what? I'm lonely and I'm in pain with loneliness, but screw it, I've had enough of people. Get off my lawn. "Forgetful Heart" from 2009 doesn't contain any "get off my lawn." It's regret and loss in fifth gear.

1. Heart forgets the good times. Of all the organs, who would remember them better? That's a tragedy.
2. Heart and I used to laugh. Heart was the answer to my prayer. Now it's just one day to the next.
3. Heart and I loved love. Surviving alone is intolerable.
4. Insomnia, pain, the door is closed to heart. There's a strong chance that there never even was a door.

Truly dough without a levity agent, as it were.

Here is a live version from Berlin in 2013.