Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two Trains Runnin'

Time to give up the
Train women and try driving
A hot car woman.

This is a Muddy Waters song. Here's what's going on:
1. Two trains run in this direction, with one leaving at midnight and the other at dawn. (This is not a math problem)
2. These trains are symbols for women, as you would expect in a blues song. One of these trains appears to be another man's wife.
3. He's going to find another woman who rides like a Cadillac car. Indeed, woman as car. Another blues invention.
4. The woman he's currently with has put him on top of the shelf.

Sittin' on Top of the World

You might think I care
That you left me. Believe me,
I can't be bothered.

This is a blues chestnut from the Mississippi Sheiks, recorded for the first time in 1930. It's about a guy who can't be bothered that his girlfriend left him. Why

1. Can get a woman as quickly as she can get a man.
2. He's not the begging kind so he won't ask for her back.
3. He's not into worrying or craving in vain.
4. He has plenty of work to do anyway.

The Lonesome River

Pledge love eternal,
And you'll soon discover it
Probably won't last.

This is a song by Ralph and Carter Stanley, one of those high-and-lonesome bluegrass tunes about abandoned love.

In short:
He sits on the river banks, accompanied by the lonely wind and the high water. He's too lonely to cry and has no one to love or kiss him goodnight because the woman he loves left him this morning. Once they swore to each other that they would stay together and be happy forever. Then she fell in love with someone else.

Floater (Too Much to Ask)

When you get this old,
You get less sentimental
About everything.

"Floater (Too Much to Ask)" is one of those old-fashioned songs that could have come out 80 years ago, thought he lyrics are decidedly Dylanesque and modern. The song contains 16 verses, none of which seem to relate to each other, other than a recurring reference to living like a contrarian when people try to get the singer to do one thing or another. The title comes from the last verse when Dylan observes that it's not easy to kick someone out (of your home, I guess), and that it's unpleasant task. Sometimes, he says, someone wnats you to give something up, and even if they cry about it, "it's too much to ask."

Other contrary stuff in the song:
- Sometimes old men around here get on bad terms with the young men, but age doesn't mean anything anyway.
- One of the boss's hangers-on tries to bully you and inspire you with fear, but it has the opposite effect.
- His father is like a feudal lord and has more lives than a cat. He's never argued once with his wife, and as Dylan says, "Things come alive or they fall flat."
- Romeo tells Juliet her complexion makes her look old. Juliet replies: "Shove off if it bothers you so much."
- Bob says that if you interfere with him or cross him, your life could be in danger. He's not as cool or forgiving as he sounds, he says.

There are other verses that say other things, but it feels like this is the right way to go with the haiku.

Cry a While

My tear supply's done.
You have plenty yet to shed.
Time to make you cry.

You made him cry, now it's your turn. That's the message that ends every verse of this song, though the little stories that precede the refrain are an intriguing display of the Dylan rhyme machine at work.

1. He has to visit a "nasty, dirty, double-crossin', backstabbin' phony" named Mr. Goldsmith, and he did it just for her. But all she gave him was a smile.
2. He's a union man and he's going to set you straight.
3. He feels like a fighting rooster, pretty good in fact. He goes the extra mile when he goes to church each day.
4. He heard such a loud noise through the walls across the alley. It must have been "Don Pasquale making a 2 a.m. booty call." Breaking his trusting heart was just your style. Your turn to cry a while.
5. Some people have no heart or soul. He has both. He's been crying for you, but now it's your turn.
6. He's going to buy himself some whiskey. He plans to die before he can turn senile.
7. You bet on the wrong horse. He always said you'd be sorry. He might kill you, so he'll need a good lawyer for the trial.

Can't Escape From You

Can't Escape From You -

I can’t tell if I
Love you or hate you. One thing
I know: I miss you.

Here's another song of trains, shadows, sunlight, loss, the memory of sweet days and the reality of the cold present. The singer goes through several kinds of lament for the former, and obviously current object of desire.

1. Hope rides away on a train. Joy and love have faded. Hills dark, falling stars. He pretends he's not sad, but his heart's miles away. He can't escape from her memory.
2. Why does he suffer? He did no wrong.
3. She didn't behave well. She wasted her power, withered like a flower, played the fool. She tried to bring him down. He's not sad or sorry like he said he was before.
4. Actually, he IS sorry. They should have lasted forever, they had lovely days together, they had good times. Now she's with someone else, God knows who, and still, he can't escape from you.

Ballad of Donald White

I steal and murder
You made me this way. Shoulda
kept me in prison.

Dylan fans will recognize the tune that formed the basis of “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” six years after he performed this song. “The Ballad of Donald White” is a song of societal ills too, but in a different vein. Ol’ Donald sings the sad story of his life just before he hangs for murder. He came from Kansas, ended up in Seattle and everywhere he went he was an anti-social loser who couldn’t fit in. He had no education and stole to support himself. He wound up in jail where, rather like some of Jean Genet’s homosexual criminals, he found his real home. Trouble is, the jails and institutions were too crowded so he was set free. He begged to go back where he felt he belonged, but no one would incarcerate him without reason so he killed a man on Christmas Eve 1959. Naturally, they took him back, but only for a short stay. Then they hanged him. Don’s last question was whether “boys that come down the road like me, Are they enemies or victims of your society?”