“What Was It You Wanted” (1989)

There aren’t many Dylan song titles that are questions.  “Can You Crawl Through My Window”, “Where Are You Tonight”, and “Who Killed Davey Moore” come to my mind.  Oh Mercy has two song titles that are questions (so does Street Legal) and so I am attentive to how the question might be answered in the song.  A song like “Blowin in the Wind” has as its title an answer.  The song consists of a series of questions.  “What Was It You Wanted” does the same, but the question is never answered, which is about as satisfying as the nebulous “The answer my friend is blowin in the wind.”

But the song is unsatisfying only if you’re looking for or in need of an answer.  The questions are enough to convey the central message in the song–it’s all about the singer knowing that something was wanted, that if there was any love at all in the relationship key to the song it was all about taking, not giving:

What was it you wanted
When you were kissing my cheek?

Did somebody tell you
That you could get it from me

Why do you want it
Who are you anyway?

Do you want it for free
It’s all about wanting, again, not giving, or not wanting to give.
Not wanting in anyway is the rhyme structure of this tightly constructed 8 line per verse (7 of them) song.  Every 2nd and 4th lines rhyme, as do the 6th and 8th.
On “Oh Mercy” Dylan was back asking questions, digging deep, and writing poetry.  Perhaps after too many years of absence the Muse had returned, asking Bob, “What was it you wanted”? But now she was willing to give.
Here’s the original studio recording . . . such ambiance.



“Wedding Song” (1973)

I know a few people who have chosen this song for their wedding song.  And but for a few lines that might be too specific with his relationship with Sara Lowndes it can work for any couple.  The tone is of a dirge though, (“Dirge” precedes it by three songs on the album); there are happier and more upbeat sounding tunes on this recording.

And the rhymes are mostly perfect and the structure is rigidly patterned, 8 verses with 4 lines each and a consistent abab couplet rhyming throughout.

The best rhymes are earth/worth, bend/again, and goes on/gone.  But I like what Dylan does with the opening verse rhyme see/me and how it unites with the homonym “see” with “me” in the last verse.

The 6th verse announces a departure from protest songs,

It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large
Nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge
’Cause I love you more than all of that with a love that doesn’t bend
And if there is eternity I’d love you there again

though he would pick up that finger-pointing purpose again, despite not wanting to “remake that world at large” (a great way to put that personal protest by the way) two years later on Desire with “Hurricane.”

The women in Bob’s life let some of his best poetry and rhyming surface.

Here’s a live video of the song from 1974 in Seattle:


“Watching The River Flow” (1971)

Christopher Ricks includes this song under the vice of sloth in his Dylan’s Vision of Sin.  Yes, I see where the singer is, just sitting and watching while the river does a great deal more with its flowing.  But I think such a view is the kind we associate with Hamlet who we often think doesn’t do much than contemplate why he can’t murder his uncle, yet he is full of action during the play, what with inserting passages for the “Mousetrap” play, having Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed, jumping on pirate ships, etc., but our image of Hamlet is either sitting on some precipice contemplating suicide or holding a skull and ruminating about the past.

The singer in “Watching” is also active.  In the first verse he walks to and fro beneath the moon.  In verse two, he shares that the day before he saw someone on the street “who just couldn’t help but cry.” That same day it was someone who was “really shook” that he saw (yes, could be the same person). These are not the experiences of someone who always wants to be stuck on a bank of sand.  He also was in an “all-night cafe.”

Now there is the commitment to watching the river flow as long as it does flow:

But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow

But he’s done other kinds of wishing earlier in the song, like pining to the be in the city, desiring to fly, and wanting to read a book.
The rhyming in this song is active, too, but at first it does not appear so, sticking to an abcbdefe scheme.  However, the pattern breaks in the next to last verse (the last really a refrain with the title repeated four times).  The pattern changes to aabaccdc:
People disagreeing everywhere you look
Makes you wanna stop and read a book
Why only yesterday I saw somebody on the street
That was really shook
But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow
And I think it does so to have the song’s major theme surface, and that is how active escapism or the need for it can be.  This verse breaks the pattern; we all need to break patterns especially ones that reduce us.  Or maybe we need to break the heaviness that weighs on our minds sometimes.  Just ask Hamlet about that one.
This is an upbeat live version from I’m not sure when, but it sure makes you want to get up and dance, not watch a river flow or read a book:

“Caribbean Wind” (1985)

“Caribbean Wind” is a song waiting for a cult, or rather waiting for an author like Dan Brown to use it as the text for his next cracking the ancient code suspense novel.  It’s a mysterious song and the more it’s listened to the more haunting it gets, especially when his live versions change so much from the lyrics supplied on bobdylan.com (Dylan admits to there being at least 4 sets of lyrics for it).  With John Milton (Paradise Lost), Dante (The Divine Comedy) and Jesus alluded to in the first verse it begins as a playground for symbology.

It consists of 6 verses with a chorus sung 3 times.  The rhyme scheme is consistent throughout: aabccb. And there are some clever rhymes in it, e.g. comedy/embassy, pawn/wore on, snare/there, report/short.

Such structure and rhyming comes from an inspired mind, or at least a determined one.  Dylan himself said that the song was born out of inspiration (are any songs not?), but that with this one the inspiration waned:

“Some times you’ll write something to be very inspired, and you won’t quite finish it for one reason or another.  Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone. . . . The inspiration’s gone and you can’t remember why you started it in the first place”  (footnote in Christopher Ricks’ Dylan’s Visions of Sin 433).

The song is out of Dylan’s own grasp as well: “That one I couldn’t quite grasp what it was about after I finished it.”  The poetic form and rhymes are within our grasp and certainly his though, and maybe there’s more there to grasp than Dylan’s letting on. Was he being purposely dismissive about it to keep attention away from it?

I like thinking so. It just adds to the song’s aura, its mystery, its “beware all you who enter” here vibes. Or is it more personal than Dylan feels comfortable admitting?  It was after all selected for Biograph.  With all the “you” references in the quote above maybe the “she” in the song is Dylan.  Just a theory.  It’s a song begging for theories, pleading for meaning, pleading for someone to enter deep within it beyond the iron gates that protect it.

Here’s the one from Biograph.

“Bye and Bye” (2001)

The guy on the back cover of Love and Theft looks like someone who would sing “Bye and Bye.”  Can’t you just picture him, with top hat and tail, dandy-like, sporting a cane that moves with his shoulders and legs to the beat of the tune?  Songs like these are why I’d prefer that Dylan stuck to creating his own American standards rather than resurrecting old ones.  Dylan likes being an entertainer, he likes to sound like one from any era–making the future a thing of the past as he does so.

“Bye and Bye” is made of six verses, two of which are 2 lines long, the others, the first two and the fourth and last are 4 lines each.  There’s a symmetry to that, 2 are made up of two lines, and 4, four.

Dylan is loyal and true to other structures in the song, namely to his “sugar-coated” rhyming.  The first three 4 line verses go abba and the two 2 line verses are simply rhyming couplets.  He felt a change comin’ in the final verse, however.  The first line in it ends with “sad” and the final word of the song is “be.”  He was not loyal to the end.

But what he does stay dedicated to with a sneaky Maurice Chevalier insouciance are the internal rhymes that are spread throughout the song.  The first stanza has the second “bye” in the title phrase rhyme with the words “sigh and “eye.”  The same pattern is triggered in the second verse with “town.”  By the end Dylan says bye bye to the terminal rhyming and opts to let the internal rhymes take over:

Papa gone mad, mamma, she’s feeling sad
I’m gonna baptize you in fire so you can sin no more
I’m gonna establish my rule through civil war
Gonna make you see just how loyal and true a man can be

mad/sad and see/be are the final rhyming sounds of the verse. This happens in the other verses, too, but not to the negation of the terminal rhymes.  Why?  Well, who knows, but in the universe of this blog dedicated to Dylan’s rhymes, I wonder if something amusing is happening there in a wink wink bye and bye way.  He’s gonna show us just how loyal and true and man can be?  Well, that doesn’t mean a man can be very loyal and true, or maybe he can to a point, as with being loyal and true to a point with the rhyming pattern in the song.

Here’s the studio version of the song, released in 2001.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” (1966)

“Stuck” is a poem.  I’m tempted to make that sentence this whole blog posting because that really says it all.  The rhyme scheme is deliberate and strict, surprising for a song that ebbs and flows with a wild ride of images and phrases.  Or as Sean Wilentz says, “words meander through random combinations and disconnected fragments . . .”  The rhymes certainly are not random; the pattern goes abcbdefe, from beginning to the end, with the bridge at the end of each verse (9 total), ghg.

Christopher Ricks makes much ado about the “end”/”again” rhyme repeated in each refrain, a rhyme both an end and a beginning so it works as a metaphor.  Ricks make the claim, “That’s what a rhyme is, intrinsically, a form of again . . . and a form of an ending.”

And the poem (yes, poem) ends with a question of how one can get out of going through things twice.  Well, we must go through listening to that refrain 9 times–no getting out of it, and no getting out of the rhyme pattern either.  Yet, who would want to?  This is a song that seems to go on forever but the feeling is that forever is not long enough.  I want Bob stuck inside of Mobile with those Memphis Blues as long as he keeps singing away and forcing some of those great wrenched rhymes like “block” and “talk,” “talked” with locked.” Can’t you just hear that voice making those words sound alike?

My favorite rhyme on the song is in the 8th verse, “debutante” with “you want.”  The “u” sound in “debutante” combining with “you” for a mosaic rhyme.  And then to make sure those sounds hold sway in the non-rhyming line between the lines that make that rhyme he repeats the words via an exchange of dialogue:

An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need.”

Give that line and all the others a listen, especially if you haven’t in a while, and feel free to stay stuck inside of it forever:

from the alternate take off of No Direction Home:

“Blind Willie McTell” (1983)

Michael Gray in his Bob Dylan Encyclopedia uses the word “Spookily” to describe Dylan’s commemoration of McTell’s death and birthday in “Blind Willie McTell.”  Apparently, an agreed upon date of birth for McTell is May 5, 1903, and Dylan first recorded the song on May 5, 1983, the 5th month on the 5th day.  This tribute also may be reflected in the 5 stanzas that comprise “Blind Willie.”  In addition, the rhymes are in a “5” pattern, 10 to be exact, 2 in each of the 5 stanzas, a 5 + 5 memorializing.

The rhyme scheme follows a strict a/b/c/b/d/e/f/e pattern in each verse–with the rhymes not tied to the name “McTell” in the refrain that ends each stanza being, “condemned”/Jerusalem”, “tents”/”audience” (a brilliant rhyme!), “whips”/”ships”, “man”/”hand”, and “His”/”is”.  But the “McTell” rhymes get our attention the most with the thematic underpinnings in them, what with McTell being linked to “fell”, “well’, “bell”, “yell”, and “Hotel”.

These words carry us through the memorable and haunting settings of each verse, the first a condemned land; the second at night under trees with tents being taken down; the third plantations with whips cracking, slavery, tribes moaning, death; the fourth near a river and a highway, and the last inside the St. James Hotel, but looking out the window.

Sounds abound in this song, as Gray says of this “rich and complex song” itself, that it “is built upon the perfect interweaving of guitar, piano, voice and silence– . . .”  It’s that silence that lets us hear what the words do to our sense of hearing–throughout that land, the owl in that tree, the screams from that plantation, on that river and highway, and ultimately in that hotel.

Enigmatic is that it never was recorded for a studio album–no place for it–no context among other songs. It must stand by itself–no song can sing the blues like “Blind Willie McTell.”

“Went To See The Gypsy” (1970)

The rhyming in “Went To See The Gypsy” is varied, but there is a consistent pattern of abcb to begin each of the four verses.  It’s a mysterious, surreal, dreamlike song.  A man meets with a gypsy apparently to have his fortune told.  A meeting is had, but only an exchange of greetings happen, or so we’re told. A dancing girl advises the man to return to the gypsy but the gypsy is not there when he tries to return to him.  And then the dancing girl is missing as well, leaving the man to reflect, meditate:

So I watched that sun come rising
From that little Minnesota town

It’s a vignette, a small piece of a character’s life.  The song glides and the tune is catchy.  Perhaps the most pleasing part is in the third verse when Dylan sings a litany of rhyming words from the c rhyme position that starts with “there” (albeit a bit forced with it):

He can move you from the rear
Drive you from your fear
Bring you through the mirror
He did it in Las Vegas
And he can do it here”

It’s a good song, easy to listen to, and that final image, with one of the few if any direct references to his home state, lingers.  We get to reflect with the singer on what just happened or rather what didn’t happen.  We are left with more of a gap.  What happened between the exchange of “How are you’s” and why does he take the dancer’s advice to go back?  The story has a pattern but the questions make us realize how little of a pattern there is, as with the rhyming.

Here’s the original studio version

And here’s the latest from the recently released Bootleg Basement Tapes cuts:

“True Love Tends To Forget” (1978)

I’ve binged listened to this song in my car a number of times.  I enjoy the interplay of the instruments, the lyrics, and Dylan’s vocals especially in the twice repeated bridge,

I was lyin’ down in the reeds without any oxygen
I saw you in the wilderness among the men
Saw you drift into infinity and come back again
All you got to do is wait and I’ll tell you when

The rhyming in this song is all couplets, each verse strumming and humming with aa/bb.  So it sounds like a love song, and “love” is in the title.  For Christoper Ricks, rhyming involves memory. We must remember what the sound of a previous word was for us to get the rhyme.  He even refers to rhyming as “a kind of loving, two things becoming one, yet not losing their own identity.” And this song captures that paradox that is love because as Michael Gray says about all the songs on Street Legal, “Every song deals with love’s betrayal.”  And maybe when the need to assert one’s identity becomes stronger than the need to become one with another, betrayal of that love is inevitable or even necessary.

There’s struggle and pleading in this song, this song draped, cloaked in “loving” couplets.  The beloved though loved is hard to recognize, days are like Russian roulette, she is seen with other men, and with her he experiences a weekend from hell. But the last verse gets out what is really on his mind or in his heart,

You belong to me, baby, without any doubt
Don’t forsake me, baby, don’t sell me out

A reminder–one thing certain–without doubt even, she belongs to him (remember another Dylan song of that title?).  That can’t be forgotten even though true love tends to forget.  “Tends” is the key word. It’s not a certainty this forgetting with true love involved.  It can be defied.  And maybe through the rhyming so certainly so without a doubt couplets from beginning to end keeps the balance of love, the Ricksonian one–becoming one while keeping both ones’ identities one, not betraying each other, not betraying each one’s self.

Some inventive rhymes, too, and assonance in this tune, e.g., eyes/recognize; near/sincere; oxygen/men; Mexico to Tibet/tends to forget. Each joined by similar sounds, each its own meaning.

Here it is, in “Remastered” form:

“Never Gonna Be The Same Again” (1985)

Empire Burlesque came as a relief to many Dylan fans, to the chagrin of others.  The relief was from a severing of his overtly religious, specifically Christian pontificating lyrics thumping begun with Slow Train and jammed down throats in his completely gospel LP Saved“Never Gonna Be The Same Again” is a love song, of the pining, yearning type, typical say of Blood On The Tracks or even going back to Another Side of Bob Dylan, and the type that would be heard, five years later on Oh Mercy, e.g. “Most Of The Time.”

The rhyming in “Never” is, with some departures, abcbdee.  It is an all terminal rhyme song, with the auto-rhyming word “baby” advancing full-throttle by the end.  It has a gospel feel still, but the piercing guitar is rock for sure, and the refrain line, “And I ain’t never gonna be the same again” stays with the listener. It’s dramatically delivered, like a pronouncement of some kind, a declaration, at the end of each verse (four of them).

The three rhymes with “again” that end verses 1, 2, and 4 are my favorites, “pretend” with “again” maybe the most creative, but Dylan’s wrenched rhyme “wind”/”again” is striking in how he makes it work, makes it rhyme, a rhymester when it’s all said and done, the song, I mean, “again” never the same again with such words rhyming with it.

Worth a listen for that end wrenched rhyme:


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