“I and I” (1983)

In “I and I” the ayes have it, any eye will do. I think Dylan plays with the meaning that sound summons to our mind when we hear it; the printed word “I” is just a mere symbol for the sound’s message to our ears:

I and I
In creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives

Forgiving and living lives throughout the song in rhyme with this chorus, and it’s where “I” and “I” lives, too, or you and me or even an eye for an eye.  But one must have an eye for eye to hear the other rhyme sounds, more than eyes are needed to catch the union of sound rhyme creates. But really only hearing is needed–one must have any eye to hear rhymes, or an ear for seeing where they are, and in this song they appear in every other line, alternating rhymes that is, alternating like an I for an aye or for an eye:

“truth”/”tooth” is one of my favorites in the third stanza:

Took an untrodden path once, where the swift don’t win the race
It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth
Took a stranger to teach me, to look into justice’s beautiful face
And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

Though I do have an eye for the second rhyme in the last verse:

Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put
Someone else is speakin’ with my mouth, but I’m listening only to my heart
I’ve made shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot

Neither looks like they could rhyme, but they they do, according to my ears.

“I and I” live, London, 1993–thanks again for keeping a steady eye on this one for us woolhall, wherever you are; the electric guitar and harmonica are especially pleasing to the ear in this performance–worth playing through to the end:

 

“Honest With Me” (2001)

So you bought Dylan’s Love and Theft on September 11, 2001, the day it was released, pop it on and play “Honest With Me” which begins with the line,

Well, I’m stranded in the city that never sleeps

You then watch the day’s events unfold, with many stranded in NYC and elsewhere that day from the World Trade Center bombings.

Eery, gives you the creeps; the second line is even,

Some of these women they just give me the creeps

Dylan likes performing this song.  He’s done so 601 times according to bobdylan.com since its release, and is on his current playlist as I write this.

Dylan is honest with the couplet rhyming throughout the song, “bear”/”air” maybe the only forced or wrenched one, but to be honest, not really. And each couplet is a new rhyme, except of course for the repeated chorus which is

You don’t understand it—my feelings for you
You’d be honest with me if only you knew

Eery, creepy in its coincidence is that finger pointing, “you”/”knew” repeated five times in the song.  Much controversy over who knew what about 9/11 before it happened.  I don’t want to get into that, but there are those out there who were not honest about what they knew, honest about what they were planning to do:

I’m here to create the new imperial empire
I’m going to do whatever circumstances require

Watch an energized Bob perform “Honest With Me” Live 8/10/11 (thanks, woolhall)

 

“Foot Of Pride” (1983)

I can think of two, maybe three songs off of Infidels that should have been replaced by “Foot Of Pride.”  It’s a song that marks that religion departure period sound.  Funky, with a distinct serious harmonica, and that breezy Knopfler guitar framing the background.  It’s Infidels-like more than other songs on Infidels.

The rhyming in it is complex, the terminal rhyme pattern varies from verse to verse.  The more remarkable trail to follow is the medial and leonine rhymes, rhymes with middle of the line words rhyming with the end of lines.

Verse 2:

Hear ya got a brother named James, don’t forget faces or names
In these times of compassion when conformity’s in fashion

Say one more stupid thing to me before the final nail is driven in.

Verse 3:

He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash

Miss Delilah is his, a Phillistine is what she is

Verse 4:

You’ll play the fool and learn how to walk through doors

A whore will pass the hat, collect a hundred grand and say thanks

They like to take all this money from sin, build big universities to study in

So the bulk of this medial rhyming takes place in the middle of the song; six verses and three bridges comprise it. And there’s struggle in it–the words are biting, caustic, condemning, and aimed  at a a range of corruption.  Infidels is a condemning word.  Infidel! Does each song on Infidels identify one?  Doesn’t seem like it.  Maybe “Foot Of Pride” does too obviously to too many.  As Ricks says, Dylan brings the foot or pride “down with . . . biblical weight”:

Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When your foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back

Pride and rhyme slapping down smack in the middle of things in this song.

Speaking of putting one’s foot down, here’s Lou Reed with a cover of the song from the Dylan 30th anniversary concert special, 1992:

 

 

“Everything Is Broken” (1989)

An irony with “Everything Is Broken” would be that the rhyming in it never breaks down. The song is packed with successive pairs of terminal rhymes or couplets.  And many of them are full or perfect rhymes, meaning both elements of the rhyme are precisely matched as all of the rhymes are in the first four lines:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds

The fourth stanza has nothing but perfect terminal rhymes:

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin
Everything is broken

There’s only one chink in the armor of all this perfection and couplet creating going on and it’s with the word “jiving” found near the end of the first verse:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

“jiving” sits there alone as the only un-rhymed line ending word.  Yes, “joking” ends in “ing” as does “jiving” so you get the “ing” sound symmetry, but wasn’t “joking” meant to rhyme with “broken”?

Even more curious is that the first verse is the only one with seven lines; besides the two bridges, the other verses contain six, so it stands to reason that one word would be the odd man out.

Maybe the word “jiving” needs to stand out because maybe nothing really is broken.  The second bridge suggests that it may all be a perception, a psychological shift in perspective when the speaker is left without someone:

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Yes, everything feels broken when you’re gone–the whole litany of broken things is a jive, except that one about broken hearts:

Streets are filled with broken hearts

That one maybe the speaker can attest to, no jiving there.

Here’s Neil Young and Tom Petty with a cover of the tune from a 1989 Bridge Benefit.

“Early Roman Kings” (2012)

Tempest

“Early Roman Kings”‘ main rhyming pattern is the alternating rhyming abab as in its second verse

All the early roman kings
In the early early morn
Coming down the mountain
Distributing the corn
Speeding through the forest
Racing down the track
You try to get away
They drag you back
Tomorrow is Friday
We’ll see what it brings
Everybody’s talking
Bout the early roman kings

But there are interesting diversions from or exceptions to that pattern.  In the very first verse, “in” jumps in with “coffin” to create couplets:

Drivin’ the spikes in
Blazin’ the rails
Nailed in their coffins
In top hats and tails

In the middle of the third verse appropriately an internal rhyme appears with “lecherous” and “treacherous”

They’re lecherous and treacherous
Hell-bent for leather
Each of ‘em bigger
Than all them put together

But the rhyme sound, the assonance namely, pushes forward with “Hell-bent,” “leather,” “them,” and “together.”

Indeed, Dylan’s rhyming bell still rings, like the bell in Breaking Bad:

I ain’t dead yet
My bell still rings
I keep my fingers crossed
Like them early roman kings

Live Version from just this past June 2014 with nice clear video (thanks to Ernest Habringer):

“Desolation Row” (1965)

Christopher Ricks calls “Desolation Row” “a masque of the sins.”  A masque is a good word, a dance macabre or parade of “lifelessness,” Ophelia’s only flaw as Dylan says in the song: “Her sin is her lifelessness.” It’s a great post-modern work in its ambiguity and and paradoxes–is Desolation Row a good or bad place to be?  Or worse does it matter whether you are there or not–either way desolation is yours for the taking or giving, like switching seats on the Titanic:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”

The seeming schizoid content, streams of consciousness narration even, can lead the listener astray from the excellent and quite ordered rhyming.  The rhyming puts order to the seeming wasteland chaos of the world captured in the song.

Desolation Row” consists of 10 verses of of 12 lines each, and in each of verse the 2nd and 4th, 6th and 8th, and 10th and 12 lines rhyme.  It’s laced with some internal rhyming, too, but the terminal rhymes are striking in their pattern in a song that feels like it wants to avoid patterns at least in terms of coherence and meaning.  The rhyming seem at odds with the compulsion to interpret, inspiring and challenging the listener to yes, take it all in, impossible to do,  just as it seems impossible for a work with such content to rhyme so well.

It’s a turbo charged amalgam of images and references to people real and literary, but it’s essentially and mostly about a place, where some don’t belong, like Romeo and Casanova, but others do, like the Good Samaritan and Einstein. And some of the words that rhyme do seem to belong together in their perfect rhyming, “brown” with “town” or “show” with “Row.”  But some at first glace don’t seem rhyming friendly with each other, like “smiles” and “style,” “vest” and “lifelessness,” “trunk” and “monk,” and my favorite “cigarette” with “alphabet.”  But they are.  And they are an unforgettable part of how that song “Desolation Row” is built and works.  It’s a song and a place, where either way in or out you are and will be forever be affected by it.

Live Acoustic Version from the Bootleg series, Volume 4, 1966:

 

 

“You’re A Big Girl Now” (1974)

 

Each verse of “You’re A Big Girl Now” begins and ends with a couplet, which might be expected of a love song.  But as with most songs on Blood On The Tracks it’s a song about love with pain attached, mainly because of the lovers’ distance from each other; the corkscrew analogy maybe saying it all:

I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

The distance is geographical:

And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh
And you are on dry land

But it’s what’s gone on between them that has caused the distance from each other, necessitating promises:

I can change, I swear, oh, oh

and distrust and accusations:

Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh
In somebody’s room

The beginning and ending couplets show that love was there and maybe still is as this line suggests:

Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last

That oh, oh in the middle of each verse expresses so much, most of which is probably doubt–doubt that they can ever be again what they were together.  And that’s why the end word after each oh, oh sometimes rhymes with the ending couplet rhyme:

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear, oh, oh
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it too

and sometimes doesn’t:

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh
In somebody’s room
It’s a price I have to pay
You’re a big girl all the way

I’m sure of our love, I’m not so sure–a word that joins the sound of love, a word that doesn’t.

It’s an absolutely beautiful song and Dylan sings it beautifully.

Here he is doing so in Warsaw in 94:

 

 

 

“Watered-Down Love” (1981)

“Water-Down Love” has couplet rhymes throughout, aa/bb, the first verse a good example:

Love that’s pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings
Won’t sneak up into your room, tall, dark and handsome
Capture your heart and hold it for ransom

There’s a symmetry to having rhyming couplets when speaking of pure love, which each verse does, couples in tune, yes?

The bridge tells another story, the story of a watered-down love, with just the word love as an auto-rhyme ending the last two lines of a mere three:

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

“love”/”love” not a rhyme, and nothing coupling with “pure.” And as Christopher Ricks points out “You don’t want a love” does not quite go with “You wanna drown love,” as would the expected “You wanna drowned love.” Adjective turned verb with a flick of the wrist.

Furthermore, “love” repeated as much as it is surely waters it down, doesn’t it? Dylan seems to get the point across with the word beginning each verse and then repeating it twice in the bridge two times for a total of twelve times.

But “pure” gets attention, too as a repeated word, appearing there once in each verse and bridge, but not so watered-down.  And pure love, not watered-down love is what is defined in this song, what it does, why it matters more than what the other wants–the watered down kind.

Some of the instruments sound cheap–as love would be watered-down, and the ending with “watered-down: repeated, with “yes you do, you know you do” conveys the message as well.  Watered-down love is cheap and monotonous.  It’s a catchy tune though, and it has bursts of good organ and piano, and rhymes like this (my favorite on the tune) “stupid wishes”/”you suspicious.”

Here’s the studio version of Shot of Love.  Just play it once.  No need to water it down.

http://d1.val.fm/play/bob-dylan-watered-down-love

“Watered-Down Love”

Love that’s pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings
Won’t sneak up into your room, tall, dark and handsome
Capture your heart and hold it for ransom

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure, it don’t make no false claims
Intercedes for you ’stead of casting you blame
Will not deceive you or lead you into transgression
Won’t write it up and make you sign a false confession

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure won’t lead you astray
Won’t hold you back, won’t mess up your day
Won’t pervert you, corrupt you with stupid wishes
It don’t make you envious, it don’t make you suspicious

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure ain’t no accident
Always on time, is always content
An eternal flame, quietly burning
Never needs to be proud, restlessly yearning

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

 

“Tin Angel” (2012)

“Tin Angel” is one of three ballads on Tempest.  It tells a story, just like the title song of the album about the sinking of the Titanic.  And “Roll On, John,” with its mosaic of John Lennon song lyrics is a tribute to Lennon, long overdue, in ballad form.

“Tin Angel” could be the screenplay to a film.  It is dominated by dialogue, though it rocks back and forth, like “The Tempest” does with couplet rhyming throughout.

The rhymes are not striking, but the myriad number of them are, and some are unique; my favorite appearing in this verse:

Get up, stand up, you greedy-lipped wench
And cover your face or suffer the consequence

Not many are forced rhymes, but ones that are Dylan uses consonants and a kind of cross rhyming for rhyming assistance:

We’re two of a kind and our blood runs hot
But we’re no way similar in body or thought

The b’s in “bloody” and “body” combine along with the “o” in “body” which sounds much more aligned in rhyme than “hot”/”thought.”

Props to Bobby D., too, for “hault”/”fault” as a perfect rhyme in this couplet:

He whispered in her ear: “This is all your fault
My fighting days have come to a halt”

The film version of this song awaits us–it’s got Seneca-like revenge, journeying, deception, murder, etc.

Until then, at least we have the script:

 

Tin Angel

It was late last night when the boss came home
To a deserted mansion and a desolate throne
Servant said: “Boss, the lady’s gone
She left this morning just ‘fore dawn.” (Servant)

“You got something to tell me, tell it to me, man
Come to the point as straight as you can” (The Boss)
“Old Henry Lee, chief of the clan
Came riding through the woods and took her by the hand” (Servant)

The boss he lay back flat on his bed
He cursed the heat and he clutched his head
He pondered the future of his fate
To wait another day would be far too late

“Go fetch me my coat and my tie
And the cheapest labour that money can buy
Saddle me up my buckskin mare
If you see me go by, put up a prayer” (The Boss)

Well, they rode all night, and they rode all day
Eastward, long down the broad highway
His spirit was tired and his vision was bent
His men deserted him and onward he went

He came to a place where the light was dull
His forehead pounding in his skull
Heavy heart was racked with pain
Insomnia raging in his brain

Well, he threw down his helmet and his cross-handled sword
He renounced his faith, he denied his lord
Crawled on his belly, put his ear to the wall
One way or another put an end to it all

He leaned down, cut the electric wire
Stared into the flames and he snorted the fire
Peered through the darkness, caught a glimpse of the two
It was hard to tell for certain who was who

He lowered himself down on a golden chain
His nerves were quaking in every vein
His knuckles were bloody, he sucked in the air
He ran his fingers through his greasy hair

They looked at each other and their glasses clinked
One single unit, inseparably linked
“Got a strange premonition there’s a man close by” (Henry Lee)
“Don’t worry about him, he wouldn’t harm a fly” (The Wife)

From behind the curtain, the boss he crossed the floor
He moved his feet and he bolted the door
Shadows hiding the lines in his face
With all the nobility of an ancient race

She turned, she was startled with a look of surprise
With a hatred that could hit the skies
“You’re a reckless fool, I could see it in your eyes
To come this way was by no means wise” (The Wife)

“Get up, stand up, you greedy-lipped wench
And cover your face or suffer the consequence
You are making my heart feel sick
Put your clothes back on, double-quick” (The Boss)

“Silly boy, you think me a saint
I’ll listen no more to your words of complaint
You’ve given me nothing but the sweetest lies
Now hold your tongue and feed your eyes” (The Wife)
“I’d have given you the stars and the planets, too
But what good would these things do you?
Bow the heart if not the knee
Or never again this world you’ll see” (The Boss)

“Oh, please let not your heart be cold
This man is dearer to me than gold” (The Wife)
“Oh, my dear, you must be blind
He’s a gutless ape with a worthless mind” (The Boss)

“You’ve had your way too long with me
Now it’s me who’ll determine how things shall be” (The Wife)
“Try to escape,” he cussed and cursed
‘You’ll have to try to get past me first” (The Boss)

“Do not let your passion rule
You think my heart the heart of a fool
And you, sir, you can not deny
You made a monkey of me, what and for why?” (The Boss)

“I’ll have no more of this insulting chat
The devil can have you, I’ll see to that
Look sharp or step aside
Or in the cradle you’ll wish you’d died” (Henry Lee)

The gun went boom and the shot rang clear
First bullet grazed his ear
Second ball went right straight in
And he bent in the middle like a twisted pin

He crawled to the corner and he lowered his head
He gripped the chair and he grabbed the bed
It would take more than needle and thread
Bleeding from the mouth, he’s as good as dead

“You shot my husband down, you fiend” (The Wife)
“Husband? What husband? What the hell do you mean?
He was a man of strife, a man of sin
I cut him down and threw him to the wind” (Henry Lee)

This she said with angry breath
“You too shall meet the lord of death
It was I who brought your soul to life” (The Wife)
Then she raised her robe and she drew out a knife

His face was hard and caked with sweat
His arms ached and his hands were wet
“You’re a murderous queen and a bloody wife
If you don’t mind, I’ll have the knife” (Henry Lee)

“We’re two of a kind and our blood runs hot
But we’re no way similar in body or thought
All husbands are good men, as all wives know” (The Wife)
Then she pierced him to the heart and his blood did flow

His knees went limp and he reached for the door
His tomb was sealed, he slid to the floor
He whispered in her ear: “This is all your fault
My fighting days have come to a halt” (Henry Lee)

She touched his lips and kissed his cheek
He tried to speak but his breath was weak
“You died for me, now I’ll die for you” (The Wife)
She put the blade to her heart and she ran it through

All three lovers together in a heap
Thrown into the grave, forever to sleep
Funeral torches blazed away
Through the towns and the villages all night and all day

 

“The Death of Emmett Till” (1962)

 

This is a song with a finger pointing purpose, namely targeting the KKK, which it directly addresses in the 7th of 7 verses:

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan

Dylan aims at a moment in a horrible chapter of American history, a time when the nation was becoming all too familiar with the atrocities of racism and corrupt courtrooms.  But the word was getting out, and the following years would result in the Civil Rights Act.  No legislation stops hatred outright and certainly not right away, but it could begin to invoke fear, which can only approximate Emmett Tills’ fear that Dylan makes it hard for us to face with lines like this:

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what
They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat
There were screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds
out on the street

They rhyming pattern when it is in a pattern goes like this:  aabb, but Dylan can’t keep to it, as if the subject matter is too severe to keep to any concordant sounds.  In fact, the opening verse has no terminal rhymes:

’Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door
This boy’s dreadful tragedy I can still remember well
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till

The l’s that end well/Till have a timbre to them, but that’s not a rhyme. The rhyming is slow in coming, as if narrative matters more. what/up is close, but it’s a forced rhyme at best beginning the second verse:

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what

repeat/street enters as the first real rhyme at the end of the second verse, and then the aabb pattern emerges in verse 3:

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain
The reason that they killed him there, and I’m sure it ain’t no lie
Was just for the fun of killin’ him and to watch him slowly die

Bit it doesn’t last.  The name Till won’t rhyme with trial:

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this
awful crime
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind

Refuses, too, even.  It’s as if the discordance is there because of the previous verse’s concordance–it’s accentuated–there will be no agreement in sound between that trial and the crime that killed Emmett Till.

Once the trial is “over” in the song, the pleasing to the ear rhyming pattern returns:

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walkin’ down the courthouse stairs
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free
While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea

And rhymes flow free the rest of the way, perhaps so the song can be sung, remembered, as all tragedies of such human indignity and cruelty must:

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood
it must refuse to flow
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live
A hopeful ending to a painful song.

Here’s Dylan performing it on the Radio Show with Cynthia Gooding March 11th 1962:

 

 

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