“Isis” (1975)

“I said” and “Isis” work well together in “Isis.”  In the next to last verse there’s a barrage of “she saids” and I saids“:

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She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, not quite”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I jes might”

and yes this is dialogue, not poetry, at least we read it that way.  The sound of it though keeps “Isis” alive throughout the song, as in the last verse,

Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain

s’s and i’s banging together and reverberating in memorable ways.

“said” also appears though at the end of a line finishing the rhyme with “wed” in verse 6:

How she told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed
If I only could hang on and just be her friend
I still can’t remember all the best things she said

“again” and “friend” don’t rhyme no matter how hard you try to, but “wed”/”said” rhymes no matter how you say it.  Yet, “again” looks like it has a better shot at rhyming with “said,” even a better chance as “Isis” rhyming with “I said.”  But it doesn’t.

Don’t trust your eyes, Dylan seems to be saying, trust the sound, trust what you hear, trust going to “the wild unknown country where [you can] not go wrong.” Trust a voice like this singing Isis in 1975 during his Rolling Thunder tour, yes, it IS NECESSARY!!:

 

 

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“If You Ever Go To Houston (2009)

Daniel Mark Epstein calls “If You Ever Go to Houston,” his personal favorite” off of Together Through Life.  He sees it as “a hip lecture on how to handle yourself in the hot towns of the Lone Star State.”

When I first heard “If You Ever Go To Houston,” I thought, too, ah, yes, one of Bob’s familiar advice giving songs a la “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but then I thought why Houston?  He could have picked anywhere, but not if you’re looking for a city in the U.S. that has the sound “you” in it, Youston! And this song is about you and me, as it is with most of Dylan’s songs, and the rhymes with “me” in the next to last verse demonstrate the you/me relationship that I think Dylan wants going on or at least going on for our ears to hear:

Mr. Policeman
Can you help me find my gal
Last time I saw her
Was at the Magnolia Hotel
If you help me find her
You can be my pal
Mr. Policeman
Can you help me find my gal

The verse ends with the teasingly pleasing double rhyme “be my pal”/”me find my gal.”

Advice? Yes, if you ever go to Houston, but in Youston expect to find me.

My article in this Dylan anthology of articles on millennium Dylan songs on the Together Through Life album includes discussion of this song.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-new-dylan-anthology-tearing-world-apart-bob-21st-nina-goss-phd

 

Here’s the first live version Dylan every played, Dublin, May 5, 2009:

 

“Crash On the Levee” (“Down In The Flood”) (1967)

David Yaffe says Dylan recycled “a motif from a Memphis Minnie blues” with “The Levee’s Gonna Break.”  Recycling is a relevant word when it comes to the constant identical rhyming found in the song.  Each verse begins with a duplicate rhyme, “break”/”break”, “day”/”day”, “new”/”new” etc.  The word “head”  following “bed”/”bed” in the third to last verse offers an example:
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I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I ain’t got enough room to even raise my head
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Dylan loves to thieve.  We all know that.  But Shakespeare did, too.  Most of his plays are created out of other sources.  He may very well have plundered a contemporary’s The Taming of a Shrew to write his own The Taming of the Shrew.   But it’s what he did with previous sources that matters.  Theft, of the kind that involves lifting and then rewriting material from sources, is duplicating followed by invention.  Dylan mirrors this in “Crash On The Levee” with duplicating rhymes followed by full rhyming words.  “If I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break, if I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break . . .”
Here’s an outtake live performance audio version of the song with Dylan and The Band:

“Cold Irons Bound” (1997)

Cold Irons Bound” is one of Dylan’s journeying songs, Kerouac-esque in its driving hard towards somewhere and being ardent-hearted in the purpose.  The song gets you thinking about what it means to be bound towards something or somewhere, and whether that involves having a free will at all.
“Bound” has a disruptive rhyming power in the song, it disturbs the rhyming couplets we get used to throughout the song four times; the last stanza repeats “bound” at the end of the last two lines to unite the word in a rhyming parody of sorts.
The “will“/”kill” rhyme is not bound by “bound”–boundless it is in the seventh of ten verses:

Some things last longer than you think they will
There are some kind of things you can never kill

 

There’s  a dark side to this song, the speaker sounds desperate.  “Will” linked by rhyme to “kill” helps evoke the darker purpose to this journey.  Somethings last longer, but some don’t then, yes?  Somethings you can’t kill, but some you can, yes?  Most of the time . . .

This is an American song . . . linked to the likes of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.

Image result for captain ahab moby dick

He’s hearing voices, what he’s bound for I can’t tell.  Dylan’s voice takes us down this road with him, we’re bound to listen, taking us with him, and we’ve all been there before, determined, with a will to be on the road, cold irons bound.

The now-classic video:

“Can’t Wait” (1997)

In his chapter on ‘Hope” in Dylan’s Visions of Sin, Ricks refers to “Can’t Wait” as one of Bob’s “how much longer” songs.  From the title, how much longer he can’t wait clashes with the ending of just about every stanza when he either says “And” or “But” “I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”  Can/Can’t what’s the difference, right?  Well, when you say you can’t wait for something eager anticipation is involved, saying you can wait implies a kind of take or leave it, leaning on the leave it.

The first verse includes another clash, a singer trying to walk the line (side to side, horizontal movement) surrounded by people all around going up and down (vertical movement):

I can’t wait, wait for you to change your mind
It’s late, I’m trying to walk the line
Well, it’s way past midnight and there are people all around
Some on their way up, some on their way down
The air burns and I’m trying to think straight
And I don’t know how much longer I can wait

The “can’t wait” seems more literal–he literally can’t wait–there’s an urgency, but not one tied to anticipation.  Something’s about to happen.  It’s way past midnight–and people going up or down suggest a waiting for judgment that’s a result of the tolling of the midnight bell.  The burning air is ominous, portending a descent rather than an airlift, threatening to attempts to walk a line.
It’s  a song structured with terminal rhymes, each end of the line rhymes, and this song seems about being at the end of the line (walking a line until it ends) or one’s line, or rope, though if the line’s long enough maybe he’ll just have to wait, or we will; it’ plays out as a long song, can’t wait for it to end . . . how much longer . . . or can’t wait for the end, can’t wait, can wait.
Played live 187 times over a 15 year period (1997-2012), the song’s had a good run.  Here’s one from the late 90’s most likely, admired by many listeners:

“Boots Of Spanish Leather” (1963)

What is Bob Dylan’s finest love song?  Christopher Ricks, under the category of “Faith” (one of “The Heavenly Graces”) in his book Dylan’s Vision of Sin, thinks it’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.”  So I assume he’d give it four stars.  The song though has only one:
Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’
It’s the fourth verse, one of the four that begins with “Oh,” and it may be the most heartfelt expression from the, shall I say, male lover who does not want his beloved to depart.  Ricks is right that this song doesn’t ask for anything, and in this verse, the lover would even give up great possessions like stars and diamonds if he had them for just one of her sweet kisses.  They’d also be the shiniest stars since they’d be from the darkest night–perhaps the one coming once the Dear John letter arrives in verse seven:
I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’
This finest of love songs has a rhyme that haunts me, and it’s one repeated, and not from the chorus, unusual for Bob, so the rhyme must have meant something to him in this song.  It appears in the second and fourth of nine verses:

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin

There it is, delightfully forced, “ocean” and “ownin.”  Those two words are thematically meaningful in the song, lovers separated by an ocean (time is an ocean) and the relinquishing of owning anything, anyone (even her?).

But then there’s that “o” sound, as in “oh, oh, oh.  The pain of losing her is stressed from this pervading sound, not only appearing in those verses, but in three others for a total of five; the sound of emotional despair, the sound that can come from punishment, intense and persistent as wearing boots of Spanish leather, a reference to a torture device used during the Spanish Inquisition.

It’s Dylan’s voice, not quite tortured, but getting there, that captures just the right tone that makes this a legitimate pick for his finest love song.  Always worth a listen:

 

“Hazel” (1973)

Waiting for someone, especially someone you love or want to make love to can be torturous. Time seems to stand still when you’re waiting on a friend.  On the cover of Street Legal Dylan looks like he’s waiting for someone or perhaps to go meet someone himself.  But for being up on a hill, that cover is a good visualization for the waiting going on in “Hazel.”  He is still waiting by the end of the song, but in the third verse of four, he complains not about waiting but about his lover still not being where he is:

Oh no, I don’t need any reminder
To know how much I really care
But it’s just making me blinder and blinder
Because I’m up on a hill and still you’re not there

 

The long i has it in this verse, but that dominance just makes the presence of the short i internal rhyme of “hill”/”still” stand out more.  How much longer?  How long has this waiting been going on?  Well, long enough to feel like he’s going blind from looking for Hazel from the top of the hill she’s not on . . . yet.  Does she get there?  We never know . . . we are left with him playing the waiting game, forever still waiting:
Hazel, you called and I came
Now don’t make me play this waiting game
You’ve got something I want plenty of
Ooh, a little touch of your love
I love how Dylan sings, “Ooh, a little touch of your love . . . an outtake of “Hazel” from the 1994 MTV rehearsals:

“Buckets Of Rain” (1974)

This five verse tight finger picking acoustic song goes along with a six line rhyme scheme of a/b/b/c/d/c, with one exception.  Its lightness and sway have a sound quality that makes the structure seem to disappear or at least not be noticeable perhaps the way all good verse works.

The fourth line of four of the five verses end with “baby.”  The exception is the third verse, which also departs from a/b/b/c/d/c for a/b/b/c/c/c,

Like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me
Misery

which replaces the word but not the “e” sound in “baby” with the echo rhyme me/me with “Misery,” perhaps giving attention to how the word “misery” has the word “me” in it.

The last verse has an echo rhyme as well (must/must), but it is an internal rhyme with the rhyme at the end of the previous line:

Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well
I’ll do it for you, honey baby
Can’t you tell?

I’m not an expert on instrumental sounds, but this song’s acoustic guitar brings out so well the rhyme sounds; I can hear something from each guitar solo that follows and sets up the lyrics that align so well with the rhythm and pattern the rhymes create.

The song was performed live just once on November 18, 1990. Here is the audio of it.

 

“Born In Time” (1990)

Smack dab in the middle of “Born in Time” is a leonine rhyme with the word “will.”  A leonine rhyme is an internal rhyme that occurs when the word in the middle of the line rhymes with the last word in the line.  Here’s the verse it’s in:

 

Not one more night, not one more kiss
Not this time baby, no more of this
Takes too much skill, takes too much will
It’s revealing
You came, you saw, just like the law
You married young, just like your ma
You tried and tried, you made me slide
You left me reelin’ with this feelin’

 

This is one of Dylan’s many, many longing for/hurting over/pining for love songs.  There’s  a struggle within the speaker in the song.  Here he wants “no more of this.”  But by the end of the song, he says, “You can have what’s left of me.”  The pause in the line with the leonine rhyme is fitting then, thematic even; he pauses over the skill and will this kind of love requires, perhaps saying something he doesn’t mean, or at least we find he doesn’t mean it by the end.
It’s a terrific song.  The whole album, Under the Red Sky, gets lost in the fallout of Oh Mercy‘s quality and rave reviews.  I almost wish Under came out before Oh.
I love how Dylan sings it:

“Black Diamond Bay” (1975)

Image result for desire dylan

On May 25, 1976, the day after Dylan’s 35th birthday, Dylan performed this song at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the first encore (see the playlist below from setlist.com) and would never perform it again (at least not up until the time I am writing this).  I wish I was there; I would have been 16, still reeling from Blood On The Tracks, which was the album that started my passion for Bob. I would have loved every minute of it.  I wonder if he changed any of the lyrics, how it was received by the audience, and if it told the same story.

It is co-written with Jacques Levy, who was a dominant influence on Desire, perhaps not the least of which was to thread that whole album with the theme of desire, objects of desire, being desirable, and thwarted desires–dreams deferred and such.

The imagery and descriptions are remarkable.  The girl we are introduced to with her necktie and Panama hat (a surviving artifact of the volcano we are told in the last verse) is certainly desirable, and she is so we know to at least two men in the tragic tale.  It is tragedy though seen as inconsequential, despite the onrush of events and the increasing alarming pace at which they unfold, and the deaths more than just implied, it’s just best to get another beer, say nothing, and conclude that if it doesn’t affect me directly it’s not of any importance:

Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
Seems like every time you turn around
There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear
And there’s really nothin’ anyone can say
And I never did plan to go anyway
To Black Diamond Bay

It’s the fallout of distant TV news reporting, the inundation of stories like these that just don’t stop; people live, love, flirt, gamble, talk, do business, laugh, seek help and affection, and experience death.  We, not yet characters in some hard-luck story, just move on.

The rhyming impressively is as structured as it gets and this doesn’t get lost when hearing the song and it sounds so inviting to the ear that none of it seems stilted. Dylan’s consistent voice moves the tale and song along with a pace as smooth as a moon fading or cranes flying away, a voice calling us ” to come on in,” and an accompanying violin played by Scarlet Rivera that makes the voice and instrument experience like hearing crickets talking back and forth in rhyme.   The rhyme pattern consistent through seven verses of twelve lines each is a/b/c/c/b/d/e/f/e/g/g/g with the “e” rhymes stealing the show and the “g” rhymes building to the end of each verse awaiting Dylan’s resounding melisma, “Baaaaaaaay,” each time.

March 25, 1976 Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, Utah, Setlist