Shoes

A friend of a friend recently took the quality photo below of Dylan at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, NY.  Note the brilliant perspective, Bob in command, all energized but still, Tony Garnier all stillness in motion.  But most of all just look at those shoes!  No boots of Spanish leather that night–and they would indeed feel out of place in someone’s face.

By Howard Horder

The photo has inspired me to let “shoe(s)” tap dance to the forefront of concordance attention.  I will start smack dab in the middle of Dylan’s career with the last stanza of “Black Diamond Bay” from Desire:

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.
Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
It seems there was an earthquake that
Left nothin’ but a Panama hat
And a pair of old Greek shoes
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

Dylan rhymes “shoes” with “news.”  An old pair of shoes, no big news, but a new pair, now that’s news.  We all love a new pair of shoes, newsworthy in fact, but when they’re old and all that’s left with a Panama hat, well that’s another story, worthy of seven o’clock news.

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“Shoes” rhymes well with “blues,” too, as Dylan proves in the chorus of “Workingman’s Blues #2”:

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

You’re planning on singing a lot of blues if you need both boots and shoes.  But maybe “boots and shoes” create just the sound Dylan wants for us to meet him at the bottom of the song.  Don’t be lagging behind on that “front line” of the song–meet me at the bottom where “boots and shoes” will help us find the voice/tune/tone to “sing a little bit of those workingman’s blues.”

Dylan also sings the chorus four times–one for each boot and shoe?

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“Shoe(s)” steps in twice into “Tangled Up In Blues.”  You’d expect that from a song with a lot of traveling going on.  In both cases though, the shoes are not moving, first outside on the road:

And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

And then later inside a “topless place”:

I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

The first “shoe” rhyme batters the “oo” sound into the song like the rain hitting his shoes, what with “dues,” “through,” and “blue” all present in three of the last seven words of the stanza.

The second one is housed in one of my favorite moments in Dylan.  Before her move to his shoes they both focus on each others’ faces: he at the side of her face, she at the lines of his (both “i” sounds by the way).  The movement to his shoes breaks this tension, creating an uneasiness–you can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes?

Just enjoy folks.  This song is a work of art.


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“Positively 4th Street” is a searing indictment against someone. Who?  We don’t really know, but who cares.  The insults are so good, so harsh, they amuse.  Ricks calls it “a masterpiece of regulated hatred.”  What can get lost in the midst of all the great putdowns is some of Dylan’s best rhymes:  “grinning”/winning,” “my back”/”contact,” “surprised”/paralyzed,” “rob them”/”problem.”

“Shoes” appear in the last two stanzas, with the power to rhyme as far as repetition of a word allows.  But “shoes”  gets Dylan to stand something on its head with the request to have someone stand inside his shoes and that is the cliche of “standing inside one’s shoes.”  Ricks observes that normally such a request  “is a movement inviting sympathy.”  Come see how I feel and you’ll understand me better.  But not with this shoe flip-flop.   Instead the “stand inside my shoes” is a way to turn back attention to the target of Dylan’s anger–you’ll understand not me , but what “a drag it is to see you.”  Ha! Yes, whoever you are, just when you thought you’ve lost everything in this song you find out you can lose a little more. And “shoes” helps Dylan pull this off:

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

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Dylan’s much maligned Self-Portrait album came out in 1970.  Many critics felt the album was Dylan’s way of escaping the media and his identities as a finger-pointing song writer/activist/voice of a generation/enlightened poet as it contained mostly covers of others’ songs and even two of his own (“Like a Rolling Stone” and “She Belongs to Me”) from previous albums.  In actuality, the album has eight new songs and one with “shoes” called “Living the Blues.”  In this song, the shoes are moving:

Since you’ve been gone
I’ve been walking around
With my head bowed down to my shoes
I’ve been living the blues
Ev’ry night without you

Dylan the contortionist–that’s a long way down to bow your head, Bob.  I believe Ricks was the first to note that the song is not about singing but living the blues.  And he quotes Dylan from the sleeve notes on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan about his admiration for those blues singers who sang the blues they lived:

“What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What’s depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.”

Yeah, so depressing that one might bow down all the way to his shoes.

Here’s Bob live at the Johnny Cash Show in 1969 singing “Living the Blues.” I’m glad Bob sang it for us and created Self-Portrait so he could get outside his troubles.

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In “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” off of John Wesley Harding shoes are worn, but the request  is to kick them off:

Kick your shoes off, do not fear
Bring that bottle over here
I’ll be your baby tonight

These are  the last  three lines of the song and the album.  It’s as if Dylan is saying relax, kick off your shoes, grab that bottle, and play that album again.  I also like it as a sequel to “Tomorrow is a Long Time.”  That long day is over and in this song lovers reunite.

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“shoes” and “shoe” show up once each on Blonde on Blonde.  In “Stuck  Inside of Memphis with the Memphis Blues Again” Shakespeare’s in the alley with his pointed shoes (Dylan puts Shakespeare right smack in the alley, Ophelia only gets to peek into Desolation Row). In “Fourth Time Around” Dylan does something different with a shoe–he fills it up:

And when I was through
I filled up my shoe

This is a dense song.  Lying, deception, cruelty, and secrets abound in it.  Filling a shoe and giving it, in the universe of this song,  is enough to get something for the giving, even love (both a 4th time around)?  Perhaps the reminder in the first stanza of the song prompts the giving of a filled shoe:

“Don’t forget
Everybody must give something back
For something they get”

This song can make your head spin–worth listening to while staring at revolving vinyl:  around and around we go . . .

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In Who Is That Man, David Dalton says of  “Tombstone Blues” it “is old-fashioned Buck Owens country rock (overlaid with Chicago blues guitar leads) that chimes perfectly with the mock hillbilly yarn.”   I think Scorcese captured that well in the scene this song appears in No Direction Home where the young, black Dylan sings it porch-side.   “Shoes” filters its way six times through this song, as part of the chorus.  But this time shoes are not really there–Mama ain’t got none:

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse (Dylan sings “food” )
I’m in the streets (Dylan sings “kitchen”)
With the tombstone blues

Dylan wrote “fuse” but sings “food” but either way with “shoes” and “blues” the rhyme supports the “mock-hillbilly yarn” of it all .  Catchy as all get-out, it’s hard to get this chorus out of your head once you hear it.

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In “Gates of Eden,” someone else is  shoeless,  the hunter who’s gone deaf:

The savage soldier sticks his head in sand
And then complains
Unto the shoeless hunter who’s gone deaf
But still remains
Upon the beach where hound dogs bay
At ships with tattooed sails
Heading for the Gates of Eden

Jean Tamarin calls “Gates” “a biblical, metaphysical protest song,” in which “[n]othing is what it seems.”  This is reassuring for to be a hunter who’s deaf and shoeless is perhaps a fate worse than death.  At least he can’t hear the complaints from the “savage soldier.”  “complains”/”remains” is a good rhyme to hear though, in or out of Eden.

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Robert Shelton in No Direction Home refers to “Down the Highway” as one of those songs in which “Suze is a recurring theme.”   “shoes” appears in the middle of the song, rhyming with “lose.”

Well, I been gamblin’ so long
Lord, I ain’t got much more to lose
Yes, I been gamblin’ so long
Lord, I ain’t got much more to lose
Right now I’m havin’ trouble
Please don’t take away my highway shoes

Both words form the only rhyme that also rhymes with “Suze.”  Clearly on his mind is losing her:

Well, the ocean took my baby
My baby stole my heart from me
Yes, the ocean took my baby
My baby took my heart from me
She packed it all up in a suitcase
Lord, she took it away to Italy, Italy

Losing Suze is one thing, (and his heart–she packed it in the suitcase) but not the sound of her name, not with “shoes” and “lose” around to keep it alive where he can hear it every time he sings this song.

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What rhymes with “shoes” is one thing, but who rhymes with “shoes” is another, and who rhymes better with shoes than Gypsy Lou:

Well, I tell you what if you want to do
Tell you what, you’ll wear out your shoes
If you want to wear out your shoes
Try and follow Gypsy Lou
Hey, gone again
Gypsy Lou’s ’round the bend
Gypsy Lou’s ’round the bend

You’ll wear yourself out if  you try to keep up with Gypsy Lou; tell you what you’ll wear out a rhyme, too, if you repeat it twice in two lines.  Following them words that rhyme with Gypsy Lou, is fun to do, too, in “Gypsy Lou,” especially when she comes round the bend to be at the end of the line for some mighty fine rhyming.

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Shelton calls the rarely performed “John Brown” an attack on “the concept of war heroes.”  In it, perhaps Dylan does what most, if not all, effective anti-war literature does (Wilford Owen, Tim O’Brien come immediately to my mind)–it makes us feel what it’s like to be inside the shoes of a victim, specifically someone who returns as maimed and disfigured mentally from disillusionment as he/she is physically.  The stanza that houses the “shoe” rhyme is this one:

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes

Yes, it’s what been done in those shoes (you’d know what a drag it was to be me?)–seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt while standing in those shoes by, as Owen says in “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” “children ardent for some desperate glory,” that makes the war hero’s return home the time for those tears.

Here’s Bob’s memorable live performance of it on MTV Unplugged, 1995:

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According to bobdylan.com, 1961’s “Man on the Street,” has been played only once by Dylan.  It’s about a homeless man found dead in the street.  Shelton says it’s based on a real incident–Bob saw “a policeman jab a dead man with his club to stir him.” “shoes” is not used for a rhyme, but it sure helps reveal the devil in the details:

Well, the crowd, they gathered one fine morn,
At the man whose clothes ‘n’ shoes were torn.
There on the sidewalk he did lay,
They stopped ‘n’ stared ‘n’ walked their way.
Torn clothes and shoes, torn shoes, especially so sad, on “an old man who never done wrong.”
I’m not certain, but this performance from the Witmark Demos, might be that one time Dylan played it:

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Ricks says of “Walkin Down the Line” that it “is always light-hearted even when you might have expected otherwise.”  Maybe one of those moments is at the end of the song when the speaker admits to having the “walkin blues”:

I got my walkin’ shoes
I got my walkin’ shoes
I got my walkin’ shoes
An’ I ain’t a-gonna lose
I believe I got the walkin’ blues

Determined not to lose in those “walkin shoes,” begs the question, not a heavy headed one though, not lose what exactly?  The blues?  No, Bob never did; no thing, no one, no how, will blow his blues away.

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Under the Red Sky has “shoes” in three of its songs, “Wiggle, Wiggle,” “Cats in the Well,” and the title song.  in each, respectively, “shoe(s)” is used as a rhyme word:

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle in your boots and shoes
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, you got nothing to lose

The cat’s in the well, and Papa is reading the news
His hair’s falling out and all of his daughters need shoes

Someday little girl, everything for you is gonna be new
Someday little girl, you’ll have a diamond as big as your shoe

In the first, boots are seen wiggling with shoes, the second a lack of shoes again links to poverty, in the third the shoe is compared to the promise of one big-ass diamond, unless the little girl is Thumbelina-like tiny, which is possible in this album filled with fairy-tale allusions.  For the sheer fun of it, check out Thumbelina’s shoes:

Thumbelina

[“Boots and shoes” is a phrase also found in the chorus of “Workingman’s Blues #2.” Gecko, in a reply to this blog post, implied that the phrase may have its roots somewhere in a bygone past:  ““boots and shoes,” is a striking image that is bygone for me like I know what he means but it is a little foreign to me.”  Inspired I did a little research but came up empty as a dry well.  If anyone finds that the phrase has a link to a time before Dylan, please share.]

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In “Summer Days“off Love and Theftshoes” get lost but only in the sense of rhyming with “lose.”

Politician got on his jogging shoes
He must be running for office, got no time to lose
He been suckin’ the blood out of the genius of generosity
You been rolling your eyes—you been teasing me

And these are certain kinds of shoes, jogging ones, but they get lost, run right out of their shoes, since “running for office” doesn’t really require any running, just some motionless blood-sucking from those generous enough to support the campaign, a clean kind of theft, a good fit for an album filled with love and theft, the soft kind, worthy of a tax deduction.

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In “Union Sundown”off Infidels, “shoes” find themselves as items in a long list of non-US-made products, among them a flashlight, a tablecloth, a belt buckle, a shirt, and a car.  Appearing early in each line, none gets rhyming attention, not even internally:

Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore
My flashlight’s from Taiwan
My tablecloth’s from Malaysia
My belt buckle’s from the Amazon
You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day

In “Man of Peace,”shoes” appears at the end aiding in a sad, memorable visual of a missing son, a blued-eyed one, rekindling memories of the same boy in Hard Rain:

Somewhere Mama’s weeping for her blue-eyed boy
She’s holding them little white shoes and that little broken toy

“blue”/”shoes” gets a rhyming nod here, but “boy”/”toy” is the key rhyme it leads to.   Stealing the show for me though is “them,” poignantly expressed as if were all part of this story or have heard it before.

shoes” in “I and I” gets the prominent sense role as the set-up man for “barefoot,” the word that ends the line,

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

The “put”/”foot” rhyme is so good I almost wish “stare put” made sense for a more complete rhyme with “barefoot.”  Anyway, the singer is a cobbler, making shoes (soles, souls, life as a vale of soul-making?) this time, or having made them, but never again?  There’s an “I ain’t coming” back feel to this song, as Jonathan Lethem says, “‘I and I’ allegorizes a journey from home and hearth, but here Dylan never returns, the last verse dissolving on the singer ‘barefoot’ on ‘the narrow lanes.'”  Yes, it’s a long and narrow way.
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One thing to make shoes and go barefoot, it’s another to shine them, move mountains and mark cards:
Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

No rhyme there with “shoes,” a little surprising since it appears at the end of the line, but so do those gentlemen, with two choices, elimination or “The Changing of the Guards.”
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