Midnight

“Midnight” is the next rhyming word from “Beyond Here Lies Nothin.'” I could see Dylan doing a theme-time radio show on it.  Several like Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis,” Clapton’s “After Midnight,” The Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler,” Lionel Hampton’s “Midnight Sun,” and maybe my favorite midnight tune, “Midnight Special” by Credence come immediately to my mind. (Dylan’s first professional recording experience was playing harmonica on the title track of Harry Belfonte’s album Midnight Special.)

I think Dylan would have a special place in his mind with “midnight” what with the liminal status associated with it from Cinderella.  It was the time after all, when she  returned to her former identity–perhaps a nightmarish thought for Dylan (midnight as death) who has spent his life stripping himself of one mask after another: “mask-erading.”

In “Beyond Here,” midnight comes across as the time that reveals more Cormac McCarthy-like desolation to what lies out there, out of reach.  It’s rhyming partner is “without it,” or rather the “mid” in midnight is “without it”‘s rhyming partner, with the “t” sound like a bell tolling at the end of each line (a sneaky non-rhyme really), and at first it feels like he does not know what to do without midnight:

I’m movin’ after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don’t know what to do without it

An interesting fleeting thought–what would any of us do without midnight?–but it’s
“Without this love that we call ours” and all that that means (see the video) that would result in incomprehensible loss.
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Tempest‘s “Soon After Midnight,” is the only Dylan song with “midnight” in its title.  It took him fifty years to get it in one.  It also is part of the chorus of the song, “It’s soon after midnight,” “It’s” added to force an internal rhyme.  Something else is going on with it though in terms of rhyme as the song progresses freeing it from just the internal repetitive rhyme.  “Midnight” is used four times in the song; the last three times, Dylan uses the words, “”eye,” “mink,” and “think,” to rhyme with both “i” sounds found in “midnight.” My favorite line in the song is “And I’ve got a date with a fairy queen.”  Now this could just be plans to read Spenser’s epic (though it’s not capitalized), but as far as real fairy queens go, Titania fits the bill.  In this song, she works, too, with an “i” sound that matches “midnight”‘s, the way an internal rhyme might.  But she’s not there or her name isn’t, so her name is a rhyme not there, but there if “fairy queen” lets her enter your mind.   The whole song for me is a bit dreamy, the ways things are in A Midsummer night’s Dream, where nothing is at it seems, especially Bottom’s Dream.
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“When the Deal Goes Down” uses “midnight” as an adjective describing the kind of rain that follows the train:  “The midnight rain follows the train,” assisting, too, another internal rhyme.  This song that can’t get away from the “deal going down” (it ends every stanza)–death is the ultimate separation,
We live and we die, we know not why
But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down
Likewise, the train can’t stop a rain linked to at the very least to the ending of a day, but likely the end of our days.
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Hard to avoid visions of paradise in “Beyond the Horizon.”  The way Dylan describes it who’d not want to go there right now.  There it’s easy to love, love waits forever for everyone, and people pray for your soul.  Get me a ticket–no slow train. . . . Duquesne Express, please.   “midnight” finds itself in the middle of a line again in this song, internally rhyming side by side with “side.”  Midnight is when something’s gonna happen–entities separated will be united:
Beyond the horizon across the divide
‘Round about midnight, we’ll be on the same side
Down in the valley the water runs cold
Beyond the horizon someone prayed for your soul

What can’t ‘scape my mind is the word “chime” is also in this song.  Shakespeare used “chimes” just once  in all his plays and it’s linked up with “midnight” to form a memorable phrase from Falstaff:
We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow. (HIV.III.II.2067)
Can’t help but think that the phrase was on Dylan’s mind when he used both words in the same song.  Hearing those chimes at midnight with Falstaff meant some good, late night frolics.  But Hal must separate himself from his drinking buddy to become HenryV.  Beyond the horizon, maybe they hear those chimes together again.
Below is a link to the Orson Welles film on the Henry plays called Chimes at Midnight.  Within the first 1:15 the phrase above is spoken.  It’s worth a look just t see Welles, but note the nostalgia for good ole times–going back to them, dream-like . . . like a Bob Dylan dream where you’d hear
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

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“chimes” and “midnight” appear in “Chimes of Freedom,” too.  In this song the sound of the bell is broken or maybe it’s “like the fading sound of bells in the distance” or “more of a knell than a chime,” as Dalton says, but the flashing replaces the impact of sound, sound illuminating, a synesthesia effect on behalf of but maybe also to reveal “the warriors whose strength is not to fight,” “the refugees on the unarmed road of flight,” and “each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night”:

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Broken, too, is any end of line rhyming in those first four lines, but not the chiming of the short vowel sounds in “finish”/”midnight’s,” “ducked”/”thunder,” “Seeming”/”freedom.”  . . . “bewilderment in the highest degree”?  Sure, but in a good way.

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midnight” modifies the moon and a train on “Standing in the Doorway,” but  (mid)–night train/my veins” may be the best damn rhyme on the whole Time Out of Mind  album:

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Trying to Get to Heaven” is on my list of top ten Dylan songs.  It’s tone is carried through so perfect and Dylan’s voice soothes while it aches from the “air is getting hotter” right to Sugartown.  Fittingly, “midnight” appears in the last of five stanzas. Death may not the end but midnight is and for a person trying to get anywhere, let alone heaven, before the door is closed, midnight might just be the deadline. But “midnight” is not a specific time in this song; it just describes a rambler and it’s not involved in any rhyme:
Some trains don’t pull no gamblers
No midnightramblers like they did before

A rambler is an individual on a peaceful walk.  A Middle Dutch derivation of the word though refers it to as animal wandering about in heat”–an interesting link to a song that begins, “The air is getting hotter.”
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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.

midnight” appears in the first stanza where can’t and can waiting are both present, the first at the beginning (repeating the title) and the latter at the end:

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.  “midnight“‘s not involved with any rhymes, but each end of the line is, and this song seems about being at the end of the line or one’s line, or rope, though if the line’s long enough maybe he’ll just have to wait, or we will; it’s 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.  Gotta go, can’t wait.
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On Empire Burlesque, “midnight” appears twice, once in “Something’s Burning, Baby” and in “Dark Eyes.,” the last two songs of the album, the midnight of it, if you will.  In “Something’s Burning,” “midnight” modifying”train” is not included in the rhyme, but “train” is:
Got to start someplace, baby, can you explain?
Please don’t fade away on me, baby, like the midnighttrain

In “Dark Eyes, a song Shelton calls “an affirmation of love’s transcendence in a painful world,” “midnight” describes the moon:
Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide

midnight”  helps perspective in both songs.  A midnight train does fade for someone on the platform watching it disappear into the night.  A midnight moon shines bright off the water when one sees it in the distance perhaps from a concert stage (Ricks makes much ado about the last line of the song referring to the eyes Dylan sees at every performance) near a, river (riverside) lake or park.  And the singer is about to slide, slide out?, the crowd is thinning out, and he’s just about to do the same?  On stage, removed, from another world (where one stands seems to matter in this song: “They tell me revenge is sweet and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.), the world he sings to is separate from his:
I live in another world where life and death are memorized
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes

In 1997, Dylan said, “When I’m up there, I just see faces. A face is a face, they are all the same” (Ricks 490). Singing about life and death every night, which truth be told he does, better sometimes to lift those eyes to that unique midnight moon above/beyond the sameness of dark eyes.
(Midnight Moon by B. Wilson)
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In “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” “creep” rhymes with “leap,” two nicely juxtaposed contrasting movements.  It’s “creep” that finds “midnight” in front of it though, not leap, which would make the lines with that rhyme less open to interpretation:
Well, up the stairs ran Frankie Lee
With a soulful, bounding leap
And, foaming at the mouth
He began to make his midnight creep
For sixteen nights and days he raved
But on the seventeenth he burst
Into the arms of Judas Priest
Which is where he died of thirst

Really, it’s the word “make” that causes interesting problems.   A person can make a low to the ground movement, because  he would rather not be noticed.  So “midnight” describes the time of the creeping.  And this makes sense in the song, being that this is no home but a brothel Frankie Lee goes to (creeps) for sixteen nights . . . days, too.  But Frankie may have turned those days into nights (“moral desert,” Shelton calls it), succumbing to temptations of the flesh.  So Frankie Lee may have made his midnight go slower, move gradually, to the tune of 16 days worth of midnight.
Not sure if anything is revealed by this; even the little creep who carries Frank Lee’s body to its grave concealing his guilt while doing, says, “‘Nothing is revealed,'” just what someone who creeps or a creep would want, perhaps especially around midnight.
Here’s the audio of Bob singing it live in London in 2000 sometime within 24 hours of midnight:
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I have listened to “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” many a time; as an undergraduate, I even recall writing about it in a T.S. Eliot class with Christopher Ricks, so when I recently listened to it and then saw “midnight rug,” I think I just chalked it up as just one of those far-reaching psychedelia Blonde on Blonde moments that would evade me. Maybe it didn’t help that rug rhymed with drugs (“midnight” playing bridesmaid again to the rhyming word):
With your childhood flames on your midnight rug
And your Spanish manners and your mother’s drugs

But then I googled “midnight rug” just to see what would happen.  I was surprised to find that I could buy a midnight rug if I wanted to–midnight is a color.  Now, who knows what Dylan meant by the phrase, but in any event for me he advanced the range of midnight‘s meanings–and I kind of like the color, it’s, wouldn’t you know it, dark, black, and look what it does for a rug:
Hand-hooked Midnight Garden Black Wool Rug (5'3 x 8'3)
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Daniel Mark Epstein, in The Ballad of Bob Dylan reports that on the night Allen Ginsberg died Dylan, on stage at the time, sang “Desolation Row” on his behalf.  He told his audience that it was one of Ginsberg’s favorite songs–perhaps especially for what it said to him in its eighth stanza about the education system , as Michael Gray puts it, “organized to enforce and perpetuate ignorance, a nightmarish machinery . . .”
I can’t find a video or recording of that moment (if anyone can, please let me know or feel free to post it in a comment) and I would someday love to hear it.  I wonder for instance how Bob sounded that night when he sang that eighth verse,
Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

It’s got “midnight” in it, no rhyme involved, just the word perhaps tolling a bell this time, for his friend, rounded up that night, brought to the eternal factory, etc., etc. I just wonder what Bob’s own words meant to him when he sang them for his friend that night, probably not too far from midnight.
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Christopher Ricks sees the darker side of “Love Minus Zero, No Limit” coming out in the last verse that begins with the image of that midnight bridge trembling:
The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

Ricks asks, “[W]ho (it may be wondered with a slight tremble ) can be out there at this time of night?” Yes, there’s something deeply dark about the song’s ending,” and it is “midnight” that helps kick it off.  Ricks aims at the un-rhyming of “perfection” and “hammer” as indicative of a feeling in the song that moves from admiration of the woman’s aloofness to “a need that she not be so strong.”
Though “midnight” is an un-rhymed word as well, short and long “i” sounds permeate almost every line in the verse, creating a dark blanket of midnight from beginning to end.  Shelton doesn’t think the “ominous images . . . mar the tranquility that the love object exudes,” but Jean Tamarin observes how it “expresses a yearning that’s always disappointed.” “midnight,” real “midnight”–time of almost night “midnight” and Dylan seem to like going to the dark side together.
Here’s Bob singing it live from the Rolling Thunder Review:
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2 Comments

  1. Rich

     /  October 2, 2012

    Always love your close, careful readings and ability to associate different themes and ideas relative to Dylan’s life and work– particularly the Cinderalla stuff this time.

    Reply
  2. Tim

     /  October 14, 2012

    Nice picture with Ginsburg! If you look by Dylan’s feet you’ll see a can of Schlitz beer, presumably his. Imagine the Schlitz jingle those two could come up with, read by Bill Burroughs.

    Reply

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