Last

last is one of those words with a broad sense scope.  We are upset when we come in last but happy when something we enjoy lasts.  Conversely, it’s been said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first–“what’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top, you’re on the bottom,” sort of thing.  Likewise, we rather not endure things that last too long or that we don’t like.  After much delay, we may exclaim with exuberance, “At long last,” or demand, “This is the last straw.”  “last” has a lasting presence in daily expression.

Dylan’s rhymes “last” with “past” in “Beyond Here Lies Nothin.”

Down every street there’s a window
And every window made of glass
We’ll keep on lovin’ pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin’
But the mountains of the past

Yes, the past lasts, like those mountains.  American authors like Cormac McCarthy, Willa Cather, and William Faulkner come to mind as ones who would agree.  Faulkner went as far as to say, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

To me, the lasting effect of past inspired by rhyme is the perfect way to explore Dylan’s use of the word.

The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.

[Since “last” appears so many times in Dylan I only will blog about his use of the word in rhyme, though I will record Dylan’s every use of it in the concordance.]
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Tempest,” a song about a boat’s last voyage has the word “last” rippling through it three times, once in a rhyming role, in verse 15 of 45:
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Passengers were flying
Backward, forward, far and fast
They mumbled, fumbled, and tumbled
Each one more weary than the last
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“fast”/”last” both refer to the passengers in the last moments of their lives, some wearier than others.  With that phrase, Dylan captures the class status hierarchy that gave the more affluent better chances to live.  All may have been mumbling, fumbling, and tumbling equally, but what may have wearied some more than others was the news that that not enough life boats existed for everyone.  In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio opens the play by saying, “It wearies me, you say it wearies you.” Plenty of weariness to go around inside a sinking ship, more if you’re the last, alone, going down with the ship, or the last one on.
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“Dylan uses the same “fast”/”last” rhyme in “Roll On John“:
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Shine your light, move it on, you burn so bright, roll on John
Slow down you’re moving too fast
Come together right now over me
Your bones are weary
You’re about to breathe your last
Lord, you know how hard that it can be
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This verse is an enigma.  While it recreates the moment of Lennon’s death it also is nestled in the context of describing him as if he’s still alive.  But what’s alive here mostly is Dylan’s use of Lennon/Beatles lyrics or lines from covers the Beatles have sung to create each line.  The third line is the obvious one from the first cut on Abbey Road, and the fifth is right out of “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”  Is there a better way Dylan could have written a tribute to Lennon? Yes, how hard it can be . . . took Bob 32 years to do it.  Time to blast this if you haven’t in awhile:
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Bye and Bye” off Love and Theft is revered by many Dylan critics and scholars, Michael Gray and Christoper Ricks among them.  Gray hears Dylan’s 2000’s live versions of “If Dogs Run Free” in it, and Ricks takes only three pages in to quote it in his Dylan’s Visions of Sin.  Ricks quotes the first line of the couplet that ends with “last”:
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Well the future for me is already a thing of the past
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The line echos Faulker’s quote that begins this blog page.  The second line completes the rhyming with the word “last” sung by Dylan with a strong effort by Dylan to make it last:
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You were my first love and you will be my laaaaaaaaaaast

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Eric Lott calls the song one of those “soft shoe shuffles.”  In such songs, some sounds are made to last. Listen to Billie Holiday make “tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime” last on Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger’s “Havin Myself a Time,” the tune David Yaffe thinks Dylan heard and “based some changes on”:
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“Take what you gathered from coincidence,” says Dylan in “It’s All Over Baby Blue.”  It is coincidence that on the day before the Mayans proclaim the end of the world as we know it, I would target these rhyming lines from “Political World”:
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We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last

There’s that “past”/”last” rhyme again.  Maybe it’s the perfect rhyme.  Maybe it’s the duality these words create together. Maybe it says what he wants to say whether those words rhymed or not.  In the world of this rhyme courage is gone–a thing of the past–without it we think things like tomorrow is our last.  What would a non-political world be like?  A place where there’s courage and where you don’t think or aren’t compelled to think that next days could be last ones.  This is what Dylan does best.  When he defines something at the same time he’s defining something else, which redefines what he set out defining.  “Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine.  Most of the time.”  Most of the time defined, rest of time defined, too.  Most of time redefined.

Dante has something to say about those who predict the future.  They’re better than thieves and hypocrites, but worse than panderers and seducers.  Their punishment? “[T]o have their heads turned backwards on theirs bodies and to be compelled to walk backwards (into the past?) through all eternity, their eyes blinded with tears” ( so they can’t see forward anymore?) (Ciardi).  Perhaps they above all should hope that tomorrow is not the last day.
http://monsalvaesche.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/necromancers-and-magiciians2.jpg
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I’m going to take up David Yaffe on the thought that the tragic subject of “Shooting Star” is Richard Manuel.   When you lament the loss of a friend the word “last” has a lingering effect, or rather one might start thinking of certain  memorable “lasts.”  In “Shooting Star,” the next to last verse contains a barrage of “lasts,” 5 to be exact, in 7 lines:
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Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

What was the last sound he heard, what was his last temptation, what was his last account, his last sermon, the last song he heard on the radio . . . when was the last time I saw him . . . especially if you’re mulling over
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Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say

Roll On Richard . . .
Bob and Richard on stage at the Last Waltz:
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In “Seeing The Real You At Last,” Dylan rhymes “last” with “fast,” “pass” (2x), “mast,” and “fast.”  “last” is part of the chorus, a changing one that keeps the title repeated.  This is a finger pointing song of sorts–the target of his venom is someone who’s been hiding a real self or is being condemned to having his/her current behavior indicative of what his/her real self is.  Any fan of Dylan would find this ironic, even hypocritical.  Pinning down who the real Dylan is has been an obsession for many fans, and the subject of two major films, one that Dylan approved, I’m Not There (7 Dylans in that one), and one he starred in as Jack Fate (yet another identity) Masked and AnonymousFor my money, watching Cate Blanchett was like seeing the real Dylan at last:
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If there isn’t a word for a rhyme that is really a word repeated with a letter in front of it, there ought to be.  The rhyming use of “last” in “Joey,” is found in the second verse:
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Larry was the oldest, Joey was next to last
They called Joe “Crazy,” the baby they called “Kid Blast

Rhymes like “crush”/”rush,” “snap,”/”nap,” and “flush,”/”lush” are a result of a word consumed by the other, ccccccrush, ssssssssnap, and so forth.  When this kind of rhyme is used I think it pushes the meaning association of each word forward even more.  In the case of the “last/”Blast” rhyme in “Joey,” the reference to Joey as the next to last and then rhymed with “Blast,” presages how he is killed by a blast:
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One day they blew him down in a clam bar in New York
He could see it comin’ through the door as he lifted up his fork
He pushed the table over to protect his family
Then he staggered out into the streets of Little Italy

This deadly blowing down or blast took place specifically at Umberto’s Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street in Little Italy.  More specifically, the table in the foreground is where Joey Gallo ate his last supper.
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The couplet that rhymes “fast” with “last” may be the moment in “You’re A Big Girl Now” that best illustrates Michael Gray’s comment that it is about “whether a decaying relationship can withstand the strains of time and other lovers”:
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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

When a relationship is held together by its last thread time does seem to have gone too fast–what has so rapidly spiraled out of control to get us to this point?  The tragedy of a broken relationship happens when even all that’s been shared won’t have the strength to fix it–Gray’s “strain of time” phrase is so aptly worded.  The shame is when a relationship can’t withstand the strain of time past and time future, when the past has no lasting power to promise any future.
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Robert Shelton writes about the song, “Rarely has his singing been more openly emotional.”  The desperate promises and hopes that follow “last” in this verse help to achieve that rare effect.  Shelton even goes on to say that the “oh” stresses throughout the song remind him “of the screaming mouth of the sufferer in Evard Munch’s painting”:
Listening to the song with that image in mind has an even more lasting effect:
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Tough Mama” uses “past” “fast” and “last” to help invoke the White Goddess, the mythological figure central to Robert Grave’s dense study of the same name. Dylan met Graves in 1962 and admits in Chronicles that “I wanted to ask him about some of the things in his book, but I couldn’t remember much about it.”  Michael Gray asserts that “Bob Dylan has often cited Graves, specifying The White Goddess as a significant influence upon his own work.”  The White Goddess, a poet’s muse, is associated with the North Wind, brightness (like the moon’s), and wolves:
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Sweet Goddess
Born of a blinding light and a changing wind
Now, don’t be modest, you know who you are and where you’ve been
Jack the Cowboy went up north
He’s buried in your past
The Lone Wolf went out drinking
That was over pretty fast
Sweet Goddess
Your perfect stranger’s comin’ in at last

The song is threaded with other three word rhymes, crew/through/you, rise/skies/eyes, crotch/watch/notch, sight/appetite/tonight.  This is an effort to pay homage to her as the poet’s muse.  Once invoked, the White Goddess is one tough mama.  As Graves says, she “may make [the poet] her instrument for a month, year, seven years, or even more.”  But once she is done using him, the poet is spent, and writes as Graves adds, “in helpless attestation of this . . . whose love is never returned.”  Blood on the Tracks  was soon to follow the album “Tough Mama” appears on.  Arguably, Blood on the Tracks is the expression of just this kind of “helpless attestation.”
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In his Bob Dylan Like a Complete Unknown, David Yaffe discusses the revamped video version of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” directed by Rupert Jones, musically enhanced by a group called the Dap-Kings.  In the video the various phases of Dylan’s career are depicted, the Dylan look-alikes transitioning from one period to the next.  Yaffe says that writing about Dylan now is like that video, “as if recalling a series of dreams.”  The interpretation this video offers moves away from one that involves a break-up in a relationship, to one that is a shedding of one’s self for another self (“shedding off one more layer of skin”).  This shift makes the bridge with the “last“/”past” rhyme repeated three times have new meaning, too:
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I’m gonna let you pass
And I’ll go last
Then time will tell just who fell
And who’s been left behind
When you go your way and I go mine

The offer to go last seems kindly at first, gentlemanly even, right?  But it becomes instead a competition for who will last once time has its say.  The one self letting the other self pass while the other goes last is fascinating.  The current Dylan whatever phase that’s in will always go last, but the one that will last may be up to every one of us.   The 1965-1966 Dylan has much staying power what with the likes of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde.  But that’s just one way to go. Dylan’s going his way.
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The lines from “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” that use “last” in an assonance dance with “grass” and “glass” refers to well protected pockets:
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With your pockets well protected at last
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass

Christopher Ricks in his chapter on “Sad-Eyed” adds the word “resistance” to pockets when referring to the items the song “insists upon listing”:  “her pockets of resistance.” The dimension Ricks adds with that word moves the “pocket” line away from a longing to be financially secure (“at last“) to one much less mundane–one that depicts this Sad-Eyed lady as someone who has always wanted to have her ability to resist protected, perhaps someone who has reached a place in her mind or emotionally where she can hold her desires in check.  More than anything what this narrator is able to reveal about her  speaks of how well he knows her.  To know so certainly how deeply someone feels is to reach a place, too, “at last,” that says something about what lovers, like no other companions, can express to each other.  I thank Ricks for that one word added, making the line so much more rich with meaning.
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Joyce Carol Oats said that she had “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” on her mind when she was writing “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.”  She may have meant the sound of it or Dylan’s voice, but most likely she had the lyrics floating through her imagination.  If so, the lines that start the song with the rhyme “fast”/”last” may have mattered most of all to her creative energy:
You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

Connie, the rebellious teen protagonist of the story only plays with danger until it comes knocking on her door in the form of Arnold Friend.  Many “lasts” happen in the story for Connie as she no longer will be the same after her “Friend”ly encounter, and she is forced to have to think fast about what she has to grab fast to enter the world Friend forces her into:

“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.”

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Christopher Ricks observed that “last” is used in the last verse of “The Times They Are A-Changin‘.”  The same can be said of “Chimes of Freedom“:  “As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look.”  Though not in rhyme, but in repetition the word chimes for us in that last verse.  But in “Times” the three rhymes with “last” chime incessantly:

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The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last

Ricks and Shelton notice the Biblical link to the ending line of this verse, Ricks citing Matthew 19:30:  “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”  Shelton, Mark 10:31:  But many that are first will be last and the last first.”  In “Chimes,” those in last, the “underdog soldier,” “the rebel,” “the luckless,” the gentle, and “the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse” come first in the attention Dylan gives them.  In “Times” the warning is that those in last will no longer be, predicting the demise of those who benefit from and exploit the status quo.

Here’s Bob singing it in 2010, at the White House, perhaps no better time and place for that song to chime about the last being first:
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