Still

Bob Dylan - Duquesne Whistle

Being still and Bob Dylan don’t go together.  He is always moving, changing, on the go, gone even before he gets there.  Many of his songs are about moving on, being unable to keep still, being on the road again, wind blowing him up and down the street, freewheeling Bob, never able to gather moss, much like a rolling stone.  But “still” as in continuous, as in rhyming Simon’s “still crazy after all these years,” is suited to Dylan much better.  His self-dubbed never ending tour gets him into places where his appearance inspires, “Is he still around, still touring, still singing, still putting out records, still performing, still singing “Blowin In The Wind”?  And the answer is yes to all—still doing what he’s been doing since he first arrived in Greenwich Village six decades ago.

Still” examined as a Dylan rhyme word has the promise of revealing stillness and movement in his songs.  I’m certain movement will win out, but maybe it sometimes will in contrast to what Dylan makes still for us.  Each song is a like a photograph—movement caught in repose, sometimes deep repose as in the silence one finds in say the still of the night or in the “still” rhyme that begins “Life Is Hard”:

The evening winds are still
I’ve lost the way and will

Still winds are no winds at all, just as losing your way and will suggests no way and no will at all, nothing to you at all.  No wind, no way, no will.  A chilly wind appears at the end of “Life Is Hard”:

The sun is sinking low
I guess it’s time to go
I feel a chilly breeze
In place of memories
My dreams are locked and barred
Admitting life is hard
Without you near me
Be still the song seems to say and then you can still move again.

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At the end of the first verse in “Scarlet Town,” Dylan keeps the rhyming couplets alive (as he does throughout the song) but uses “still” as an internal rhyme kicker:

In Scarlet Town, where I was born
There’s ivy leaf and silver thorn
The streets have names that you can’t pronounce
Gold is down to a quarter of an ounce
The music starts and the people sway
Everybody says, “Are you going my way? ”
Uncle Tom still workin’ for Uncle Bill
Scarlet Town is under the hill.

It’s the only verse that ends that way.  The “is” in the middle of the last line also keeps the assonance maintained, “Bill,” “is,” “hill.”  This all seems constructed by someone who knows his rhyming, not over the hill with use of it, not over the hill like Scarlet Town isn’t, described instread as being “under the hill.”  Still plenty to do and experience when not over the hill.  “All things are beautiful in their time” the last verse states.  But Dylan’s time has not come, his bell still rings, after all.

Give a listen, with scenes from, Masked And Anoymous (thank you SYDHARTHA SHIVA whoever and wherever you are).

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Shake, Mama, Shake” has “still” in it the way I hoped and expected Dylan to use it, that is as a way to show the movement in stillness and the stillness in movement, as John Keats does so well in the last stanza of “To Autumn,”

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Such movement, such arousal of the five senses, but all so quiet, mellowed, lazy, and serene.

Shake” is packed with three line verses all with line ending rhymes, the second verse with “still” repeated with “hill”:

Well it’s early in the evening and everything is still
Well it’s early in the evening and everything is still
One more time, I’m walking up on heartbreak hill

The speaker is walking, thus the movement, but everything is still, but just maybe everything is still including the speaker.  Heartbreak hill may not be a place, but a feeling inside, not unlike the feeling of doing 21 miles and hitting heartbreak hill in Boston.  Emotionally that is the feeling of heartbreak, but who would know, often heartbreak is kept inside relegated to a stillness of the mind and body while the heart is moving–just ask the Tin Man when he says goodbye to Dorothy.

Usually, I like to keep the audio and video of songs on this blog to Dylan himself, but I found a video of  Canadian Ryan Boldt, lead singer and guitarist of The Deep Dark Woods (speaking of stillness) that is quite moving (pun not intended).   I find his voice both penetrating and soothing; like the bow leaving the violin, his voice remains after the song is over:

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Still” is used 9 times in “Ain’t Talkin,” not surprising since it appears in the refrain of this long song.  The short i vowel sound dominates the refrain with “still” echoing from all the “talkin” and “walkin” going on in it.  There’s much “burnin” and “yearnin,” too, all working to muster a short i-fest throughout the song.

the 8th time “still” appears is the only time it links with a word to create a clean rhyme, and the rhyme is all internal:

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Walkin’ ever since the other night
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ ‘til I’m clean out of sight

“burnin still“/”walkin til” is the full rhyme, not just “still” with “til.”

Much has been made of Dylan’s borrowing from Ovid in this song, from a text that Ovid probably wrote while exiled. Dylan sings it like an exiled wanderer, walkin, burnin, and yearnin.

Here’s a video of it done with much walkin:

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Of “Positively Fourth Street.” Christopher Ricks says the song “has an extraordinary sense of powerfully moving while threateningly not moving.” Of the second line in the last verse of “Not Dark Yet” with “still” completing the couplet rhyme with “will,” Ricks says, “This as contemplation,  not as confrontation.”  So not so threatening then, but hard to conceive.  It would be easier to conceptualize a person standing still but whose mind is moving; here Dylan says he’s moving or it looks that way yet he’s standing still.  I guess we’re all moving since the earth we live on is and that kind of movement is against our will as well, just like being born and dying though not from suicide.

What Dylan does will in this song is many rhymes; each two lines are couplets, and he sings each one in such an unforced fluent and achingly beautiful tone.  Yes, the next to last verse shows his movement from Paris to the sea, but the speaker’s mind is stagnant, numb even, he sings (love that “numb”/”from” rhyme):

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Ricks observes the Keatsian influence in the song–namely to “Ode to a Nightingale.” Much heartache in both, much nearness to the end (not dark yet), fading, even half loving death.  “Do I wake or sleep?,” Keats ends the poem, “not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Still moving but standing still.

This song is always worth a listen:

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By the time you get to the end of “Neighborhood Bully,” Dylan starts pounding away with questions.  Not only is the message clear that we still have to endure bullying and being bullied, stereotypes, propaganda, politics, war, etc., but we still have to put up with having to ask these same damn questions.  How much longer? How much longer?  The “hill”/”still” rhyme in the last stanza is housed amidst questions and time as a factor:

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully

Running out the clock while time stands still is a paradox–one that gets to the complexities involved with the Middle East.   Both the bully on the hill and time are still, standing targets, the bully with time on his side, but the clock is ticking, how much longer?

Good collage of Bob with this 1983 recording session of “Neighborhood Bully” from vimeo:

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Heart of Mine” uses “still” as in calm down, suppress y0ur restlessness.   Dylan commands his heart in this song, advising it to resist giving into passion and thereby deflecting the commitment, hurt, and guilt that will come from it.  It’s a song that does not trust trust in a relationship.  But while doing so it also accuses the heart, his heart of being “malicious and so full of guile,” not trusting it either or most of all. The first line uses “still” to set the tone:

Heart of mine be still
You can play with fire but you’ll get the bill
Don’t let her know
Don’t let her know that you love her
Don’t be a fool, don’t be blind
Heart of mine

A price will be paid if you are not still, at what cost passion, Dylan asks.  There’s  a pain to such resistance though–the kind you have to live with because you didn’t tell someone you love her or him.  This I think is assumed in the song, though it is not given voice, just admonishment to the heart to keep still or else:
If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime
Heart of mine

I’ve always loved the sound of Ron Wood’s guitar picking, like the heart scratching to get out of the coffin Dylan tries to place it in:
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Are you ready is a good question, in casual conversation often asked in preparation for arrivals and departures.  Dylan asks the question over and over again in “Are You Ready,” written for Saved during his 3-4 year Christian phase beginning with Slow Train Comin.  The “still” rhyme is with “will” and its found in the middle of things within the lines of a verse towards the middle:
Am I ready to lay down my life for the brethren
And to take up my cross?
Have I surrendered to the will of God
Or am I still acting like the boss?

I almost didn’t catch that internal rhyme.  And it’s ‘s not the only one.  Answering “Are you ready?” does require some internalizing.
Writing about this song brings back memories.  I heard it at live in 1980 in Syracuse and broke out in chicken pox. This was the playlist:
1. Gotta Serve Somebody
2. I Believe In You
3. When You Gonna Wake Up
4. Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell
5. Cover Down, Break Through
6. Precious Angel
7.  Man Gave Names To All
The Animals
8. Slow Train
9. Do Right To Me Baby
(Do Unto Others)
10. Solid Rock
11. Saving Grace
12. Saved
13. What Can I Do For You?
14. In The Garden
15. Are You Ready?
16. Pressing On
And these the musicians:
Bob Dylan
Guitar, Harp ,Vocals
Fred Tackett
Guitar, Mandolin
Willie Smith
Keyboards
Tim Drummond 
Bass
Jim Keltner
Drums
Background VocalsClydie King
Carolyn Dennis
Regina Harris

(Taken from Norbert Baro’s website I’ve Got a Song to Sing)

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Senor” is an exhausting song, or rather its about exhaustion.  Its universe is the long trail, the dusty unending road, where people on it just keep asking questions like, “Do you know where we’re headin’?” and “How long are we gonna be ridin’?”  It’s a song begging to use the word “still.”  And Dylan does use it all at once three times in the third verse:

There’s a wicked wind still blowin’ on that upper deck
There’s an iron cross still hangin’ down from around her neck
There’s a marchin’ band still playin’ in that vacant lot
Where she held me in her arms one time and said, “Forget me not”

And its use creates an internal rhyming with “blowin,'” “hangin,” and “playin.” Those words are gerunds, nouns formed from verbs, action transformed into inaction. Verb into noun.  Movement and stillness.  The forever blowing, hanging, and playing (still playing Bob?), create still pictures–like paintings or photographs do.  The wind still blowin on that upper deck frames the upper deck; as the cross still handing freeze-frames “her neck.” Likewise, the vacant lot is forever not emptied of any folk but forever populated by a marching band.
It works on so many poetic levels and so does his voice when he sings this verse.  Have a listen:
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I write today on July 4th, a day in the U.S. when many will head to the beach or a lake to celebrate independence with family and friends.  And if we have young children, we will come out of the day with memories of them playing with their sand pails and collecting shells.  When Dylan says on “Summer Days”, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can,” he means it.  The mind can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell . . . “thinking makes it so,” as Hamlet says.  And so we can float back to days and times with our kids and remember them fondly, sentimentally years from now, as if they happened yesterday.  Dylan does this on “Sara,” especially in the second verse with “still” used for internal rhyming with “fill” and “hill”:
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I can still see them playin’ with their pails in the sand
They run to the water their buckets to fill
I can still see the shells fallin’ out of their hands
As they follow each other back up the hill

still” is merely a repeated sound in lines 1 and 3, but it combines with the “in’ in “playin” and “fallin” to stretch a unity of sound or rhyme, enhanced more with the assonance present in the short “e” vowel sound in “them” and “shells.”  “their” is repeated too, like “still” underscoring how they, the children, are still on his mind, perhaps repeatedly.

This is delicate stuff, and Dylan sings it so, capturing the sentiment present in the beauty of days gone by:

Dylan singing it live in 1975:

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In any essay called “The Power of Love,” Michael Dorris said about love that once caught in its thrall, once in you can never really get out: “we are permanently in that love’s thrall, caught in its wake, a part of its flow.” Dylan captures the staying power of love in “If You See Her, Say Hello,” maybe more than in any of his songs.  And it makes sense that “still” as in always would make a prominent appearance in a rhyming role.  This happens in verse two:

We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart

The “will”/”still” rhyme sounds like a perfect end rhyme, but the second line extends bringing “chill” in at the end to shift “still” into an internal rhyme position.  Later, “still” still maintains sound prominence internally with the assonance “still lives inside.”  What brings a chill is how they departed, but she has never left, still living inside of him, “permanently in that love’s thrall.”
I love this version of the song . . . from “Tracks” outtakes, Blood indeed in the tracks of this album . . .  caught in its thrall I am:
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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.”  Still waiting he is 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

Love how Dylan sings, “Ooh, a little touch of your love . . . an outtake of “Hazel” from the 1994 MTV rehearsals:
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Whether or not “When The Ship Comes In” was written because Dylan and Baez were refused a hotel room is the stuff of urban legend or fact is up for debate, but no doubt it’s a song about revenge, a fantasy one at that.  It reminds me of the sensational way Tolkien has the dead summoned by Aragon to take on Gondor’s enemies.  Here’s Peter Jackson’s cinematic spin on that moment:
Of course, this ship coming in gets its just rewards for being full of mercenaries; Dylan’s ship comes in for the heroic rescue, and in the next to last verse, “still” rhymes with “will” for an internal rhyme combined with the end rhyme “rise”/”eyes”:
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in
It’s a good rhyming accompaniment, and it sings well; worth a listen for those lines:
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The most memorable moment in the live recording of “Abandoned Love” is when Dylan sings the line, “But my heart is telling me I love ya but you’re strange.”  And rightfully so–it’s an amusing line.  There are many shifts in this song, a this is happening but then so is this see-sawing.  Such a shift happens with the “still” rhyme in it:

The Spanish moon is rising on the hill
But my heart is a-tellin’ me I love ya still

It’s hard to get why the Spanish moon rising would not elicit and “And”–romantic sentiments are not summoned by a rising moon?  But “but” it is.  And though the “hill”/”still” rhyme is a perfect one, Dylan makes it imperfect by stretching out the “i” in hill the length of the rising moon–about as far as any singer can widen the sound of any vowel. Ricks has a word for that, but I forget it now.  I think the rhyme’s imperfection is a kind of shift, a shift among many in this song.
It really is one of my favorite live Dylan moments: