“The Death of Emmett Till” (1962)

 

This is a song with a finger pointing purpose, namely targeting the KKK, which it directly addresses in the 7th of 7 verses:

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan

Dylan aims at a moment in a horrible chapter of American history, a time when the nation was becoming all too familiar with the atrocities of racism and corrupt courtrooms.  But the word was getting out, and the following years would result in the Civil Rights Act.  No legislation stops hatred outright and certainly not right away, but it could begin to invoke fear, which can only approximate Emmett Tills’ fear that Dylan makes it hard for us to face with lines like this:

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what
They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat
There were screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds
out on the street

They rhyming pattern when it is in a pattern goes like this:  aabb, but Dylan can’t keep to it, as if the subject matter is too severe to keep to any concordant sounds.  In fact, the opening verse has no terminal rhymes:

’Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door
This boy’s dreadful tragedy I can still remember well
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till

The l’s that end well/Till have a timbre to them, but that’s not a rhyme. The rhyming is slow in coming, as if narrative matters more. what/up is close, but it’s a forced rhyme at best beginning the second verse:

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what

repeat/street enters as the first real rhyme at the end of the second verse, and then the aabb pattern emerges in verse 3:

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain
The reason that they killed him there, and I’m sure it ain’t no lie
Was just for the fun of killin’ him and to watch him slowly die

Bit it doesn’t last.  The name Till won’t rhyme with trial:

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this
awful crime
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind

Refuses, too, even.  It’s as if the discordance is there because of the previous verse’s concordance–it’s accentuated–there will be no agreement in sound between that trial and the crime that killed Emmett Till.

Once the trial is “over” in the song, the pleasing to the ear rhyming pattern returns:

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walkin’ down the courthouse stairs
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free
While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea

And rhymes flow free the rest of the way, perhaps so the song can be sung, remembered, as all tragedies of such human indignity and cruelty must:

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood
it must refuse to flow
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live
A hopeful ending to a painful song.

Here’s Dylan performing it on the Radio Show with Cynthia Gooding March 11th 1962:

 

 

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“Spanish Harlem Incident” (1964)

The second and fourth lines of the three verses in “Spanish Harlem Incident” end in rhyme.  But it’s after the fourth lines of each where each verse parts ways with a consistent pattern.  In the first verse, internal rhymes take over:

Your flaming feet burn up the street
I am homeless, come and take me
Into reach of your rattling drums

In the second verse, the lack of terminal rhymes is what’s remarkable.

The night is pitch black, come an’ make my
Pale face fit into place, ah, please!
Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning
If it’s you my lifelines trace

The internal rhyme, face/place stretches the medial rhyme label by having those words rhyme two lines later with “trace” at the end of the line, another kind of tracing from “face” to “place” to “trace.”

“I” begins the third verse and “me” is the center of a barrage ushering in the return of terminal rhymes, much emphasis on assonance in the process:

You have slayed me, you have made me
I got to laugh halfways off my heels
I got to know, babe, will you surround me?
So I can tell if I’m really real

The scheme here is the cross-rhyme alternating lines of rhyme ending abab.

The poetry is gypsy-like in its unpredictability.

Predictable was the Byrds doing a cover of a Dylan song.  Here’s their version of “Spanish Harlem“:

“Spanish Harlem Incident”

Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem
Cannot hold you to its heat
Your temperature’s too hot for taming
Your flaming feet burn up the street
I am homeless, come and take me
Into reach of your rattling drums
Let me know, babe, about my fortune
Down along my restless palms

Gypsy gal, you got me swallowed
I have fallen far beneath
Your pearly eyes, so fast an’ slashing
An’ your flashing diamond teeth
The night is pitch black, come an’ make my
Pale face fit into place, ah, please!
Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning
If it’s you my lifelines trace

I been wond’rin’ all about me
Ever since I seen you there
On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I’m riding
I know I’m ’round you but I don’t know where
You have slayed me, you have made me
I got to laugh halfways off my heels
I got to know, babe, will you surround me?
So I can tell if I’m really real

 

“Rainy Day Women, #12 & 35”

Twenty stones get hurled in “Rainy Day Women, 12 & 35“; that’s a lot of stoning. And with all that stoning going on along with the double-meaning of getting stoned, what gets lost is the word “alone,” rhyming with “stoned” five times, once in each verse. But “alone” is not alone in its rhyming partners in this song; twice it rhymes with “home.”  Once in the first verse:

They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone

and then with a return to home in the last:

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home

No other way to get stoned is repeated in the song, just the one having to do with home.

Can there be a greater feeling of loneliness than getting stoned? The rump-pah-pah New Orleans funeral parade sound underscores the presence of death–death by stoning– No one’s safe from stoning, getting stoned, everybody must, and everyone like Odysseus is trying to get home.

Here’s Dylan singing it for “Live Aid” in 1986; as always a crowd-pleaser, just like a good ole stoning used to be:

(I really like the scarf.)

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ ’long the street
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

They’ll stone ya when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone ya when you are young and able
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

 

“One More Weekend” (1970)

One More Weekend” seems like it was intended to use any rhyming pattern to get what the speaker wants.  First, I’ll throw some abab rhyming couplets her way.  That oughta work to get that weekend with her. And then I’ll try another, with the best rhyme of the lot in the song, “deck”/”suspect.”  But then, to throw her off guard, I’ll try something a bit different, exotic even, aaabcccb, and frame it with two more verses of rhyming couplets.  Does it work? In a fun listening, “To His Coy Mistress-like romp, it sure does.

 

Here’s a ukele bluesey cover version that this band looks like it had fun doing for a 7th Annual Dylan Bday bash:

 

 

Slippin’ and slidin’ like a weasel on the run
I’m lookin’ good to see you, yeah, and we can have some fun
One more weekend, one more weekend with you
One more weekend, one more weekend’ll do

Come on down to my ship, honey, ride on deck
We’ll fly over the ocean just like you suspect
One more weekend, one more weekend with you
One more weekend, one more weekend’ll do

We’ll fly the night away
Hang out the whole next day
Things will be okay
You wait and see
We’ll go someplace unknown
Leave all the children home
Honey, why not go alone
Just you and me

Comin’ and goin’ like a rabbit in the wood
I’m happy just to see you, yeah, lookin’ so good
One more weekend, one more weekend with you
One more weekend, one more weekend’ll do (yes, you will!)

Like a needle in a haystack, I’m gonna find you yet
You’re the sweetest gone mama that this boy’s ever gonna get
One more weekend, one more weekend with you
One more weekend, one more weekend’ll do