“Isis” (1975)

“I said” and “Isis” work well together in “Isis.”  In the next to last verse there’s a barrage of “she saids” and I saids“:

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She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, not quite”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I jes might”

and yes this is dialogue, not poetry, at least we read it that way.  The sound of it though keeps “Isis” alive throughout the song, as in the last verse,

Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain

s’s and i’s banging together and reverberating in memorable ways.

“said” also appears though at the end of a line finishing the rhyme with “wed” in verse 6:

How she told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed
If I only could hang on and just be her friend
I still can’t remember all the best things she said

“again” and “friend” don’t rhyme no matter how hard you try to, but “wed”/”said” rhymes no matter how you say it.  Yet, “again” looks like it has a better shot at rhyming with “said,” even a better chance as “Isis” rhyming with “I said.”  But it doesn’t.

Don’t trust your eyes, Dylan seems to be saying, trust the sound, trust what you hear, trust going to “the wild unknown country where [you can] not go wrong.” Trust a voice like this singing Isis in 1975 during his Rolling Thunder tour, yes, it IS NECESSARY!!:

 

 

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“If You Ever Go To Houston (2009)

Daniel Mark Epstein calls “If You Ever Go to Houston,” his personal favorite” off of Together Through Life.  He sees it as “a hip lecture on how to handle yourself in the hot towns of the Lone Star State.”

When I first heard “If You Ever Go To Houston,” I thought, too, ah, yes, one of Bob’s familiar advice giving songs a la “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but then I thought why Houston?  He could have picked anywhere, but not if you’re looking for a city in the U.S. that has the sound “you” in it, Youston! And this song is about you and me, as it is with most of Dylan’s songs, and the rhymes with “me” in the next to last verse demonstrate the you/me relationship that I think Dylan wants going on or at least going on for our ears to hear:

Mr. Policeman
Can you help me find my gal
Last time I saw her
Was at the Magnolia Hotel
If you help me find her
You can be my pal
Mr. Policeman
Can you help me find my gal

The verse ends with the teasingly pleasing double rhyme “be my pal”/”me find my gal.”

Advice? Yes, if you ever go to Houston, but in Youston expect to find me.

My article in this Dylan anthology of articles on millennium Dylan songs on the Together Through Life album includes discussion of this song.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-new-dylan-anthology-tearing-world-apart-bob-21st-nina-goss-phd

 

Here’s the first live version Dylan every played, Dublin, May 5, 2009:

 

“Crash On the Levee” (“Down In The Flood”) (1967)

David Yaffe says Dylan recycled “a motif from a Memphis Minnie blues” with “The Levee’s Gonna Break.”  Recycling is a relevant word when it comes to the constant identical rhyming found in the song.  Each verse begins with a duplicate rhyme, “break”/”break”, “day”/”day”, “new”/”new” etc.  The word “head”  following “bed”/”bed” in the third to last verse offers an example:
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I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I ain’t got enough room to even raise my head
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Dylan loves to thieve.  We all know that.  But Shakespeare did, too.  Most of his plays are created out of other sources.  He may very well have plundered a contemporary’s The Taming of a Shrew to write his own The Taming of the Shrew.   But it’s what he did with previous sources that matters.  Theft, of the kind that involves lifting and then rewriting material from sources, is duplicating followed by invention.  Dylan mirrors this in “Crash On The Levee” with duplicating rhymes followed by full rhyming words.  “If I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break, if I keep on writing the duplicate rhyme is gonna break . . .”
Here’s an outtake live performance audio version of the song with Dylan and The Band:

“Cold Irons Bound” (1997)

Cold Irons Bound” is one of Dylan’s journeying songs, Kerouac-esque in its driving hard towards somewhere and being ardent-hearted in the purpose.  The song gets you thinking about what it means to be bound towards something or somewhere, and whether that involves having a free will at all.
“Bound” has a disruptive rhyming power in the song, it disturbs the rhyming couplets we get used to throughout the song four times; the last stanza repeats “bound” at the end of the last two lines to unite the word in a rhyming parody of sorts.
The “will“/”kill” rhyme is not bound by “bound”–boundless it is in the seventh of ten verses:

Some things last longer than you think they will
There are some kind of things you can never kill

 

There’s  a dark side to this song, the speaker sounds desperate.  “Will” linked by rhyme to “kill” helps evoke the darker purpose to this journey.  Somethings last longer, but some don’t then, yes?  Somethings you can’t kill, but some you can, yes?  Most of the time . . .

This is an American song . . . linked to the likes of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.

Image result for captain ahab moby dick

He’s hearing voices, what he’s bound for I can’t tell.  Dylan’s voice takes us down this road with him, we’re bound to listen, taking us with him, and we’ve all been there before, determined, with a will to be on the road, cold irons bound.

The now-classic video:

“Can’t Wait” (1997)

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.

The first verse includes another clash, a singer trying to walk the line (side to side, horizontal movement) surrounded by people all around going up and down (vertical movement):

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, threatening to attempts to walk a line.
It’s  a song structured with terminal rhymes, each end of the line rhymes, and this song seems about being at the end of the line (walking a line until it ends) or one’s line, or rope, though if the line’s long enough maybe he’ll just have to wait, or we will; it’ plays out as 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.
Played live 187 times over a 15 year period (1997-2012), the song’s had a good run.  Here’s one from the late 90’s most likely, admired by many listeners:

“Boots Of Spanish Leather” (1963)

What is Bob Dylan’s finest love song?  Christopher Ricks, under the category of “Faith” (one of “The Heavenly Graces”) in his book Dylan’s Vision of Sin, thinks it’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.”  So I assume he’d give it four stars.  The song though has only one:
Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’
It’s the fourth verse, one of the four that begins with “Oh,” and it may be the most heartfelt expression from the, shall I say, male lover who does not want his beloved to depart.  Ricks is right that this song doesn’t ask for anything, and in this verse, the lover would even give up great possessions like stars and diamonds if he had them for just one of her sweet kisses.  They’d also be the shiniest stars since they’d be from the darkest night–perhaps the one coming once the Dear John letter arrives in verse seven:
I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’
This finest of love songs has a rhyme that haunts me, and it’s one repeated, and not from the chorus, unusual for Bob, so the rhyme must have meant something to him in this song.  It appears in the second and fourth of nine verses:

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin

There it is, delightfully forced, “ocean” and “ownin.”  Those two words are thematically meaningful in the song, lovers separated by an ocean (time is an ocean) and the relinquishing of owning anything, anyone (even her?).

But then there’s that “o” sound, as in “oh, oh, oh.  The pain of losing her is stressed from this pervading sound, not only appearing in those verses, but in three others for a total of five; the sound of emotional despair, the sound that can come from punishment, intense and persistent as wearing boots of Spanish leather, a reference to a torture device used during the Spanish Inquisition.

It’s Dylan’s voice, not quite tortured, but getting there, that captures just the right tone that makes this a legitimate pick for his finest love song.  Always worth a listen: