“Tombstone Blues” (1965)

In Who Is That Man, David Dalton says of  “Tombstone Blues” it “is old-fashioned Buck Owens country rock (overlaid with Chicago blues guitar leads) that chimes perfectly with the mock hillbilly yarn.”   I think Scorcese captured that well in the scene this song appears in No Direction Home where the young, black Dylan sings it porch-side.   The rhyming word “Shoes” filters its way six times through this song, as part of the chorus.  But shoes are not really there–Mama ain’t got none:

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse (Dylan sings “food” )
I’m in the streets (Dylan sings “kitchen”)
With the tombstone blues

Dylan wrote “fuse” but sings “food” but either way with “shoes” and “blues” the rhyme supports the “mock-hillbilly yarn” of it all .  Catchy as all get-out, it’s hard to get this chorus out of your head once you hear it.

Here’s an audio of it from 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival:


“The Ballad of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest” (1968)

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,” Robert 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 Portsmouth in 2000 sometime within 24 hours of midnight:

“Scarlet Town” (2012)

In “Scarlet Town,” Dylan keeps to rhyming couplets and mostly perfect rhymes, for example, in the third and fourth verses:

Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William Holme on his deathbed lay
Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
Kissin’ his face and heapin’ prayers on his head
So brave, so true, so gentle is he
I’ll weep for him as he would weep for me
Little Boy Blue come your blow horn
In Scarlet Town, where I was born
In the beginning of the song where the town is depicted as perfect, bravery in the face of death, the promise of reciprocal weeping, and fairy tales references, perfect rhyming makes sense.  Later though, we sneak a peek at what’s under the covers of perfection and we see torn hems, the end being near, and hearts on platters, junky whores.

Dylan tells us that evil and good live side by side in Scarlet Town–one side, the left side imperfect, no rhymes, right side, all perfect rhymes, or just about, in Scarlet Town, where “All things are beautiful in their time.”

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

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 instead as being “under the hill.”  Still plenty to do and experience when not over the hill.  “All things are beautiful in their time” sits in the last verse.  But Dylan’s beautiful times are not over yet, never-ending in fact; his bell still rings, after all.

Here’s its live debut (audio), Winnipeg, 2012.


“Ring Them Bells” (1989)

There’s a beautiful rhyme with “will” in “Ring Them Bells.” It appears in the third verse, third of five:
Ring them bells Sweet Martha
For the poor man’s son
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep

It’s a sneaky rhyme, as it requires “know” so that “will know” reverberates when the internal rhyming hits two lines down with “willows.” And just in case you pass it up, “filled” appears at the end of the line to team up with “will,” so that a three word rhyming weaves through the verse along with “asleep”/”weep”/”sheep.”
Oh (notice too the “know”/”Oh” rhyme–Dylan doesn’t care where words rhyme), Dylan was back when Oh Mercy hit the records stores.  The word got out back in 1989.  He’s back . . . Ring them bells!
Here’s a truly pleasant version of this gem of a song from 2000 performed in Dublin:

“Restless Farewell” (1964)

In Chronicles Dylan says, “Sometimes you know things have to change, are going to change , but you can only feel it . . .  but you don’t know it in a purposeful way.”  Maybe this is why the farewell in “Restless Farewell” is a restless one.  The speaker is uneasy, agitated, regretful, but finger-pointing, insinuating in his targets.  The “fast”/”past” rhyme, maybe the first time Dylan used it, helps express the break to come, the need for change, the inevitability of it:

Oh ev’ry girl that ever I’ve touched
I did not do it harmfully
And ev’ry girl that ever I’ve hurt
I did not do it knowin’ly
But to remain as friends
And make amends
You need the time and stay behind
And since my feet are now fast
And point away from the past
I’ll bid farewell and be down the line

Robert Shelton says that “[t]ime is crucial in this song.”  Time to go, time to leave the past behind, time to move on, time to cut ties, time to make the break. It’s also the last song of ten on this memorable album; maybe Bob was restless about leaving it and the work and joys that went behind creating it.

Dylan chose to sing this song at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday celebration, a restless farewell of sorts, to a man whose time was to come (he died at the age of 82).  Time goes by fast . . . the last time Dylan would sing this song live was near his own birthday, May 24, on May 21, 1998.  Birthdays are celebrations of our years.  “Restless Farewell” to them Dylan seems to be saying, so we can “point away from the past.”