“Black Diamond Bay” (1975)

Image result for desire dylan

On May 25, 1976, the day after Dylan’s 35th birthday, Dylan performed this song at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the first encore (see the playlist below from setlist.com) and would never perform it again (at least not up until the time I am writing this).  I wish I was there; I would have been 16, still reeling from Blood On The Tracks, which was the album that started my passion for Bob. I would have loved every minute of it.  I wonder if he changed any of the lyrics, how it was received by the audience, and if it told the same story.

It is co-written with Jacques Levy, who was a dominant influence on Desire, perhaps not the least of which was to thread that whole album with the theme of desire, objects of desire, being desirable, and thwarted desires–dreams deferred and such.

The imagery and descriptions are remarkable.  The girl we are introduced to with her necktie and Panama hat (a surviving artifact of the volcano we are told in the last verse) is certainly desirable, and she is so we know to at least two men in the tragic tale.  It is tragedy though seen as inconsequential, despite the onrush of events and the increasing alarming pace at which they unfold, and the deaths more than just implied, it’s just best to get another beer, say nothing, and conclude that if it doesn’t affect me directly it’s not of any importance:

Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
Seems like every time you turn around
There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear
And there’s really nothin’ anyone can say
And I never did plan to go anyway
To Black Diamond Bay

It’s the fallout of distant TV news reporting, the inundation of stories like these that just don’t stop; people live, love, flirt, gamble, talk, do business, laugh, seek help and affection, and experience death.  We, not yet characters in some hard-luck story, just move on.

The rhyming impressively is as structured as it gets and this doesn’t get lost when hearing the song and it sounds so inviting to the ear that none of it seems stilted. Dylan’s consistent voice moves the tale and song along with a pace as smooth as a moon fading or cranes flying away, a voice calling us ” to come on in,” and an accompanying violin played by Scarlet Rivera that makes the voice and instrument experience like hearing crickets talking back and forth in rhyme.   The rhyme pattern consistent through seven verses of twelve lines each is a/b/c/c/b/d/e/f/e/g/g/g with the “e” rhymes stealing the show and the “g” rhymes building to the end of each verse awaiting Dylan’s resounding melisma, “Baaaaaaaay,” each time.

March 25, 1976 Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, Utah, Setlist

 

All Over You (1963)

Anyone familiar with the Rolling Stones’ lyrics to “Let It Bleed,” will see connection to the eroticism in a title like “All Over You.” But to push that sexually aggressive voice more, Dylan adds a stalking predator voice to the lyrics, not present in “Let It Bleed,” as in the last four lines of the next to last and last verses:

Well, if I’m ever standin’ steady
A-doin’ what I want to do
Well, I tell you little lover that you better run for cover
’Cause babe, I’ll do it all over you

Well, after I do some of these things
I’m gonna do what I have to do
And I tell you on the side, that you better run and hide
’Cause babe, I’ll do it all over you

At the end of a performance of the song on July 25, 1963, Dylan says, “That’s kind of a mad song.”  Mad?  Angry mad? Mad as in a madness? Either way, the humor in the song is underscored during the whole performance and from the audience’s response during and after.

For me, the crucial word for a less on the surface interpretation is found in the word “over.”  The singer in this song is not mad at the target of his obsession but at himself for not doing all he could do over her, as in because of her, as in being head over heels in love with someone, or not being able to get over someone. If I had another chance to do it all over, and watch out, I will, is threatened all over the song, I would do it all because of  you (her).  The singer is promising that he will do it right if he gets a next time, and that next time will involve him being totally focused on her; everything he does will be for her.

The rhymes are alternating; in each of the 12 line verses, lines 2 and 4, 6 and 8, and 10 and 12 rhyme.  There’s internal rhyming starting with verse 2 found in lines 1 and 3, and that pattern continues in verses 3 and 4.  The internal rhymes are clever and arguably the most amusing, as in,

I’d jump up in the wind, do a somersault and spin.

And I grab me a pint, you know that I’m a giant

The terminal rhymes consist of do/you at the end of three of the four verses.  That’s  a rhyme often repeated in “All I Really Want To Do” as well.  I see the the meaning of this song similarly.  In “All I Really Want To Do,” all he really wants to do is not mistreat her; though in “All Over You,” he might seem to threaten mistreatment, it all depends on how “over” is interpreted.  To appreciate the double-meaning in this song, as in, say a song like “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” we may need to get over what doing something all over someone might mean.

Here’s that 7/12/63 performance:

 

Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) (1978)

“A pathway that leads up to the stars” is suggestive of a stairway to heaven, yet “Where Are You Tonight,” which includes a reference to stars, offers no easy ticket to paradise– reach for the stars but expect scars:

There’s a white diamond gloom on the dark side of this room
And a pathway that leads up to the stars
If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise
Remind me to show you the scars

By rhyming “stars” with “scars,” Dylan conveys that one cannot be achieved without the other.  The song goes like that.  The forbidden fruit that results in the erotic juice running down his leg is paid for by meeting her boss.  Beauty fades while he watches her undrape.  A woman he longs for drifts like a satellite.  Doubling, the this but that, the at what cost that ties to every pleasure, captured with a rhyme, “stars“/”scars.”  There may be no other rhyme in Dylan so riveted to the theme of a song than this one.

The magnificent internal rhyming in this song is up there with the shake your head admiration of it in songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”  Listening intently for it is so worth the while.

Below is Dylan live singing it in 1978 in Charlotte, NC, the very year Street Legal was released, and the last year he sang it (33 times from July to December):

 

 

When I Paint My Masterpiece (1971)

Though the title of this song points towards the future, everything else in it is about the here and now, with a singer busy hurrying, dating, dodging and wasting time, and that’s just in the first ten lines.  The action is on display with the words that rhyme with “masterpiece,” those being “niece” (Levon sings”pretty little girl from Greece,” not “Botticelli’s niece” as the bobdylan.com lyrics state), “geese,” and “police.”  The content of the song hinges on the date with this girl, and being outdoors, running, sailing, flying with and through nature, and rebellion mixed with danger what with the need to dodge lions, cope with a frightening plane ride, and avoid police who hold down a newspaperman eating candy” (for eating candy?).

The song uses an alternate rhyming pattern with some delightful rhymes “Coliseum” with “see’em,” “memory” with”rhapsody,” and “gondola with “Coca-Cola.” However, there are exceptions to the pattern in the 5th and 7th lines of verses 1 and 3.  Also, the song consists of 4 verses of 8 lines each, with the third verse as the exception at only 2 lines containing the memorable “gondola”/Coca-Cola” rhyming couplet.

So it’s not a perfectly symmetrical rhyming or consistently structured  masterpiece. What of it?  This is a song about making claim to creating a future masterpiece, but for now there’s a whole lot of living to do, filled with some fears and memories, but mostly fun and anticipation, and little yearning: “Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola.”

Masterful, however, is how Levon sings it. The song seems made for him, and probably was.  Below is a live version with Dylan singing it, and the studio with Levon at the helm singing it in his own way of singing a rhapsody.

 

Unbelievable (1990)

Stars are far, unbelievably so. This comes across in “Unbelievable” when “star” and “far” pair up for the rhyme in the first verse:
It’s unbelievable, it’s strange but true
It’s inconceivable it could happen to you
You go north and you go south
Just like bait in the fish’s mouth
Ya must be livin’ in the shadow of some kind of evil star
It’s unbelievable it would get this far

Unbelievable, too, is the notion that you could be living under an evil star, unless superstition is your thing.  But if it is, Dylan undercuts it beginning the next verse:

It’s undeniable what they’d have you to think
It’s indescribable, it can drive you to drink

If I start believing that I’m living under an evil star, I think I will have a drink; indeed it would mean I’ve taken bad things that happen to me a bit too far, maybe as is done when we think of those lovers in Romeo & Juliet as “star-crossed.” Maybe not such an unbelievable literary reference what with the rhyming “sonnet” like couplets taking up all the end of line terminal rhymes.  When Romeo and Juliet first meet, their first words to each other form a sonnet.
Here’s DiCaprio and Danes pulling off that trick:
Yes, unbelievable, strange but true, inconceivable even . . . love and fate, that is.
Dylan’s official video of “Unbelievable,” with a much different kind of romance and Juliet, and fate, maybe even with a name . . . Jack?

“Soon After Midnight” (2012)

Tempest‘s “Soon After Midnight,” is the only Dylan song with “midnight” in its title.  It took him fifty years to get it in one.  It also is part of the chorus of the song, “It’s soon after midnight,” “It’s” added to force an internal rhyme.

Something else is going on with it though in terms of rhyme as the song progresses freeing it from just the internal repetitive rhyme.  “Midnight” is used four times in the song; the last three times, Dylan uses the words, “”eye,” “mink,” and “think,” to rhyme with both “i” sounds found in “midnight.”

My favorite line in the song is “And I’ve got a date with a fairy queen.”  Now this could just be plans to read Spenser’s epic (though it’s not capitalized), but as far as real fairy queens go, Titania fits the bill.  In this song, she works, too, with an “i” sound that matches “midnight”‘s, the way an internal rhyme might.  But she’s not there or her name isn’t, so her name is a rhyme not there, but there if “fairy queen” lets her enter your mind.

The whole song for me is a bit dreamy, the ways things are in A Midsummer night’s Dream, where nothing is at it seems, especially Bottom’s Dream.

 

Here’s panama hat adorning Bob on piano and singing it live in Chicago, 2014.

Shooting Star (1989)

Dylan opens “Shooting Star” at a concert in Rome during a 1991 tour saying that this is a song about “watching people pass you by.  They seem to come out of nowhere and pass you right by. ”  In Chronicles, he writes about how writing the song involved a coming out of nowhere: He calls it [t]he kind of song you hear when you’re wide awake in your head and see and feel things, but all the rest of you is asleep.” I take both of these comments as meaning that anything can be a shooting star, people, lyrics, melody, sound, etc; anything can enter your world, the world, shoot into you and then out, but trigger thoughts you weren’t planning to have, thoughts about a you, a me, and regrets, about some you and me:

Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say

The rhyming in verses 1, 2, and 4, comprising three fourths of the song, have a strict pattern of a/b/c/b/d/b/a/b.  The b sounds in verse one are triggered by “you,” in 2, by “me,” and in 4 by “away,” the slipping away of the star, like how rhymes slip in and of a song that has rhymes.

The third verse is remarkable for what it shoots into the song, namely the last fire truck from hell (what a peculiar image that is), and things heard for the last time, the sermon on the mount, the last radio.  The rhyme pattern in it is a/a/b/c/d/d/c; it’s a pattern that breaks a pattern, both with the rhymes and the number of lines, 8 for the others, 7 for this one.  It is a verse that within the song comes from nowhere, and then passes right by.  It has a shooting star effect within a song about a shooting star, or all that jolts us into some recognition, memory, self-reflection.

The June 6, 1991, performance in Rome is below.  It’s a lovely one.

Red River Shore (1997?)

This haunting and painful song, left off of Time Out Of Mind, but released for Tell Tale Signs in 2008, has a tight rhyming structure, a/b/c/b from beginning to end, typical ballad stanzas chosen for a ballad of lost love. 16 stanzas keep to this rhyme scheme, eight of which, in an alternating pattern have end rhymes with “shore.”  The sound of those rhymes with “shore” dominate the song, consistent as the water that laps on a river shore.

For sure, many  words rhyme with “shore,” many there that Dylan does not use, “bore,” “core, “four,” and so on, so many more (“more” being another, part of “anymore,” again, used twice.) Curiously,  he repeats two of the rhymes in the  course of those 8 “shore” rhyming stanzas.  Stanza 2 and 14 repeat “door”/”shore,” 6 and 16 “anymore”/shore.  So that makes them linked at least by sound.  Or is there more? Does Dylan want us to tie something together with them?  Here’s 2 and 14 together:

Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of ’em wanting me
Except the girl from the Red River shore

Well, the sun went down on me a long time ago
I’ve had to pull back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River shore

In the first, the singer is inside his own cabin, with women outside it wanting him.  In the second, he has to “pull back from the door,” a door shut to him, wishing for (wanting?) the girl he could never have, or at least never again.  The 8 lines do tell a story of its own.

6:

Well, the dream dried up a long time ago
Don’t know where it is anymore
True to life, true to me
Was the girl from the Red River shore

16:

Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
Except the girl from the Red River shore

In both of these, uncertainty is present, not knowing where the dream went, not knowing if a certain language is used anymore, one that convinces a lover to leave for another lover, the language of love, wooing, courting, the kind associated with poems? In 6, dreams vanish, in 16 so can a person–not being seen at all, but somehow this Red River girl was true to him, maybe only up to that point of their story (from stanza 6 on, we only look back at the past), but maybe true in some other way that 16 ends the song suggesting, that to be seen by a loved one even when no one else can or cares to, is to be remembered, never perhaps forgotten.

But some other truth pervades, one tied to how he defies the last words she says to him, “Go home and live a quiet life.” This balladeer is restless, roaming some countryside, the minstrel, forever caught in love’s thrall, far from quiet, far from home, on a never ending tour.

Nobody Cept’ You (1973)

This is one of my favorite Dylan love songs.  The lyrics have the feel of “Most Of The Time,” but inside this song is a much different world.  Whereas in “Most” pain overshadows how he feels mostly, which is at most “halfway content,”  in “Nobody” all is diminished in the face of love.  Or rather with lyrics like this,

I know somethin’ has changed
I’m a stranger here and no one sees me
’Cept you, yeah you

everything else that makes him feel diminished diminishes.  She inspires the phoenix in him, born again through the ashes that life appears set on reducing him to.  The fire reference in this verse supports this:

You’re the one that reaches me
You’re the one that I admire
Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters to me
And there’s nothing I desire
’Cept you, yeah you\

The rhyming pattern is consistent and then not.  It is ‘cept for the last two verses. Besides the bridge, the first three rhyme a/b/c/b/a/b/e (‘cept for the first which keep the “a’ rhyme going in the fifth line); the last two verses are exceptions, too, with 8 and 9 lines respectfully, and with a rhyme scheme of a/b/c/d/b/c/e/f and a/b/a/c/a/c/d/c/b. So the structure keeps the whole ‘cept thing alive.

The last verse has the most exceptions.  First it combines wording from the opening bridge:

Nothing much matters or seems to please me
’Cept you, yeah you
Nothing hypnotizes me
Or holds me in a spell
Everything runs by me
Just like water from a well
Everybody wants my attention
Everybody’s got something to sell
’Cept you, yeah you

Even better though is how “you” and “me” combine in the last verse.  In the bridge, it’s mostly about “you.”  Elsewhere, it’s mainly about “me.” No separation of bridge and verse in this one. (I prefer to say the rest of the song separates them ‘cept this one.)  In the last verse, “you” and “me” run rampant together, as if this is a world worth staying in, the world of just “you” and “me.”

 

Girl From The North Country (1963)

Rhymes alternate in this classic song to an abab cadence, but Dylan is more dedicated to the b-rhymes than he is to the a’s.  The a’s have echo rhymes (long/long) or imperfect rhymes (ends/winds) or no rhyming (all/night), so on one level the rhymes fade but on another they don’t.

The best rhyme for my money is storm/warm.  That rhyme will never fade for me.  Somethings just never fade, as an image of a loved one.  Unlike the girl in “Trying To Get To Heaven,” whose “memory grows dimmer” and doesn’t haunt the singer “like it did before,” this girl from the north country just can’t be shaken.  Most of the time Dylan keeps to his rhymes, but all of the time he let’s us see her; her image is vivid with that warm coat he wants her wearing and that long hanging hair that flows down to her breasts; we can fill in the rest, and what we fill in won’t shake us either.  Anyone ever caught in love’s thrall keeps such images with them forever, and usually they are affixed to a place like a north country fair.

But not so fast. Cormac McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses has John Grady not think about Alejandra because “he did not know what was coming or how bad it would be . . . he thought she was something he’d better save.”  Perhaps the images we keep conjuring keep fading more and more each time we do.  But songs like this one keep such images forever fresh, forever young.

According to my twitter pals, Ian Wilkinson and Phil, this delightful video of the song is from a February of 1964 Canadian TV special.