“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (1967)

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“You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” creates a brain twister with the double-negative “ain’t”/”nowhere.” Imagine the degrading comment “You Ain’t Goin Anywhere” or worse “You Are Goin Nowhere.” So “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” is actually a positive message because it means you are going somewhere or at least nowhere is where you won’t be going.
This is an easy-breezy front porch singing kind of song. Relax, enjoy life, don’t have a care in the world.  And the “went” rhyme made with “sent” and stretched into “tent” in the second of four verses helps that tone:
I don’t care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack up your tent
You ain’t goin’ nowhere
Whoo-ee! Ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair!
Letters were sent, and the morning done went, but you’re not staying; nope, you ain’t goin nowhere, so pack that tent cause you’re going somewhere, and whoo-ee won’t that be fun, cause the future is not now, not today; today is about the road and the joy of living life day by day, even minute by minute on it.
Such an enjoyable song to listen to.  Here’s Bob singing it live in Bournemouth, 1997:

“Sweetheart Like You” (1983)

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Sweetheart Like You” is one of those songs that make you say, “This is it; this is the one that captured the sound Dylan wanted during this phase of his music.  For me, “Someday Baby” is the song that did the same from 1997 to 2004.  I feel both songs have a certain quality to them that Dylan successfully channeled, epitomizing these different segments of his artistic life.
The line with “glass” in it is a classic onomatopoeia moment of Dylan’s, maybe his best:
You can be known as the most beautiful woman
Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal


Whatever crawling across cut glass would be like is the cr/acr/cut/ss sounds combined with Dylan singing them.

I put this up there with Paul Simon’s “sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon” or Eliot’s “pair of ragged claws scuttling across the sands of silent seas.”

No rhyming attention with this song, but  a brilliant sound effect, poetic, smooth as glass.

Many Dylan fans will remember the video:

“Spirit On The Water” (2006)

Spirit on the Water” consists of 20 verses, each one with perfect rhyming second and fourth lines, the 17th, with “will” rhyming with “hill”:

High on the hill
You can carry all my thoughts with you
You’ve numbed my will
This love could tear me in two

This is one of the ten verses with both alternating lines rhyming.  With half the verses having one rhyme and the other ten having two, Dylan’s rhyming ebbs and flows as if his rhyming spirit is on water in this song.

In the last verse, “hill” appears again,

You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time

but he seems over the rhyming hill with the ill-begotten “got” spoiling the couplet, but not over the hill with “prime” and “time” the last rhyme in the song, a sign of what he’s really ready for, not to be over the hill, but still in prime time.

Dylan not in in his prime at age 72, but not over the hill either, in Lowell, MA, April 2013 (thanks Brosef Wilson, whoever you are).


“Mississippi” (1996)

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Mississippi” is one of my favorite Dylan songs.  I love the tone of his voice and the atmosphere it creates.  I somewhat playfully imagine that the speaker is Odysseus.  I think the song can be interpreted that way with a little stretching.  Odysseus has a knack for staying too long in places in The Odyssey, namely with Calypso and Circe:

Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

The verse with the “star“/”are” rhyme works with The Odyssey as well if you want to let it.  Though Odysseus crosses the “wine-dark sea” to wind up with Nausicaa, a river is impressive enough to get to where you want to be with someone:

Well I got here followin’ the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are

 That southern star also could be someone like Charlie Patton or Jimmie Rodgers, but if it’s a celestial one it could be the one over Ithaca, south of many of the places Odysseus stayed too long.

The lines that rhyme “fast” with “past” in “Mississippi” hit home the mythological reference to Odysseus in The Odyssey:

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Odysseus’s ship is split to splinters in Book 12:

Zeus with thunder and lightning together crashed on our vessel,

and, struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus, she spun in a circle,

and all was full of brimstone. My men were thrown in the water,

and bobbing like sea crows they were washed away on the running

waves all around the black ship, and the god took away their homecoming.

Holding onto what’s left of the ship, Odysseus arrives on the island of Calypso, where he eventually sets sail on a raft and winds up on the shores of Phaecia where he is stripped to nothing, even clothes.  It is here that he must feel that the past he wishes to return to, his home in Ithaka, where he is king, is lost.  Dylan,  conversely, as any study of his life will show, has tried to escape from his past, even lying about it to erase it, “pure hokum–hophead talk,” he calls it in Chronicles.

What Odysseus and Dylan have in common though are women who have come on the scene to save them.  For Odysseus, when he arrives on the shores of Phaecia, Nausicaa, the daughter of the king and queen, pulls him out of the emotional depths (sinkin fast), guiding him to what results in his return home (nostos).  Dylan’s savior women, Suze, Joan, Sara, Carolyn all have, in some way, pulled him out of one phase into another, pulled him out of a sinkin into a past that is a kind of death, one that would end his knack or talent for shape-shifting, from one music to another, one sound to another, one image to another, one personna, etc.

The ancient Greek myth of Nausicaa, by the way, has morphed into Japanese pop culture in the form of a protector of the environment.  As such, she protects our past, the one where nature is not violated, kept unharmed by human greed.  Some things, perhaps the myth and Dylan are telling us, should never become past, never even come to the point of sinkin fast.

The “said“/”bed” rhyme in “Mississippi” is the opposite of an illogical eye rhyme, one that has words that look like they should rhyme but don’t, like “cough”/dough”  “said” does not look like it rhymes with “bed” but it does, confirmed only through speech.  Likewise, dreams are not reality, and so dreaming of sleeping in Rosie’s bed is one thing:

I was thinkin’ ’bout the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleepin’ in Rosie’s bed

The reality another.  Of course, thinking can lead to dreaming. Rosie’s words stirred up in the mind can jingle a dream that puts the dreamer smack dab in her bed.  The voice and the physical strange bed partners? Not in this song where staying one day too long can make you hear and dream things that later on you might say, that was the one thing I did wrong.

Again, Odysseus knows a thing or two about staying too long.  The day he does so with the Sun-god he falls asleep (dreaming of Circe? Calypso?) and while he does, his men eat the Sun-god’s sacred cows as depicted in this painting by Johannus Stradanus:

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“Mississippi” ends with the message, “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” Odysseus’ men pay for their forbidden act with their lives, Odysseus for his sleep with the loss of his men.  Yes, you can go back but not all the way back, as you thought of, maybe dreamed.  Dreams do affect reality, as do rhymes about saying and sleeping.

This song slept for six years before it was released on Love and Theft in 2002, and stayed unperformed way too long until Bob sang it in Oregon on October 9, 2001.  Here’s audio of that live performance.


“Like A Rolling Stone” (1965)


Dylan asks many questions in his songs, the interrogative mood pervades but sometimes is used as a disguise for flat out interrogation.  Even when he tells us where the answer is, as in “blowin in the wind,” we’re implicated as accomplices for the answer always being out of reach.  But sometimes the question is aimed more specifically at a person, a character in the song; isn’t that right Mr. Jones? (Do you, Mr. Jones), or to the women in “Is Your Love in Vain” and “What Was It You Wanted,” or the male in “Positively Fourth Street” who is asked several  questions that could make anyone’s skin crawl, one being “Do you take me for such a fool?” But no song asks as penetrating a question as the one that dominates the chorus in “Like A Rolling Stone,” “How does it feel?”

Christopher Ricks has added up the “you’s” used in the song, almost 30, and in the last verse, 8.  The attack on the recipient of abuse (deserved or not) is unrelenting.  I used to think this was a song with Dylan playing his pronoun shifting game, the “you” being “I”; in other words, he was asking these questions of himself.  But I see it now as a story of a former prima donna whose world of privilege, affluence, and entitlement has collapsed, and the speaker is thrilled to mock her new found rock bottom status and see it as deserved and an opportunity to revenge her treatment of him and/or others in the form of song.

But, in the 1960’s, the question burst out of the context of the song.  “How does it feel?” is a question for a generation, maybe everyone’s since; it is a question with so much visceral power in it that it forces self-examination, exploration, and reflection.  And the answer may not be a negative one.  In Dylan’s Vision of Sin, Ricks studies the evolution of the “a rolling stone gathers no  moss” parable.  In agrarian societies, the answer to “how does it feel to be on your own,” should be negative; moss implies roots, staying put meant one keeping to responsibility and remaining dependable. It’s also where the money was earned and available.  In the 60’s, however, the answer may be positive; to be on one’s own was a goal …a dream; forging out on one’s own meant releasing the shackles of others’ expectations, striking out against social norms, and breaking toxic ties that bind with dehumanizing impact.  The auditor in this song may not feel that way now, but perhaps in time being on her own and far away from the life she knew might be reaffirming, as in the Willa Cather phrase, “the road is all, the end is nothing.”

How does any of this interpreting relate to the rhymes in the song? Well, I see stones with moss and others with none; in other words I see patterns that maintain a certain structure, no departures, no striking out against the rhyming  norms and even expectations of the song.  Each 9 line (no changes in that) verse’s rhyming pattern is a/b/c/b/d/d/d/d/e.  And each of the “b” rhymes are echo rhymes, merely repeated words, except for the last verse where “made” rhymes with “babe,” making the verse, on its own, so to speak (sing?).  Likewise the famous bridge with the “How does it feel question, remains the same, sung 4 times,

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

but with one exception.  The first time Dylan sings it the “With no direction home” is absent. That version of the bridge is on its own.

Finally, the 4 verses are united by the “e” rhymes that end each one; the rhyming words are “meal,” “deal,” “steal,” and “conceal.”  The ending of every verse has its own “e” sound, unique to each, but not exactly when each part of the whole is taken into account.  Dylan’s use of melisma to stretch out the syllable “eeeeeeeee” sound forces the listener to hear the reverberating power of the each verse’s contribution to the ultimate question, “How does it feeeeeeeeeel?” Each verse feels like a rolling stone with no moss, but together, the moss, for good or bad, has taken root through the whole song.

Here’s Dylan sing it with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during their Australian tour in 1986.



Project 359

“Senor” (1978)


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 from this live performance:

“Make You Feel My Love” (1997)

Listen closely to this verse from “Make You Feel My Love
When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

Something sneaky to the ear is going on here.  When I initially heard the first line I thought “shadows” was a verb, as if the evening shadows something, but “and” joins “shadows” to “the stars” making that impossible. “appears”/”tears”/years” are the rhyming words.  But “stars appear” with “your tears” does something else for the ear.  I think it’s the t in “stars” as well as the r that accompanies the r in “your” and the t in “tears” that gives it a sing-ability, a tonal unity good for the singer, good for the listener, and distant for the reader.
As Christopher Ricks says, “Every song, by definition, is realized only in performance.”  I think this can be said of this verse–listen closely to the way Dylan sings it and I think you’ll hear  the sounds from those letters mesh into words to create a tone that echoes throughout the song and perhaps the entire cd.

“I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” (1968)


The song titles on John Wesley Harding have six “I”‘s in them, two in “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.”  And that first person perspective makes an indelible impact, especially at the end when the word “glass” appears.  The song is an account of a dream involving participation in an execution.  The speaker’s reaction to the dream, the culpability felt from being responsible for someone’s death, is profound, and it is captured immediately upon his return from sleep:


I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger
So alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried


The reaction of the “I” in the song is accentuated by the “I” sound that appears ten times in eight lines.  The personal response to the dream arguably is dramatized more than the dream, with the figure left caught in a freeze-frame leaning against glass (Robert Shelton asks, “What is ‘the glass’ he touches before crying? A window, a telescope, or a mirror?) “glass” is left un-rhymed, not peculiarly so as a pattern is present.  The odd numbered lines do not have rhyming end words.  Anger, loneliness, and terror combine to cause bowing and crying.  “glass” plays a memorable role in the “I”‘s distraught condition.

In all of Dylan’s “dream” songs this may be the one with the most emotion with the touch of glass the only support for a grieving man. In all, the response seems to be more about the “I” than St. Augustine’s, a self that has died, a self that was once “alive with fiery breath,” a self seen through a “looking-glass” of a dream, a self no longer.


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Here’s Bob and Joan singing it at Madison Square Garden during the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975.

“High Water Rising (For Charley Patton)” (2001)

Call it “cultural plunder” (Lott) or “yoking” (Yaffe) “High Water” is an amalgam of allusions, references, borrowings, gleanings,  and sifting.  That said, the prophet in Dylan sure got it right that after 9/11 (Love and Theft released on 9/11) many people have lived feeling that their heads are just above water.  The song is packed with messages of how tough, rough, and bad it is “out there.”  The verse with a “head”/”lead”/”said” rhyme helps reinforce this sentiment:

High water risin’, six inches ’bove my head
Coffins droppin’ in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin’ into Vicksburg, don’t know what I’m goin’ to do
“Don’t reach out for me,” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”
It’s rough out there
High water everywhere

There’s keeping just above the dangers and threats, almost drowning, not dark yet but getting there, and we’re in this together–this is all over the place, happening to me and you stuff that nightmares are made of in this verse.  Coffins droppin like balloons is quite an image.  There’s staying above but going over implied in these lines, too.  Things go over like lead balloons.  Greil Marcus notes that what drops harder than anything in this song is the word “care” and the way Dylan says it in the line, “Either one, I don’t care”/High water everywhere.”  Dylan not caring goes over like a lead balloon. The finger pointing songs we grew up on made him seem to care so much.  Now he “used to care but things have changed.”  Staying above and going over, heady advice for our time though, downright caring, when we look again and see that what we saw is no longer standing there.

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Dylan appears to care about this song having performed it 712 times over the last 17 years.  Here’s one of those times, Irvine, CA, August, 3, 2013: