“Standing In The Doorway” (1997)

Time Out of Mind has that Keatsian quality of how fleeting all of life is–“a song cycle,” Daniel Mark Epstein says, “about aging, love, and loss, where the lyrics of one ballad of angst bleed into the lyrics of the next.” Perhaps someone who can see sadness in laughter has a strenuous enough tongue to “burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine” or even turn stars cherry red.

On Time Out of Mind‘s “Standing in the Doorway,” “stars” is not a rhyming word, but they are colored by the speaker’s state of mind:

The light in this place is so bad
Making me sick in the head
All the laughter is just making me sad
The stars have turned cherry red

Bad light, feeling sick, and laughter that makes you sad all can add up to make you see the stars with cherry red glasses.  Cherry?  Well maybe the word is needed to keep the 7 syllable second line in each of these two rhyming couplets alive.  The speaker is sick, melancholy, yes?  But not enough to keep those cherry red producing eyes away from lines that rhyme and balance.

There’s also a lot of “he said” and “she did” in “Standing in the Doorway.”  She (is it a she, is the speaker a he?) done left him in the doorway crying, but when it comes down to it (literally down the end of the song), the rhyme with “said” says it all:


I see nothing to be gained by any explanation
There are no words that need to be said
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Blues wrapped around my head

Yes, nothing to say, just tears and blues.  And an excellent blues tune it is ending with nothing to say, but plenty to sing, not to say, but a need to sing the blues.

Michael Gray calls “Standing In The Doorway” one of four major songs on Time Out Of Mind.  David Yaffe puts it on his top 70 list in Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown.  If you’ve ever been left alone, abandoned, tossed aside, rejected, well, this song resonates, finds its way into your heart, your broken one.

Dylan also uses “head” twice in the song, once in the second verse rhyming with “bad” and “sad”:


The light in this place is so bad
Making me sick in the head
All the laughter is just making me sad
The stars have turned cherry red
I’m strumming on my gay guitar
Smoking a cheap cigar
The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don’t look like it will anytime soon
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Under the midnight moon

This is a wrenched rhyme, the way Dylan delivers the “ea” sound forces it to rhyme with “bad”/”sad.”  The whole song is wrenching, the sadness is especially–captured so well with the tone of his voice, the highlight being the way he stretches out the word “head,” the last word on the song:

There are no words that need to be said
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Blues wrapped around my head

The “said”/”head” rhyme ends the song.  But it’s not the sound of that rhyme that lingers; it’s the way he stretches out the words that end the last two lines, ” crying” and “head.”  The singer is not the only one the blues wrap around by the end of the song, the listener is, too.  This is a blues song, and the lingering instrumental after the word “head” leaves the you with nothing to say and maybe even tearing up if you let the song have its desired effect on you.  The tone of voice and the atmosphere created by it may  be unmatched in any other Dylan song.

Here’s a live version from New Castle in 2000.




“Positively 4th Street” (1965)

“Positively 4th Street” is a searing indictment against someone. Who?  We really don’t know, but who cares.  The insults are so good, so harsh, they amuse.  Ricks calls it “a masterpiece of regulated hatred.”  What can get lost in the midst of all the great putdowns is some of Dylan’s best rhymes:  “grinning”/winning,” “my back”/”contact,” “surprised”/paralyzed,” “rob them”/”problem.”

“Shoes” appear in the last two stanzas, with the power to rhyme as far as repetition of a word allows.  But “shoes”  gets Dylan to stand something on its head with the request to have someone stand inside his shoes and that is the cliche of “standing inside one’s shoes.”  Ricks observes that normally such a request  “is a movement inviting sympathy.”  Come see how I feel and you’ll understand me better.  But not with this shoe flip-flop.   Instead the “stand inside my shoes” is a way to turn back attention to the target of Dylan’s anger–you’ll understand not me , but what “a drag it is to see you.”  Ha! Yes, whoever you are, just when you thought you’ve lost everything in this song you find out you can lose a little more. And “shoes” helps Dylan pull this off:

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

Here’s a performance from 1966 with live footage before the concert in White Plains, NY.

“From A Buick 6” (1965)

Bob was 24 when “From a Buick 6” was released in on Highway 61 Revisited.  It’s the fourth cut on a brilliant, landmark album that set him free from the expectations the folk community placed on him and defined the mark he would make on the sixties and his generation.  How fitting that the album appeared right smack dab in the middle of the 1960’s.  Arguably, it is the counter-culture epicenter with a distinct sound never achieved before and never to be again.

Robert Shelton notes that the lyrics in “From a Buick 6″ are “traditional couplets.”  And almost from the start Dylan gets the lead out to get the “e” sound charging up and down the highway of the song.  “bed” starts it at the end of verse 1, but the “dead”/”head“/”said”/”bed” rhymes in the last verse drive it home:

Well, you know I need a steam shovel mama to keep away the dead
I need a dump truck mama to unload my head
She brings me everything and more, and just like I said
Well, if I go down dyin’, you know she bound to put a blanket on my bed.

Here’s what a Buick looked like in 1965, the year Highway 61 came out, the album Michael Gray called the “carving out of a new emotional correspondence with a new chaos-reality”:

1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport 6 | 1965 buick riviera, Buick riviera, Buick  cars

Imagine driving in this car back then with this song blasting a whole into infinity:

“Abandoned Love” (1975)

A memorable part in the live recording of the Desire outtake “Abandoned Love” is when Dylan sings the line, “But my heart is telling me I love ya but you’re strange.”  And rightfully so–it’s an amusing line and the audience’s laughter is proof.  There are many shifts in this song, a “this is happening” “but then so is this” see-sawing.  Such a shift happens with the “hill/still” rhyme in it:

The Spanish moon is rising on the hill
But my heart is a-tellin’ me I love ya still

It’s hard to get why the Spanish moon rising would not elicit an “And”–romantic sentiments are not summoned by a rising moon?  But “but” it is.  And though the “hill”/”still” rhyme is a perfect one, Dylan makes it imperfect by stretching out the “i” in hill the length of the rising moon–about as far as any singer can widen the sound of any vowel. There’s a word for that–melisma.  I think the rhyme’s imperfection is a kind of shift, a shift among many in this song.

It really is one of my favorite live Dylan moments.

The whole of “Abandoned Love” “is about . . . a man’s (Dylan’s?) deepest feelings” during the time of his failed relationship with a woman (Sara Lownds–as Robert Shelton suggests in No Direction Home), the word “throne” used at the end of the song certainly puts her on the pedestal the man wants her to come down from:

One more time at midnight, near the wall
Take off your heavy makeup and your shawl
Won’t you descend from the throne, from where you sit?
After all, he’s no leader in this song, the voice of a follower echoes from other songs, (“Baby, let me follow you down,” “in the jingle-jangle morning I’ll come following you”?), but here it’s to children:

“Wherever the children go I’ll follow them”

And maybe the liberty we tend to romanticize about our childhoods is what he’d like to follow and where he’d like to be if not for the love he feels chained to:

“I march in the parade of liberty
But as long as I love you I’m not free”

“throne” doesn’t get the royal treatment of rhyme in this song; it’s not tethered to another word that rhymes with it; but neither is this woman (an example of a queen in the church”—no treasure found with her?) fated to be abandoned not followed. The rhymes are consistent, tied to each other in couplets, but this couple has had their day—days with him in her room dressing before the mirror:

I love to see you dress before the mirror
Won’t you let me in your room one time ’fore I finally disappear?

Left is the heartfelt painful yearning of wanting more of her love, coupled with the wrenching shift in thought that it all must end, just like the song must do, as any song does. We are left with

“Let me feel your love one more time before I abandon it”

where a form of the first word in the title is finally (with finality) sung.  The couplets continue, abandoned love has the last say.

Here’s the audio of a  recorded version from Other End, NYC, 1975:

“You Angel You” (1973)

“You Angel You” is a one of Dylan’s best love songs, and not because of the relationship or the romance displayed in it, but due to the feeling of falling in love that it captures so well–that first feeling–the feeling that one is in love and maybe even for the first time:

“Never did feel this way before.”

This is a song about someone who has fallen for an angel, but not for her angelic traits.  Nope.  This angel’s walking, talking, and smiling are what has made him smitten.  All humans do those things–nothing especially special about them unless the one doing them is an object of desire; then we have what Christopher Ricks says about the song itself, “”sheer simplicity has its reserves of power.”

Simply powerful are the rhymes.  The verses, but for the bridge, are alternating rhymes abcb.  The bridge is all about “more” or the sound “more” makes as a rhyme, with the scheme of abbbb.  Never stop, the song seems to be saying, or never stop this feeling of love, more, more, more and more mores, please

A couple of lines are sneaky in the powerful way that their vagueness helps anyone conjure up images of their own of this angel.  And the singer seems to want the listener to be in on what he means about her, as in the Beatles, “Well she was just 17, and you know what I mean.”  Here’s Dylan weighing in with vague lines meant to elbow the side of the listener into getting what he means:

“You’re as fine as anything’s fine.” (Insert own image of what a fine woman looks like).

And, the actual sung line that replaces the written line, “The way you smile like a sweet baby child”:

“The way you walk and the way you talk/Is the way it ought to be.” (Insert own images of what her walking and talking ought to be.)

The song has only been performed by Dylan twice, and both times were in the 1990’s, 17 years after it appeared on Planet Waves.  Here’s the first time in live audio at Penn State University.

“Wallflower” (1971)

A wallflower, also known as the gillyflower, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a wild flower that grows on walls, rocks, etc., but its fragrance, from flowers either yellow or orange (the color of this wallflower’s dress?), is so strong and enticing that it is often cultivated in gardens.

Related image

Now, of course, Dylan is not referring to a flower in this song, but a woman who, according to the O.E.D., “keeps her seat at the side of a room during dancing, whether because she cannot find a partner or by her own choice.”  The first known us of the word for a person rather than a flower was in 1820.

The singer’s woman, the one he wants to make “mine one of these days/Mine alone,” is the latter identified woman in the definition who decides not to dance by choice, not because a partner is not available.  Indeed, there’s one quite available, insistently so.  In the first verse, he importunes her with questions and a presumptuous nod to how he is like her in “being sad and lonely” (not all wallflowers are?):

Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m sad and lonely too
Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m fallin’ in love with you

There’s a wildflower wildness to this wallflower, asserting not to dance, and an independence, shown by her resisting even the singer’s tempting confession of falling in love with her, (will not be part of his garden), and this wildness is reflected in an inconsistent rhyming with echo rhymes and a third and sixth line terminal rhyme found in the first verse, too/you; followed by the kind of rhyming Bob used in “Positively 4th Street” with the last word of the second verse rhyming with the last line of the third, on/gone.  Bob does this again with alone/home in the fourth and fifth verses, but included in that fourth verse is the couplet, haze/days.

These rhymes, are hard to pin down, hard to follow, hard to understand–might as well try them all, throw them all at the wall, at this wallflower, and see what happens.  Asking someone to dance is a risk, but worth a chance, the same kind the singer asks her to take on him in the last verse:

Wallflower, wallflower
Take a chance on me
Please let me ride you home

The lover’s argument for seventeen lines and five verses is merely that he is just like her:

Just like you I’m wondrin’ what I’m doin’ here
Just like you I’m wondrin’ what’s goin’ on

Perhaps that’s an effort to make her feel like she’s not taking much of a risk because they really are so alike.  The last words of the first verse get this across, too:


Me, too wallflower, how about me and you?

I can’t find Dylan’s delightful version of the song found on the Bootleg Series 1-3, but here’s pleasing rendition by Diana Krall:




“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“:


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!!:



“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.



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:
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
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: