by Tony Attwood
This is Dylan playing with images, showing us that lyrics can paint any picture, even against the simplest of musical textures. It is not that all you get is three chords – you get those chords the same in every line in every verse – the same rotation of I V IV I. Nothing changes save that lines two and three of each verse miss the final tonic.
The instrumentation is also (I think) in terms of Dylan: acoustic guitar playing chords, a double bass and a touch of echo on Dylan’s voice.
In one sense such a choice of instruments is quite right: the song is so simple. He finds her when he is nothing and has nothing or both, she welcomes him in, and he wanders off and loses her, much to his eternal regret. She is the shelter from the storm of life – in a world of total doom, crying babies, nails and broken teeth.
To me this represents the conflict of the man perceiving beauty and his desire to possess it (which will ultimately destroy that peaceful beauty). Hence the simple presentation, the repeats and repeats, and yet the complex horrors encoded in the lyrics. Steve Adey actually went further in recording it and took it so slowly that it lasted forever, which fits the end, but to me, not really the start, for at the start he has come in and taken shelter from the storm. Dylan does get exercised in his singing, occasionally emphasising a line here or there.
If you want an image for this song, just think of a cottage with no other habitation around, and a howling wind blowing outside, with all manner of evil lurking in the dark as the thunder crashes and rain falls. Then you have it. But just remember those opening lines…
’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
Here’s the world:
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
And this is her:
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
And this is the singer:
I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
She ends his torture…
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
She is a goddess, he is a mortal. He wants to possess beauty, but knows that he count – and yet he can’t let go of that desire. In the end that’s it. He wants to possess, but she will not let him for beauty is to be shared.