By Tony Attwood
One of the many reasons why “One too many mornings” stands out is that its original release placed it straight after that questioning, probing, aggressive song, “With God on Our Side.”
Two songs could hardly more different. “One too many mornings” is restrained, under-stated, delicate. All that can be left unsaid is left unsaid. “With God on Our Side” is the exact opposite.
What is particularly interesting is the link between “One too many” and “Times they are a changing”. While the rhythm of each is very different, the chord sequence at the start of each song is identical but the meaning and feel is so utterly different. Dylan is saying, “I can call on the senators to act and say farewell to my love to become a drifting hobo, using exactly the same construction. It’s all part of life.” And why not?
We are told, by those who discover these things, that Dylan wrote this around the time he was leaving Suze Roloto, and Dylan revived in on stage when he was breaking up with his wife, at which time he added the lines
You've no right to be here And I've no right to stay Until we're both one too many mornings And a thousand miles away.
“One too many” is an absolute, overpowering, overwhelming song of lost love. There’s no blame – the singer and the woman he loved are both right. There are regrets, although the singer suggests maybe there are not – but you just know he’s wrong. Those regrets are there big time, but he’s determined to walk away down the old lonesome road. Those regrets are as powerful as the play-acting in “No Regrets” by the Walker Brothers. “No tears to cry…” Like hell there aren’t.
You get the feeling that if only the couple could actually speak to each other again they could throw their arms around each other, and hold on tight, and give the relationship a real chance to celebrate all they have been, and then thrive, moving powerfully into the future. But no, the imagery of walking away, guitar slung on back, is too powerful. It is almost as if the singer wants to have the hurt of break-up so he can sing the blues once more. Some people just want to be hurt. “I just gotta keep on keeping on”
So it goes. Some people just can’t make an equal balance relationship work, so even though it tears them up, they have to find a reason to walk away.
And here’s a thought. If only the girl to whom Dylan sings the song could have picked up a guitar and sung a reply. Now there would be something to keep close to you, through the trials of romance. (Actually coming back to this review five years after I first wrote it, I am moved to try and write that; these days I just write for fun, and I think it would be fun to try.)
Subsequent re-writings of the song for performance take it to different meanings and different dimensions, and really they need a separate article. This article stays with the original, recorded on October 24, 1963, but as I am updating it in July 2018 I’ll add a few videos of versions that also seem to me, personally, to be of particular note).
This one has turned me inside out from the very first moment I heard it. I can still play it over and over until my house mate screams for it to stop. There is nothing else like this.
The song is only two minutes 40 seconds long and yet in those two minutes 40 seconds we get everything. Every line is an image that could be the opening of a movie.
Down the street the dogs are barkin’
Do you really want more? Isn’t that enough of an image to paint not just one canvas but a whole stream of pictures? But if you do want more then…
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
That line of the silent night shattering… nothing changes in the music. We are still progressing through that very folk-song chord sequence I, III, V. So how does the music reflect the shattering of the silent night?
It doesn’t and that’s the point; the contrast is between the situation inside the man’s head and the situation on the street. There is no connection, even though the couple are contriving to separate when they don’t have to.
And so we notice just how much Dylan likes the image of couples separating by agreement. Remember…
Split it up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
The difference is that “Tangled up in blue” has a completely variant view of the future
She turned around to look at me
As I was walking away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Of course by the time of “One too many” Dylan had hardly started on what was to become one of his key modes of writing for a while: the time-confused lyric. “Tangled” uses that device par excellence so one is never quite sure when anyone is. It is the same notion – splitting up – but written with a different technique and offering different outcomes.
Dylan in “One too many” is a man with real, total and complete feelings – feelings that have moved on by the time of “Tangled”, and yet the feeling of aloneness is still there…
Consider this for a leap across the decades:
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
The look back to the past… it never stops, it always is there to catch you out, even if the two lovers never meet again, they are utterly entangled forever.
The parallels between these two songs are overwhelming.
And I was standing on the side of the road
Rain falling on my shoes
is from “Tangled” but could equally be from “One too many.”
Dylan however in “One too many mornings” is regretful in a way that never occurs in “Tangled up in Blue”. By the later song he is much more wordly wise – in the earlier version he’s not at all sure about where, why, what, who… which pretty much covers everything.
It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind
Even after all these years it is still an absolute utter masterpiece. And you never know if they did get back together again. It is the start of the movie and the last departing screen shot as the credits roll. Maybe one day Bob and/or his record company will produce an album called “Leaving” with these two songs opening the proceedings. Maybe I’ll do it myself for it is surely too good not to have.
You might also be interested in “Hero Blues”: the song Dylan thought should replaced “One too many” on “Times they are a changing”. And in case you want to move on a bit further there is Walking down the line another song of moving on.
Here’s the original
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