Love minus Zero / No Limit. Bob Dylan takes a Zen approach to the perfect relationship

 By Tony Attwood

This review revised May 2017

The second of the two love songs from the first side of “Bringing it all back home” is infinitely more complex than “She Belongs To Me”. While musically it seems to be straightforward, the lyrics (and indeed the very title, written originally as a fraction) suggest Dylan has most certainly travelled to another place.  

The music works around the three major chords, and the melody flows across 16 bars of 4/4 in every verse. All very conventional.

But the lyrics are not as ever heard before. There’s a Zen-like opening (My love she speaks like silence) which shows us this is another place entirely from the conventional love song, and then we realise, there are no rhymes.

It was an approach to writing that Dylan rarely used – indeed writing this I am struggling to think where else he did use this approach. It seems strange within such a conventional musical base to make such a departure, and yet that is the point. The convention of everyday is undermined by the attitude of the individual, for that is what the song is about. “She knows there’s no success like failure and that failure’s no success at all” – a radical way (but nonetheless valid for all that) of seeing the world.

It is a song about the inner attitudes and visions of the singer’s lover which allow her to co-exist with this world without compromising her visions. The visions that she and the singer share are snapshot visions – exactly as the visions within the Gates of Eden are – but these are of a Zen-like acceptance of the world which allows one to see everything far more fully than is possible most of the time. There is no battle, because the world and the singer can coexist.

“She knows too much to argue or to judge.” You can’t get more Zen like than that..

But it is also a song about the all-encompassing feeling of love that can (if we are lucky) envelop us all in, at times.  That period when one’s lover is everything – indeed more than everything.  Wherein one’s lover appears to be above and beyond reality, where everything one’s lover is, says, does, becomes is automatically of value in itself and does not require questioning.  When indeed nothing can be questioned.

This is a period which (at least in my experience) cannot last and that failure to continue with this sort of adoration eventually can destroy the relationship.  Only by reaching the same level of speaking like silence and knowing too much to argue or to judge can one reach out and be as one with the lover.

Dylan has performed the song many times and it turns up on various compilation albums, but if you are fully familiar with the original and the variations at the live shows, listen to the Newport 65 version (its on YouTube) – perhaps the fastest he has ever played it, and an amazing contrast to other approaches. But it still works, it is still true.

There is also a very alternative version from Jimmy LaFave here.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page (just scroll down a bit), and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages, plus indexes to all the Dylan songs in date order and alphabetical order.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

 

This entry was posted in Bringing it all Back Home, Essential Bob Dylan, The Songs. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Love minus Zero / No Limit. Bob Dylan takes a Zen approach to the perfect relationship

  1. Facundo Maneiro says:

    This is my favorite lovesong. In fact, when i meet my wife, she made me feel exactly like i felt when i heard this song. Thank you for the explanation.

    P.D. Im sorry about my english!!! I´m from Argentine, i´m naturally spanish spoken.

  2. j. O'Connell says:

    Sometimes I get tired of Bob “never doing a song the same way twice” – it often backfires – but he always treats Love Minus Zero with the respect it deserves.

  3. Minko says:

    Speaking of different versions of this song, I find the rendition at the Budokan rather intriguing. This is the song-and-dance-man taking centre stage, not without a mischievous wink at the intellectual austerity that usually follows his trail in academia.

  4. M. Thomas says:

    “…and then we realise, there are no rhymes.”

    Are you sure there are no rhymes?

    Not even….

    Silence/Violence, Fire/Buy her
    Stations/Situations/Quotations, Wall/At all
    Dangles/Candles, Grudge/Judge
    Trembles/Rambles, Bring/Wing

    Great Dylan song.

  5. J. O'Connell says:

    I suppose everyone has “a type of song I wish Dylan would still write”.

    This is my choice in that category.

  6. Larry Fyffe says:

    Love plus Robert Frost: ‘Yet she’s true like ice, like fire’.

    ‘Some say the world will end in fire/
    Some say in ice’ (Fire And Ice)

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    And Edgar Allan Poe:

    “Once upon a midnight dreary…./
    …that is something at my window lattice/
    ….’Tis the wind and nothing more>
    (The Raven)

    “The night wind blows cold ‘n’ rainy/
    My love, she’s like some raven/
    At my window with a broken wing.”
    (Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

  8. Larry Fyffe says:

    The Grateful Dead make the Frostian allusion also:

    “You know all the rules by now/
    And the fire from the ice”
    (Uncle John’s Band”

    And Robert Frost got the figurative language from
    the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spencer:

    “My love is like ice, and I to fire/
    ….Is not dissolved through my hot desire”
    (Ice And Fire)

    Johnny Cash too is influenced by the hot-blooded
    Elizabethans:

    “Bound by wild desire/
    I fell into a ring of fire”
    (Ring Of Fire)

    As is William Blake, a preRomantic poet, admired by Dylan:

    “Bring me my arrows of desire/
    ….Bring me my chariot of fire”
    (Jerusalem)

    And so Dylan’s salute to John Lennon:

    “You burned so bright/Roll on John/
    Tiger, tiger, burning bright/
    ….In the forest of the night”
    (Roll On, John)

    The song’s title taken from an old blues tune;
    the lyrics from Blake’s poem ‘Tiger’.

  9. Hello Tony, Yes another chapter in the musical history of Bob Dylan. Join us inside his Music Box http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/385/Love-Minus-ZeroNo-Limit and listen to every version of every song

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