Love Sick. Bob Dylan’s unexpected brilliant masterpiece of decline that surpasses all lost love songs before or since

Revised 14 May 2018.

by Tony Attwood

You want a masterpiece from the old boy – here it is. Unexpected, it seems to have come out of nowhere after seven years. The opening seconds present a growl of uncertainty, before the guitar clicks in, and we have no idea what is going on. And yet within seconds of the start of that opening verse, we know exactly where we are…

I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping

… we are at the end. The very end. After this there is nothing. The understated vocal, the perfect backing, the accurate singing, this is the farewell performance.

“I’m sick of love but I’m in the thick of it”

It is perhaps the strangest way ever to start an album – starting with what appears to be the end. And this 1997 desolation row is far more personal than Desolation Row itself. There is no one else to blame, no Eliot and Pound fighting in the captain’s tower, because everyone else is leading an ordinary life, everyone else has a life, while the singer is just hanging on to a shadow.

So the chords of E minor and D rock back and forth, and the verse ends with a descent of E minor, D major, B minor, A major – and the descent is a descent in every respect.

It feels like the end, with the utter perfection of the accompaniment having its own understated say in the instrumental verse.

It continues, and when you think it can’t get any more painful it hits those final heart wrenching closing lines that everyone has felt. You only have to listen to Dylan’s voice on those last few notes to know the sorrow and pain.

Just don’t know what to do
I’d give anything to
Be with you

You only have to listen to the accompaniment that unexpectedly breaks up over the final B minor A major chord, before falling into the E minor to know this is the end of the end.

And yet amazingly this is not as low as it goes, because this album keeps taking us down, down and down, track after track until finally we hit Not Dark Yet, and the return journey begins into the fantasy world which ends up in Highlands. For once the track order makes a total kind of sense.

This is the Vision of Johanna not of the youngsters with a life before them to be used or thrown away, but of the old man watching the shadows. At least in the original Visions there is the feeling that there are friends out there, and the young man singing will ultimately “get over it”. Here, there is no chance. It is not downhill all the way, because there is no more downhill.  We have reached the lowest point – until the album continues to go ever further below in a way that we cannot believe is possible.

Now if you have been reading my reviews here you will know I disagree with Heylin on a multiplicity of things, but never more so than on this song where Heylin places the song on a par with “Wiggle Wiggle”.  So what can be said to counter such a view?  I must admit I find it hard to know where to begin.

Certainly the fact that Dylan has, according to his web site in 2018, played it live 835 times gives us a clue to what Dylan thinks he achieved here.  I’ll try and explain

Trying thinking of that pulsating beat and the reverberating guitar gives us the plod of the lyrics walking, but the sudden quick guitar change at the end of each verse jerks us out of the descent.

I’m walking through streets that are dead

The point is that it is the streets that are dead.  Not Bob, not his relationship, but the entire world around him.  He is walking through nothingness.  He has no thoughts…

my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping

He gave her everything, he trusted her totally

I spoke like a child; you destroyed me with a smile
While I was sleeping

And what he captures here is that pain of seeing everyone else happy and together – the lovers in the meadow.   And he can’t even take solace from looking out.  In Johanna he knows that there is life in the opposite loft but here he cannot even bear to look…

I see, I see lovers in the meadow
I see, I see silhouettes in the window
I watch them ’til they’re gone and they leave me hanging on
To a shadow

and so we get to that ultimately all consuming all conquering horror of knowing he is trapped for ever.

Just don’t know what to do
I’d give anything to be with you

This is the ultimate, absolute, total, complete lost love song.  An utter masterpiece that has deserved every one of its public performances.  Quite simply I have got no idea what Heylin is talking about.

Facebook has a copy of the version of this song played at the Grammy Awards which if you have not heard it really is worthy of a listen.

Bob Dylan – Love Sick – Grammy Awards 1998

Bob Dylan – Love Sick – Grammy Awards 1998

Gepostet von Bob Dylan's Music am Sonntag, 13. Februar 2011

This song came right at the end of the compositions related to “Time out of mind” – maybe “Make you feel my love” came later.  And then nothing until suddenly we found, two years later that he used to care, but things have changed.

This was not a passing fancy.  Things really had changed and that film song just confirmed it.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.

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

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.

 

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5 Responses to Love Sick. Bob Dylan’s unexpected brilliant masterpiece of decline that surpasses all lost love songs before or since

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Still Dylan is being quite consistent. There are connections to be made, as does Shakespeare, between microscopic personal events, and macroscopic religious, social, political, and economic happenings:

    Well, you’ve gotta serve somebody/
    It may be Sara Lowlands, it may be Thomas Eliot/
    It may be Moses, or it may be the Jesus/
    Or it may be the Lord/
    But it’s mixed-up confusion, that’s for sure.

  2. Hello Tony, Yes another interesting essay about a song from Bob Dylan’s Music Box http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/387/Love-Sick Lift the lid and join us inside to listen to every version of every song.

  3. Rajan Mahadevan says:

    Sick of love … is indeed a powerful song as well explained in above article. But more than in any of Dylan‘s live performances ( including the Grammy presentation ) I defend his original album intro-version as still being the most effective. It has the right cling of the writer to his feelings that he‘s writing and now singing about ( as in „I know my song well before I start singing“ ). And then the effective guitar work, also well explained in the article. And then the pace of the complete itemis correctly matching to everything that Dylan does in the album version.
    As often the case with Dylan, his albums are carefully crafted ones, each opening song with the premeditated purpose of drawing you inside into the mood of the entire album. To some extent, this applies to his set-list at concerts, too.
    I‘m sick of love, I‘m love sick … Dylan is honest here.

  4. Don says:

    It’s okay, don’t believe the hype, ‘Time out of Mind’ is one of his dreariest offerings, ‘cold irons bound being the standout track and the most effective live in concert, that one really kicks butt. The album was hailed as a return to form, was he ever really away, mostly it had to do with him hiring a trendy producer. It was a good album on release but these days I find it a hard listen.

  5. John Howard says:

    I listened to a podcast interview with Daniel Lanois’ brother, who filmed some of the “Time Out of Mind” sessions. He said the song was originally called “Car Sick,” and that the lyrics were completely different. He described this early version as a “raucous garage blues.” He also said he’s never seen any of the footage. Dylan Inc. kept him from taking it out of the studio. To paraphrase “Love Sick”: I’d give anything to . . . see that tape!

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