Got My Mind Made Up: Dylan re-writes Petty, but what does it mean?

By Tony Attwood

I often wonder about the songs Dylan performs just once on stage (as with this one on 9 June 1986) and then leaves.   Caribbean Wind, Can you Please Crawl out your Window, Handy Dandy, Lay Down Your Weary Tune… and of course many more.  Nothing seems to link them, so I guess in each case Dylan had his own special reason for not returning.

In this case the abandonment of “Got my mind made up” after one appearance as an encore probably had specific reasons to do with the need to get a record made, let people know it was there (maybe his record contract said he had to perform each song at least once in public) and then move on.  The general assumption is that he was feeling a bit messed about with by his record company’s demands.  If so, this is a great and simultaneously bizarre, riposte.

But first, who wrote it?  This is the time of an album (Knocked out loaded) which includes three songs by other writers, three collaborations and two of Dylan’s own compositions.  This was one of the collaborations – in this case with Tom Petty.

However it was not a song they worked on together.  Petty had worked out a complete song and then Dylan wrote a new set of words.

Now I know this is the time when the words wouldn’t flow for Dylan, but if you can imagine hearing this song for the first time and suddenly listening to

Well, I’m goin’ off to Libya,
There’s a guy I gotta see.
He’s been living there three years now,
In an oil refinery.
I’ve got my mind made up.
Oh, I ‘ve got my mind made up.

then it is difficult to think of any sort of response other than “What?” and perhaps after a moment, “Wow!”   No one, but no one writes that in a rock song do they?  Suddenly talking about Libya, and (maybe, maybe not) Muammar Gaddafi, in song?   And not a folk song of praise or protest, but rather a rock song???

And the confusion with the guy: of course it is not Gaddafi, so who is it?  We have no idea and there is nothing else in the rest of the song to tell us.  It is a disconnected snippet of … well, I don’t know what it is a disconnected snippet of.

Even more confusingly (because it is confusing to have the Libya connection suddenly thrust upon us after the opening) we then get

Don’t ever try to change me,
I been in this thing too long.
There’s nothin’ you can say or do
To make me think I’m wrong.

and so we are suddenly going somewhere completely different – he’s complaining that his girl is perhaps not reflecting their relationship in the way it should be talked about.   He’s not in his “you can say anything you want” mode at all, rather he’s telling her…

Call your Ma in Tallahassee
Tell her her baby’s on the line.
Tell her not to worry
Everything is gonna be fine.

Well, I gave you all my money
All my connections, too.
There ain’t nothin’ in this world, girl
You can say I didn’t give to you.

It is almost the classic blues complaint – my baby done me wrong…  but now Dylan says it’s ok as he once again declares his independence…

Well, if you don’t want to see me,
Look the other way.
You don’t have to feed me,
I ain’t your dog that’s gone astray.

So what are we to make of all of this?  It almost seems as if we are getting one verse (the Libya one) which Dylan thought of, and then the inventiveness let him down.  Dylan, in the only comment that I can find that he made about the song said it was about real things that happened, and I suppose, yes, Bob lives in a very different world from me – and maybe from most of us, although I’ve not heard of him having a friend working on a Libyan oil field.   He did also make the comment that he is opposed to whatever oppresses people’s intelligence, which I am not sure helps much.

Perhaps then there is a link between Libya and the girl not saying the truth about him when talking to her mother.  Perhaps – but I think that is pushing it a bit far.  More likely, I guess, he just needed a song, liked the basic musical form that he was given, and wrote some words around it which just popped into his head.

Musically it is fairly simple stuff – a repeating rhythm, one chord for the first half of each verse, and flattened seventh for the second half, and then a third chord introduced for the instrumental interlude.   The girl chorus do a few “oh’s” and “woe’s” – and I must admit it would have been fun to see their faces they were given their music.   Perhaps they even asked for the “wo-wo” at the end themselves, just to make their trip to the studio worthwhile.

It’s fun, it’s bouncy, and actually it is the sort of thing that could get an audience cheering at the encore but really, there isn’t too much Dylan inventiveness here, apart from the Libya thing, and that is over almost before it has begun.  It is also hard to make much sense of the song’s positioning on the album – if you play the album through and listen to Brownsville Girl, there is just no connectivity at all.

If one compares this with “Time out of mind” where Dylan starts off by telling us “I’m sick of love” and then amazingly takes us down step by step by step into an ever deeper darkness until we get to “Not Dark Yet” and then against all expectation takes us back up, what one sees is a magnificent progression – a journey which is full of surprises but makes sense.

But here, on this album, there is nothing like that.  The songs are seemingly just thrown together.   Perhaps in the end, one outing was enough to know that there was nothing more to be gained from the song.  And I rather think one outing was all that any of these songs ever got.

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/

The Chronology Files

There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.

All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there

 

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6 Responses to Got My Mind Made Up: Dylan re-writes Petty, but what does it mean?

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Never try to straight line Dylan or you will suffer your very own personal apocalypse and your head will surely explode. Along with religious themes, visions and dreams, there’s also politics, love, and sex, and personal happenings all in a mixed-up confusion in many a one song. While doing so, Dylan often adds as an extra ingrediant comments about what makes good art:

    “Call your Ma in Tallahassee/Tell her her baby’s on the line/Tell her not to worry/ Everthing is going to be fine”(Dylan: Got My Mind Made Up)
    A reference to his own song which lampoons
    Bobby Gentry’s dragged-out ‘Ode To Billy Joe’.
    “Yes, I guess so, said Ma/ Then she asked if the clothes were still wet'(Bob Dylan: Clothes Line Rag)

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    *ingredient (sp)
    BTW Gentry’s lyrics are actually about a bridge in Mississippi: “Today, Billy Joe MacAlister jumped off the Telahatchie Bridge”, not Tellahassee, Florida, but that’s just another addition to all the mixed-up confusion.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    The song lyrics’ conversation shows there’s lots of concerned worry about what happened to Billy Joe:
    “Well Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please/
    ….I’ll have another piece of apple pie; you know it don’t seem right…”
    (Bobby Gentry: Ode To Billy Joe)

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    “Well, I’m going off to Libya/
    There’s a guy I gotta see”

    Is no more disconnected than:

    “There’s a thief on the cross/
    I wanna talk to him”
    (Thief On The Cross)

    Dylan is not above using irony:
    When you are in an uncomfortable situation that you’d like to escape from, best to get some advice from someone who’s obviously been there/done that, and find how things are going so far.

  5. Larry Fyffe says:

    The US bombed Lybia in April of 1986.

  6. Larry Fyffe says:

    In any event, Dylan seems to have very few places left to escape to:

    “Wanted man in Tellahassee, wanted man in Baton Rouge”
    (Bob Dylan: Wanted Man)

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