It takes a lot to laugh…

“I want to be your lover baby, I don’t want to be your boss”

“I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul”

Dylan returns to the theme of being asked to give up too much of himself that he explored in “Don’t think twice” with “It take’s a lot to laugh”, apparently previously known as Phantom Engineer. The relationship is over, the singer has shrugged, said his goodbyes and is travelling away.

The harshness of the goodbye in “It Ain’t me Babe” in which he tells the woman that she is looking for “a lover for your life”, is not here. He has simply got up, walked away, and hitched a ride on the overnight train.

He knows the woman is chasing him – these are the songs of Dylan rejecting women who want him in ways that he can’t oblige – but this time he doesn’t worry – because he admits from the off how good the girl looks when she’s by his side.

But then, in later reflection (musically separated from the rest of the song by the instrumental break) the final verse says that maybe, just maybe he is having regrets. The beautiful sunsets have given way to the winter’s cold and he comes out with those final lines…

Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don’t wanna be your boss.
Don’t say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.

The train, jogging along, is the metaphor for these comings and goings of relationships. As for the music, that jogs along too. One chord suffices for the first two lines, followed by a descending bass (the exact contrary of the lead song of the album “Like a Rolling Stone”) ending up on the dominant, and then one chord again. It is a simple bounce along, with a rise in emotion every third line. It is the contrast of Rolling Stone and Desolation Row.

Why then does it work so well? How come what appears to be a throw away little song with nothing much to say (when compared with Rolling Stone and Desolation Row) can shine out across the years?

It is the simplicity – we can see the singer getting onto the night train and just going and going, looking out of the window across the landscape in a semi-dream state as the music moves with the train. Every now and then (the third line) a frown passes his face and a contradicting image rises up, but then it goes.

“I want to be your lover baby I don’t want to be your boss”. Relationships reduced to the simplicity or complexity of a train ride. It can go either way – off to the country, or back home. It’s up to you.

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