Dreamin of you: the Dylan song created between Mississippi and Not Dark Yet.

by Tony Attwood

Given that in the months before writing Dreamin of you Dylan wrote Mississippi and in the months after wrote Not Dark Yet there is a good reason to listen to this song. It comes from a period when Bob was at his brilliant best – yet again.

It was recorded in January 1997 during the sessions for Time Out Of Mind but not released on that album.  It eventually came out on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs collection, and was released as a single.

In relation to the song, and its attendant video I found this on the internet.  I can’t verify its validity, but it is a nice short story…

“A friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to work on a Bob Dylan music video. I said absolutely! However, once we got out to the desert in Palmdale, CA  I said where’s Bob? My buddy said “Dylan, isn’t exactly in the video. The video is a  concept about an old music bootlegger played by Harry Dean Stanton. Bummer. Harry Dean was a trooper, because it was brutally hot at almost 100 degrees. At the end of the day, Harry got on the guitar and played a Mexican folk ballad. He said “film this and send it to Bob.”


A 7″ vinyl single release of the song was made available with advance orders of the deluxe edition of Tell Tale Signs from the official Dylan website. This release featured an alternative version of “Ring Them Bells” as the B-side.

As for the song it is based around an ever repeating chord sequence of Em7, G, A, B – I’m not sure I have heard that used anywhere else on a Dylan song as an endlessly repeating circle of chords.

Here is the DVD in question


This is Dylan pulling all the strings that he has set up in his mystic, circulating, cloudy, atmospheric repertoire.

Consider the opening

The light in this place is really bad
Like being at the bottom of a stream

and then later

Spirals of golden haze, here and there in a blaze
Like beams of light in the storm

It is all atmosphere and reflection, but there is a disconnect between sections which perhaps is meant to tell us something, but somehow, I can’t work out what.  And as other disconnects crop up in the song I begin to feel that it is all atmosphere, but nothing more.

However there are some extraordinarily telling lines such as

Means so much, the softest touch
By the grave of some child, who neither wept or smiled
I pondered my faith in the rain

Contrasted with the repeating lines

I’ve been dreamin’ of you, that’s all I do
And it’s driving me insane

and that constant disconnect from the rest of the world

Somewhere dawn is breaking
Light is streaking ‘cross the floor
Church bells are ringing
I wonder who they’re ringing for

But somehow for me the disconnect is still too disconnected.  There are too many contradictory images that lead me to think that they are just images, and nothing more.   While sons from Visions of Johanna to Tell ol Bill take us right inside the images into a world which seems consistent, (even if we can’t understand it) here there seems to be no consistency.  Even the weirdness is weirdly changing.

There is also a curious reuse of a line from Standing in the Doorway with

Well, I eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry
Live my life on the square
Even if the flesh falls off my face
It won’t matter, long as you’re there

Standing in the Doorway had…

I’ll eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry
And live my life on the square
And even if the flesh falls off of my face
I know someone will be there to care
It always means so much
Even the softest touch

Here there is no doorway, only a world of… well, I am not sure what, except that Bob is holding on to the notion that one person is out there for him and sometimes he can see and sometimes not.

Feel further away than I ever did before
Feel further than I can take
Dreamin’ of you is all I do
But it’s driving me insane

At this point we have that same revolving imagery that also took us around and through Tell Ol Bill.

I tried to find one smiling face
To drive the shadow from my head
I’m stranded in this nameless place
Lying restless in a heavy bed

although in Tell ol Bill even the woman has abandoned him and he is utterly alone.  Here there is still a hope that she might be out there.


But I guess what most of us take from this song, for its novelty value if nothing else, are the lines….

For years they had me locked in a cage
Then they threw me onto the stage
Some things just last longer than you thought they would
And they never, ever explain

And in the end we are left with the rotating hopelessness…

I’m dreamin’ of you, that’s all I do
But it’s driving me insane

So I am left unsure and uncertain about the contradictions in the song.  Yes, the singer is uncertain and unsure so that is meant to be, but somehow it seems too contradictory to make sense.  In the end, the sound is great, the images in isolation appeal, but overall… it doesn’t really seem to work for me.

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

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.

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3 Responses to Dreamin of you: the Dylan song created between Mississippi and Not Dark Yet.

  1. Babette says:

    “I’m expecting to wake up from a dream”

    If something really terrible happens to you, you hope it’s a dream – The sad brutal reality here is: – – – it’s not a dream – – -his wife is dead – gone – buried.

    He has been in grief before. He and his wife have buried a stillborn child, and he lost his faith, but a touch from his wife helped him.
    “Means so much, the softest touch
    By the grave of some child, who neither wept or smiled
    I pondered my faith in the rain”

    He thinks she is in heaven and can see him:
    “Travel under any star
    You’ll see me wherever you are”

    He imagines that she touches him:
    “Maybe you were here and maybe you weren’t
    Maybe you touched somebody and got burnt
    The silent sun has got me on the run
    Burning a hole in my brain”

    Feel like a ghost in love

    Brilliant description of a person in great grief.

  2. Kieran says:

    There’s a lot of references to Standing in the Doorway, suggesting that Dreamin’ of You was the earlier version, and that he reworked it into that great song later on. But it also stands well on its own, I think. I like the arrangement and atmosphere, and it could have been lyrically rewritten or remade into a distinct song of its own. He sings well on it too. It’s just another song from TOOM sessions that shows his great restless and flexible mind at work, trying it on for size in many different shapes and guises,until he’s happy.

    Some of the songs he obviously wasn’t finished with, and they didn’t make it. This one did – but not until it had almost wholly been remade…

  3. Hello there Tony, Thank you for posting this analysis of a song from Bob Dylan’s Music Box: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/169/Dreamin-of-You Come and join us inside and listen to every song composed, recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, plus all the great covers streaming on YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and SoundCloud plus so much more… including this link.

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