Standing in the doorway: a work of solemn genius from Bob Dylan

Review by Tony Attwood.  Updated May 2018 with addition of this extraordinary live version of the song, and the opening verse at the end.

“Time out of mind” starts just about as low as you can imagine – “Love Sick” tells us the singer has had enough – enough not just of love, but of life.  It is the ultimate farewell song. 

Except it is not, for although it is hard to imagine the album could get any lower in emotional terms Dylan does just that.  And we are asking just how sick of life has Dylan got?

“Dirt Road Blues” seems to offer some chance of respite, but then we have “Standing in the Doorway”, and amazingly we are even deeper in the emotional mire than “Love Sick”.

It is an extraordinary achievement, not just because of the lyrics, not just because of the melody, nor even the chord sequence (which unusually modulates from E major to A major) but also for the production.  Dylan’s songs, as we all know, are often rushed through, recorded with errors from the accompanying musicians allowed to stand.  (Think of the bass player on Johanna if you want one example).

But not here – this is perfection; the perfection of darkness.

Yet in contrast Dylan’s voice is soft and gentle, as if he is resigned to his fate – and indeed that is where he ultimately takes us with Not Dark Yet. 

But that is three tracks away.   We start off here with very Dylan-esque commentary (“Yesterday everything was going too fast, Today, it’s moving too slow”) but then almost immediately we are shocked…

“Don’t know if I saw you, if I would kiss you or kill you
It probably wouldn’t matter to you anyhow.”
 

What?

Not only are the lyrics shocking, but the melody just strolls along, with the descending bass (and thank goodness for a bass player who has learned his part) and the slide guitar.  Even the drummer knows how to be laid back.

There’s no doubt that the subject matter has not changed from “Love Sick” – his lover has left…

“The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don’t look like it will anytime soon”

And we remember that this is the man who just a few years back gave us that most amazing lovers’ line ever, “I’m going to look at you til my eyes go blind”.

 We also wonder, did he kill her?

“Maybe they’ll get me and maybe they won’t” suggests that this is more of a horror than we ever imagined.  Or is going to kill himself…

“I know the mercy of God must be near, I’ve been riding the midnight train”

And…

 “I can hear the church bells ringing in the yard I wonder who they’re ringing for”

He is trying to live on (“Last night I danced with a stranger, But she just reminded me you were the one”) but he is going nowhere.  Anyway, he’s sick of love, as we already know.

So life stops, he stops, and he prepares us for the journey towards death that Not Dark Yet foretells.   He has nothing to do, and nowhere to go – reliant on others now, not himself.  This is the end, “I see nothing to be gained by any explanation”.

And that’s it.

“You left me standing in the doorway crying
Blues wrapped around my head”

 But it would be a mistake to think this is just about the lyrics.   “Standing in the doorway” is an extraordinary piece of music, brilliantly played.  What Dylan song has given us such lyricism, such gentleness, and all played against such a dreadful storyline?   Nowhere has lost love been portrayed so exquisitely.  

On its own this song is an utter masterpiece.   In the context of Time Out of Mind it is also a work of genius.   For this is the song, along with Not Dark Yet, that gives us the meaning of the album’s title.

If Dylan had written nothing else, he would be worthy of a place in the hall of fame.

I’m walking through the summer nights
Jukebox playing low
Yesterday everything was going too fast
Today, it’s moving too slow
I got no place left to turn
I got nothing left to burn
Don’t know if I saw you, if I would kiss you or kill you
It probably wouldn’t matter to you anyhow
You left me standing in the doorway, crying
I got nothing to go back to now

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 Standing in the doorway: a work of solemn genius from Bob Dylan

  1. Jim says:

    Very much enjoying reading your thoughts on these songs. Standing in the doorway is one of those songs that whenever you hear it you have to stop whatever you are doing to listen to it. It draws you in, and down. It demands your full attention. And it has earned it. I have always wondered about the last line, “blues wrapped around my head”. The narrator is once more ‘tangled up in blue’. It seems to suggest he is speaking about the same lover, or ghost of their love. Have you any thoughts on that?

  2. Richard says:

    “On its own this song is an utter masterpiece. In the context of Time Out of Mind it is a work of genius”.

    Completely agree, this song is up there with his very, very best (although I think you could apply this to many more of Dylan’s songs. This is what makes him head and shoulders above any other popular music artist – and believe me I absolutely love many of the others).

    Incidentally I never know why Love & Theft is so often but in the same bracket as Time out of Mind as great later period albums. I just haven’t got Love & Theft (yet). But I think Time out of Mind ranks alongside his sixties albums and Blood on the Tracks. Yes, that good.

  3. Larry Jay says:

    Even if the flesh falls from my face
    I know there be someone to care
    …………..

  4. Ron says:

    I know and lived this masterpiece at the time it was written – how did Bob know?

  5. Hello there Tony, Thank you for posting this analysis of a song from Bob Dylan’s Music Box: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/593/Standing-In-The-Doorway 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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