Having reviewed Angelina it makes sense to move on to Caribbean Wind also an out-take from Shot of Love.
But the question any reviewer has of this song has to face is “Which Caribbean Wind?” for this is the most re-written of all the Dylan songs. Indeed the lyrics that appear on the official Dylan site have little to do with the first version that appears on “Shot of Love Sessions”. And it is this version that I am going to use for this review. (I think it also appears on Biograph – I can’t find my copy of that album, but I’m ordering up another one so hopefully I can confirm this shortly).
The “Shot of Love Sessions” collection of songs was recorded at Rundown and Clover Studios, March and May 1981. But if you are not fully familiar with the history of this song, beware, it was utterly re-written over time, and although if listening to a different version you’ll recognise the music (even though that changes too) the song itself has gone through many manifestations.
If it is the detailed movement of the lyrics that you require then Lethem’s “Still on the Road, the songs of Bob Dylan volume 2” is the book you need, but the ten page history of the song can be summarised easily. For his own reasons Dylan wrote and re-wrote this song, taking out any references that might be tracked back to an individual, and gradually the song became less and coherent. And as he did so the song degenerated.
But there is something else: the music, which is not mentioned at all in that review. For the music as captured in the first track on Shot of Love Sessions, is something quite remarkable. It is that descending baseline that Dylan loves (for example Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands) with one hell of a bounce and beat, coupled with a chorus which is musically taken from Isis. And we always know, when Dylan hits that descending bass, we are like as not in for one hell of a treat.
The descending bass isn’t quite true in the first line, it jumps around a bit, which is a nice touch, but the feeling, emphasised by the second line, is there all the way through.
So what we get in chordal terms is
G, D, Bm, Em, C
G, D, Em, D, C
So yes, it is the classic descending bass that arrives in the second line (G, F sharp, E, D, C) which announces this is Dylan in classic mode and which run with different chords in the first line. (Actually the bass player doesn’t make the most of the descending bass possibility in the first line, where he could play G, F-sharp, E, D as a passing note, C but doesn’t.)
And just then when we have had that classic sequence four times what do we get? Isis!
F C C G
F C G
OK, it is ISIS with an extra bar chord (that second C in the first line) but the reference is unmistakeable.
So we have a really strong musical clue as to what Dylan is talking about. A woman who knows everyone, a woman who has suffered through a relationship in the past going wrong through the misdemenours of the man. A woman who holds the power.
She was well rehearsed, fair, brown and blonde
She had friends who was busboys and friends in the Pentagon
Playing a show in Miami, in the theatre of divine comedy.
Talked in the shadows, where they talked in the rain
I could tell she was still feeling the pain
Pain of rejection, pain of infidelity.
This woman is everything, she could be both. Dylan just falls for her – or at least for her presence, but then the outsider steps up… The rattlesnake – the ex-lover or ex-husband who feels the needs to deal with the newcomer “trampling over his flowers”. I only wish I had found the song much earlier. There are some guys I would have loved to have called a rattlesnake in this context.
Was she a child or a woman? I can’t say which.
One to another she could easily switch
Couples were dancing and I lost track of the hours
He was well prepared, I knew he was
Paying attention like a rattlesnake does
When he’s hearing footsteps trampling over his flowers.
And then suddenly we get this amazing chorus. Everything can change everything can be anything. Nothing is set forever. The wind is the metaphor for change.
And that Caribbean wind still blows from Nassau to Mexico,
From the circle of ice to the furnace of desire.
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free,
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire.
Meanwhile the woman looks at Dylan closely and announces her ex is outside, doing the usual “its only your best interest that I am trying to protect”. He clearly loves her, even though he’s slipping back on the alimony.
And hearing this Isis chord sequence, we are wondering – are we going to build up to that famous conclusion:
She said, “You gonna stay”, I said, “If you want me to, yes”
We don’t quite get there, but the hint, the thought is always there…
She looked into my soul through the clothes that I wore
She said “we got a mutual friend standing at the door
Yeah, you know he’s got our best interest in mind”
He was well connected, but her heart was a snare
And she had left him to die in there,
Eighty payments due and he was a little behind.
“She had left him to die in there” – a real Isis line.
So to slip away from the unwanted attention of the ex they meet secretly. The woman says, just leave it – we can’t do anything about him – he’s just there. Forget it.
Well, I slip in a hotel where flies buzz my head
Ceiling fan was broken, there was heat in my bed
Street band playing “Nearer My God To Thee”
We met in secret where we drank from a spring
She said “I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing
We can do about it, so we might as well let it be”
Two years on, the world is falling apart, and the relationship is over. The way in which Dylan re-writes the melody around line three is incredible.
Atlantic City, two years to the day,
I hear a voice crying “Daddy” and I look that way,
But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call,
Every new messenger bringing evil reports
‘Bout rioting armies and time that is short,
And earthquakes and train wrecks and the heat was scribbled on the walls.
Should he have tried to keep close to her? Maybe, but he just has to keep moving, keep moving.
Would I have married her? I don’t know I suppose,
She had bells in her braids and they hung to her toes.
But I heard my name and heard destiny say to be movin’ on
And I felt it come over me, some kind of glow,
For the sake of “Come on with me girl, I got plenty of room”
But I knew I’d be lying, and besides she had already gone.
With Isis yes he says yes. Here he is ambiguous, and the Caribbean wind still blows.
The tragedy of this song is that this version has only one thing wrong with it, the attempt to make something special and different out of the last line. Musically it doesn’t need it, and the experiment is abandoned in the rougher recording that concludes the “Sessions” album.
I much prefer these lyrics to the seemingly much more forced lyrics that appear on the official site. That version starts with “She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lost”. OK if you know your horticulture you’ll know that it is a plant. It is mentioned in the Song of Solomon too. And having ploughed through Paradise Lost at university I can say there ain’t no rose of Sharon therein. It is a nothing way to start a song – far too forced.
I’ll stick with this version. It works like me. It has such energy, such boldness,