If you see her, say hello; the multiplicity of what Dylan is.

By Tony Attwood

“If you see her, say hello” is one of those songs that has within it has a complete multiplicity of what Dylan is.  And it is also one of those songs that some of the “experts” on Dylan seem to go off on their own journey and miss what is so obviously there for us.

The early version of the song that opens disk three of the Bootleg Series 1-3, reminds us that Dylan is, or was, a fine guitarist, a man who could pluck unusual chords from nowhere to give his songs unexpected twists and meanings within the music that reflects the lyrics.

If you really want to hear early Dylan seeking to express himself both musically and lyrically, this track is a beautiful example.  Even the typical wailing harmonica in its standard place as the penultimate verse, has a point as the song becomes more and restless in the lyric and the music.

In this early recording however Dylan holds himself back much more than in the version on Blood on the Tracks, keeping us lyrical and poignant until we get to “and I never gotten used to it” and then the angst takes over.

The version that most of us know intimately however is the one from that masterpiece of an album “Blood on the Tracks” which simplifies the musical accompaniment considerably.   Here, it comes after the wild craziness of “Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and in total contrast to the previous track it is tentative beyond anything on the earlier version.

Indeed, it is an interesting experiment to play the end of “Lily” running as it does at hyper speed.  It’s final line is “Most of all she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts…”  Then there is the harmonica verse which seems to leave us with just the organ playing. The between track pause and then that oh so slight, so unsure, we get the rocking between A and G, which symbolises all uncertainty whenever it starts a pop, rock or folk song.

It is in fact a total and utter contrast to the previous track, and all the more powerful for that.

So what we start with is a hesitant lost love song, just as in the early version, and it feels like we have something of a rarity here.  What we end with is a typical Dylan song of disdain.   It is, “Once upon a time you looked so fine…” and “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend” all over again.

Half disdain half lost love.  Now there’s a thing.

If you listen to the Blood on the tracks recording in perfect silence you can hear a slight upping of the ante as the second verse comes in.  But still it is peaceful, as the singer describes his lost love.  OK he’s heard she is in Tangier, and Tangier is not necessarily a nice place to be – or at least it certainly wasn’t around the time the song was written.  I can attest to that out of personal experience.  Marrakesh wasn’t as great as that song suggested etiher.

But they’ve had a falling out, but it is accepted.  It happens.  He was really hurt, but he’s not blaming her.  If that’s what she needs to do ok.

OK except…

Three things happen in the song.  First it speeds up quite alarmingly as it goes through – which is unusual.  Dylan and his band a professionals and they know how to keep time. So it seems deliberate.  As does the increasingly frantic singing.  Just compare the way the song ends with that gentle lilting opening.  What on earth has happened?

Or consider the way the singing of the opening verses starts with a rising scale on the bass.  It sounds like an old time folk song.  By the last verse the bassist can’t actually play the scale and has to drop a note, it is all getting so frantic.

the rising scale at the start is old time folk

In this version the chords reflect the changing message by being a combination of rock blues chords and classic folk song.  It is in D major and the blues chord C major is heard suddenly quite unexpectedly at the end of the second line (which takes the sequence GDCA).

Then we’ve got the standard chords built around the key of D – Bm, G, D, G.  But the “damage” is done with that single unexpected C major chord.  Through it, the potential for all hell being let lose appears.

If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early Spring, is living there, I hear

That opening is interestingly light.  “Spring” is even skittish, as Spring can be.  A time to grow and move upwards, and that’s what she did.   And he’s really just sending her his best, saying, “I still think of you.”

Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so

Then with the opening of the next verse there is still no hint of what is on the horizon.

We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill

The “chill” is there in the music – oh how it is there.  If you’ve never listened to it in this way, go back and play this, because it is an amazing turn of the moment.  We go from light to dark in one line.  And there is no way back, for “separation” is almost shouted out…

And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart

The next verse does the same trick.  It starts without malice

If you get close to her, kiss her once for me
I always have respected her for busting out and getting free

But then, listen to what happens with “happy” it is called out, almost sarcastically.  Sarcasm?  This is not where we started at all.  And then we have “the bitter taste still lingers”

So he is still blaming himself, but oh how bitter he is.  This crops up again with “used to it”, and the edge is there in the voice – he’s in pain, and he’s moving back to those songs of disdain.

Now the rising scale is gone and the speed is really moving, and we find again in the last first that shouting out of “way”.  He’s just become frantic in what started as a peaceful lost love song.

Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past
I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast
If she’s passing back this way, I’m not that hard to find 
Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time

He’s hurting, and he’s ready to pass the blame.

All the songs on the site

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4 Responses to If you see her, say hello; the multiplicity of what Dylan is.

  1. Rob Geurtsen says:

    Now, I’m getting curious about your ideas about the version on Blood On The Tracks, and how that version relates to the New York version on Bootleg Series 1-3.

  2. Thank you for a great piece of interesting and informative writing. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/294/If-You-See-Her,-Say-Hello (Additional Information)
    Bob Dylan’s Music Box.
    Play every version of every song performed or written by Bob Dylan plus notable interpretations legally for free…

  3. Al Dingwall says:

    I am reading “Nightwood” by Djuna Barnes, a hip book in its way–William Burroughs called it “one of the great books of the twentieth century.” It is a novel that I could easily imagine Bob Dylan enjoying and perhaps borrowing from in the brilliant magpie way he has.

    In “Nightwood” one of the characters, Nora, has an obsessive love for her lost lover, Robin. She explains “In the beginning after Robin went away with Jenny to America, I searched for her in the ports.” I guess that line made me prick up my ears, because of the line “Hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailors all come in” from “Simple Twist of Fate.”

    A few lines further on, Nora says “I sought Robin in Marseilles, in Tangier … “ and that of course reminded me of the beautiful opening of the song discussed here, “If you see her, say hello”:

    “If you see her say hello she might be in Tangier
    She left here last early spring is living there I hear”

    Finally, Nora makes another reference to Tangier a bit further down the page: “I left Paris. I went through the streets of Marseilles, the waterfront of Tangier … “ – a line that recalls both Tangier from “If you see her say hello” and the evocative (but fairly rare) word “waterfront” from the line in “Simple Twist of Fate” quoted earlier.

    Considering that much of the greatness of “Blood on the Tracks” lies in its treatment of obsessive but hopeless love, and that Dylan wrote the album while recovering from his divorce, it doesn’t seem too fanciful to imagine that he would pick up another work dealing with doomed lovers and consciously or unconsciously borrow some of Barnes’s imagery.

    Well, these minor observations don’t amount to much but as I just had a funny feeling reading these familiar words and feelings I thought I would set them down here for what they are worth.

  4. TonyAttwood says:

    Thank you Al – I think those observations amount to a lot – a really good insight. Appreciate it.

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