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.
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.