Open the Door Homer; Bob Dylan’s song to Richard

By Tony Attwood

“Open the Door Homer” was produced during a prolific period of Basement Tapes writing and recording, but for me it is a song that doesn’t quite get to the heights of the songs preeceeding it.  Songs such as

It is certainly a song that hasn’t been taken up by other artists in a big way, the only recording I know about being Thunderclap Newman’s

 

 

The problem with the song for me is that I have no idea what it is all about.  And not only do the lyrics not help me, nor does the music, which seems very un-Dylan in many ways – not least the melody.

It could be a John Wesley Harding song, with the standard three verse construction that dominated that album, but the music of course doesn’t have that sort of feel at all.

Then there is the strange fact that it is called “Open the door Homer” but Dylan seems to sing “Richard” not Homer, and once could be interpreted as singing “Rachael”.

The origin of the idea comes from Louis Jordon’s song “Open the Door Richard”

It was a very popular piece at the time, but many swing bands of the era cut out a lot of the talk that you hear on the recording and focus on creating a dance number out of the melody that appears at the start and the end of the song.  Indeed in the home that I grew up in there were many such dance band songs (my father played sax in dance bands) and I certainly recall this song being on one of the records that I explored in my early days.  I also recall my mum singing it.

There is the suggestion that Homer was the nickname for Richard Farina, who was part of the Greenwich Village scene and who was a close friend of  Thomas Pynchon, he of “The Crying of Lot 49”, “Gravity’s Rainbow” and so forth.

Richard Farina got to know Joan Baez’ sister and the two formed “Richard & Mimi Fariña”.  Richard died aged just 29 in a motoring accident, and was mourned as a huge talent that had not had time to develop and evolve.  There is a song by the couple here.

 

So back to Dylan, the song opens…

Now, there’s a certain thing
That I learned from Jim
That he’d always make sure I’d understand
And that is that there’s a certain way
That a man must swim
If he expects to live off
Of the fat of the land
Open the door, Homer
I’ve heard it said before
Open the door, Homer
I’ve heard it said before
But I ain’t gonna hear it said no more

Verse 2…

Now, there’s a certain thing
That I learned from my friend, Mouse
A fella who always blushes
And that is that ev’ryone
Must always flush out his house
If he don’t expect to be
Goin’ ’round housing flushes

And verse 3… Does “take care of your memories” tell us something profound, or is it a simple statement about how easy it is to lose the past by being so wound up in the present?

“Take care of all your memories”
Said my friend, Mick
“For you cannot relive them
And remember when you’re out there
Tryin’ to heal the sick
That you must always
First forgive them”Now, there’s a certain thing

Musically it is fairly straight forward in its chord structure – it is just the melody that goes a wandering.

Maybe it is just me not quite getting where all this comes from, or where it goes.  Perhaps I need an critic from the USA to help me.  Or maybe it doesn’t really mean too much anyway.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this 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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4 Responses to Open the Door Homer; Bob Dylan’s song to Richard

  1. Joe says:

    Take care of your memories said, Nick is how I always heard it. Clearly a reference to the Great Gatsby. That sentiment is something ripped straight from the novel and was expressed by Gatsby towards the narrator Nick Carraway.

  2. Hannes says:

    All Your questions are answered in Greil Marcus book “The Invisibel Republic“

  3. Well the key word is ‘door’
    Knock, knock, knockin’…
    Tryin’ to get to Heaven…
    if there ever was a door…

    and then there are Gates of Eden
    and Mr Dylan makes gates
    the railroad one he just can’t jump
    and where he might leave his Arabian drum

    for the Sad Eyed Lady
    I love Open the door Homer
    but I agree with you it’s not as weighty
    as This Wheel’s on Fire

  4. Jeff McKee says:

    Love your work. Love it.

    As my gift to you for all of your wonderful, insightful words, I give you:

    Lo and Behold – Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint

    Absolutely brilliants interpretations of Dylan’s more obscure songs – many from the Basement from this Scottish band – I promise, you will be amazed.

    Open the Door Homer is one of their songs.

    Here’s the song-list:

    “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” “Open the Door Homer,” “Don’t You Tell Henry,” “Get Your Rocks Off,” “Tiny Montgomery” (a bonus track previously available only as a single B-side), “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Lo and Behold,” and “Sign on the Cross

    Their version of Lay Down Your Weary Tune is my favorite.

    I’m curious to know what you think of this 1971 gem – lemme know after you give it a listen

    Jeff McKee
    Richmond, Va.

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