Waiting for you: Bob Dylan and the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood

By Tony Attwood

This is odd.  I mean, really odd.  And it has had 157 outings according the official website – although they still haven’t got around to putting up a copy of the lyrics.  If you don’t know it, here it is

 

The song opens with “I never dreamed it could be a someone made just for me” which pretty much sets the scene.

After that we go into the world gone wrong

“When did our love go bad?   Whatever happened to the best friend that I had?”

And it ends with a line I certainly can’t disagree with

“Happiness is but a state of mind.”

But elsewhere strange things happen and all in the context of a nice little waltz.

The film “Divine Secrets” for which it was written, by all reports deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter and the lyrics relate to the film, according to those who have seen it.   Here’s a quick summary from Chris Gregory

Mr Gregory writes…

“Well known female playwright Siddalee Walker (Sandra Bullock) engages the wrath of her eccentric and feisty mother Vivienne (Ellen Burstyn) when she appears to confess in a (somewhat doctored) interview to feeling rather unhappy about her childhood. Siddalee is subsequently kidnapped by her mothers’ life long friends in the ‘Ya Ya Sisterhood’… so that mother and daughter can be confronted with each other.

“Eventually, with the Sisterhood’s help, Siddalee comes to understand the ‘dark side’ of her mother’s character, so leading to an eventual  rapprochement between the two. The film is a warm, lightly comedic tribute to the potential strength of female solidarity.”

The last verse gives us the overall feel of this,

Another deal gone down,
Another man done gone.
You put up with it all, and you carry on.
Something holding you back,
But you’ll come through.
I’d bet the world and everything in it on you.
Happiness is but a state of mind.
Anytime you want, you can cross the state line.
You don’t need to be rich
Or well-to-do,
I’ll be around, waitin’ for you.

Of course we can work our way through the song line after line and trace the relationship between mother and daughter but I am not too sure where that gets us, mostly I think I run into trouble because I find the references a little odd.

Let me give some examples…

Well the king of them all is starting to fall/ I lost my gal at the boatman’s ball… 

De Boatman’s Ball is a song written by Daniel Decatur Emmett, the songwriter, entertainer, and founder of the first troupe of the blackface minstrel tradition.  He is most well know as the composer of Dixie (used in Masked And Anonymous) .   That is “Dixie” which I am sure you will know (given that I know it, and I live in England) that runs…

I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray!  Hooray!

In Dixie’s Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie.

Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

De boatman tells us

De boatman is athrifty man
Da is none can do as de boatman can ;
I neber see a pretty girl in all my life
But dat she be some boatman’s wife.

So famous is Emmett in songwriting history that a film of his life was produced in 1943, called appropriately “Dixie” starring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.

But I get the feeling Bob is playing with us.  We get that obscure reference and then he later says, “The night has a thousand hearts and eyes” which surely most of us will quickly trace back to The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, which either relates to the jazz classic by Jerry Brainin and Buddy Bernier or to the Bobby Vee song or to the poet Francis William Bourdillon:

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

 The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one:
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

You pays your money and you takes your choice (as we say in England).

Musically we can trace this song back to numerous antecedents.  The phrase “I’ll be around” comes from a 1942 standard written by Alec Wilder which has that very phrase as its title.  Over 50 different artists have recorded it.

Another deal gone down,
Another man done gone.

from Dylan’s song, comes from Robert Johnson written in 1936

I’ve the last fair deal gone down,
It’s the last fair deal gone down,
It’s the last fair deal gone down, good lord,
On this Gulfport Island Road.

And then there is

Hope may vanish, but it never dies.
I’ll see you tomorrow when freedom rings.

Which has a certain amount to do with Shelley’s work “Hellas”

Life may change, but it may fly not;
Hope may vanish, but can die not;
Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;
Love repulsed, — but it returneth!

This was the poem Shelley wrote to raise money to support the Greek War of Independence – something that I have always remembered from school days.  I mean, who else wrote poetry to support a war?  I also remembered there was a strange dedication within the poem – but that I had to look up.  But all these years later it is still weird

Τo Ηis Εxcellency Prince Alexander Mavrocordato late secretary for foreign affairs to the Hospodar of Wallachia the drama of Hellas is inscribed as an imperfect token of the admiration, sympathy, and friendship of the author. Pisa, November 1, 1821

And Bob decides to quote from this work!  And why?  Well, I don’t know.

And all in all I find this a bit confusing, a bit of a mish-mash, a bit, dare I say it, of a waste of time.  I have the awful suspicion that Bob had thrown everything into his writing this year, and just as with the song that preceded this (“Sugar Babe”) he was somewhat out of ideas, and so used an old classic for the music and lines from elsewhere, so he started collecting other people’s lines and putting them together.

The problem for me is that he now seemed to be writing them at random.

Now I know that in saying this I am destroying the chance of my picking up the phone one day and hearing the words, “Mr Attwood, ah – I have Bob Dylan on the line for you…” but, well, you know, the chances of that were slim anyway.

Of course I could be completely wrong – maybe there is an art in all this. Maybe it all makes a lot of sense and carries deeper meanings, but … well sorry.  Someone else needs to write a review of this song to make that point, because I really just don’t see it.

Please tell me I am wrong.

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.  Also a list of the most read articles on this site.

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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2 Responses to Waiting for you: Bob Dylan and the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood

  1. Markus Prieur says:

    you can find a detailed performance history of this song, plus four video links and mp3 links galore at http://www.notdarkyet.org/waitin.html

  2. Peter Hyatt says:

    Excellent research. It is refreshing to see someone simply let the research speak for itself, rather than impose bloated self projection. Dylan’s never been shy about his influences. He’s well read and does not need to apologize for where influences come. Thanks for a good article.

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