Bob Dylan’s “Please Mrs Henry”. How did this get written just before the masterpieces?

by Tony Attwood

Please Mrs Henry was recorded (and thus probably written) within this sequence of songs

What is interesting is that we have some songs that I would consider of lesser importance – almost throw away songs in fact – but they led into a run of four truly remarkable pieces: in fact the sequence from “I’m not there” onwards.

But I am sorry to say that Please Mrs Henry is not in this group (nor indeed is Lo and behold in my estimation) of really wonderful songs.   But it is interesting (for me at least) how close together these songs of different merit (as I perceive them) come out.  I’m not there – one of the great, great “lost” songs written it seems just a short time after Please Mrs Henry.  How bizarre.

And yet when I think back to my days in bands I can remember all sorts of songs being tried out and written as we played.  Fortunately we never left the tape running, or if we did the tapes have thankfully long since vanished.  It is a bit like the thousands of articles half written and abandoned, or transmuted into something utterly different.  I would be so embarrassed if any had access to them.

However Bob has allowed the Basement Tapes recordings including this song to be released.  So we have the utter gems like “I’m not there” and then we have Please Mrs Henry.  If I’d been Bob I’d have said “no”, but then he’s the genius and I’m just the critic.

The only clue that we have as to what is going on here is that Alan Ginsberg reported that Dylan had been reading a lot of Verlaine and Rimbaud so maybe that’s where it all came from.  And that is probably true, for after all Bob did say

Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud

so the thoughts have clearly been there lurking in his head, although whether he should have let them out is a different matter.

The first verse tells us pretty much what we need to know and quite a bit we don’t.

Well, I’ve already had two beers
I’m ready for the broom
Please, Missus Henry, won’t you
Take me to my room?
I’m a good ol’ boy
But I’ve been sniffin’ too many eggs
Talkin’ to too many people
Drinkin’ too many kegs
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please!
Please, Missus Henry, Missus Henry, please!
I’m down on my knees
An’ I ain’t got a dime

Yes we get some unusual images…

I’m a thousand years old
And I’m a generous bomb
I’m T-boned and punctured
But I’m known to be calm

But thereafter I guess it is a personal thing; I really don’t need it.  And I suppose it is a reflection primarily on me that what I ended up playing after a few run throughs of Mrs Henry was not more Mrs Henry (which I would normally do while writing the review) but “I’m not there.”

However some good comes out of most situations: I updated the review of “I’m not there” and repaired the broken links so we now have three versions of that song on line.  As for Mrs Henry, I’ll leave you to your own pleasures.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home 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.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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

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4 Responses to Bob Dylan’s “Please Mrs Henry”. How did this get written just before the masterpieces?

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    In short, is a Flower, Rosemary
    Lily, dead or live, worth
    The excrement of one sea-bird…?
    (Arthur Rimbaud)

  2. richard says:

    The cruxifiction reference makes an already intriguing story a parable of considerable weight. And demonstrates once again Dylan’s formidable range. I like most of your essays, but this one not so much.
    Richard

  3. Daniel says:

    Love Please Missus Henry. A very cool song. Yeah Heavy and a couple others are drinking songs in conversation with Ol Roison the Beau. I’m Not There isn’y insanely compelling to me as it is for so many other folks. It’d been written about so much before I finally heard it in the 90s and thought “eh, that’s cool… but doesn’t seem like some Dead Sea Scroll it had been made out to be.” A fun and in moments great sketch/ shell of a song. I’m partial to King of France in comparison to I’m Not There.

  4. Kevin says:

    “Henry” got written because Dylan is a funny guy and he was hanging around with the Band at that time so . . . Now I’d take “Million Dollar Bash” over “Mrs. Henry” but they are both funny songs. Years later he gave us “Po’ Boy.” Thanks for the laughs, Bob.

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