Jet Pilot: Bob Dylan’s “On the road again” revisited for a fragment

By Tony Attwood

This fragment appears on “Biograph” and also appears on “Side Tracks” as a one verse piece with a sudden fade out, suggesting that there was more, but for some reason this is all we are offered.

It is listed as having been recorded during the Blonde on Blonde sessions and uses the structure and approach to the music of “On the road again” from “Bringing it all back home”.

You might recall the second verse of “On the road again” contains the line

The milkman comes in
He’s wearing a derby hat
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you have to ask me that?

In Jet Pilot the focus is on one person rather than a collection of odd balls

Well, she’s got Jet Pilot eyes from her hips on down.
All the bombardiers are trying to force her out of town.
She’s five feet nine and she carries a monkey wrench.
She weighs more by the foot than she does by the inch.
She got all the downtown boys, all at her command
But you’ve got to watch her closely ’cause she ain’t no woman
She’s a man.

As Heylin points out, there is a fair amount of Verlaine and Rimbaud in this song (to be made more explicit in 1974 with “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”:

Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go

I’m not too sure that the songs relate that closely, just because of the overt mention of the two French poets, but we can perhaps make a little more out of what was going on by the fact that the next song recorded was “I wanna be your lover”

Indeed if we look at the whole sequence here we get

This is an era of writing songs about curious and unusual people – one of Dylan’s recurring themes, and one, now I come to think of it, I should have given more focus to when I started to try and work out categories for Dylan’s compositions.

It is a sort of off-shot of the songs of disdain, such as “Positively Fourth Street”, more fascination than outright dislike, although Thin Man is further inclined to the “disdain” side of things than the others in this immediately collection.

I wanna be your lover which was written next has the lines

Well, jumpin’ Judy can’t go no higher
She had bullets in her eyes, and they fire
Rasputin he’s so dignified
He touched the back of her head an’ he died

I think we can get the idea that Bob is fascinated by these unusual people, the strange crowd that turn up in so many of his songs at this time.  Did he really meet them or did they just pop up in his head?  Of course I don’t know but I suspect some of each, mostly the latter.

And it is interesting that these sessions also gave us the exquisite “It takes a lot of laugh”.  When Bob gets it spot on at this time, it really gives us beautiful songs that stay in the memory forever.

So I guess what we are hearing here are the attempts at songs from an incredibly fertile mind, and thus we can conclude that these scraps are necessary sketches along the road that had just given us “Phantom Engineer” which was morphing into “It takes a lot to laugh”.

Don’t the moon look good, mama
Shinin’ through the trees?
Don’t the brakeman look good, mama
Flagging down the “Double E?”
Don’t the sun look good
Goin’ down over the sea?
Don’t my gal look fine
When she’s comin’ after me?

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 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.

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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