“Guess I’m doing fine”: Dylan says, “Look at me I’m hurting”

By Tony Attwood

To put this song in context we have to look at what Dylan had written at the end of 1963 – this is an unedited list (by which I mean I haven’t taken out the lesser known pieces – as far as I can see this is the complete chronological list).

And that is not a selection – that is all the songs we know about, in the best order we can put them in, in terms of writing.

Then came “Guess I’m doing fine”

After which came

Again that is not a selected list.  It is the lot.

If you take a moment to listen to “Guess I’m doing fine” (available on Spotify – it is a and  on the Whitmark album) I suspect the question might be “What?”

As in, “What made Bob write this song in between all those works?”  Just to take the end of the first list and the start of the second list it looks very odd.

 

The songs around it (not just these two before and after but going back through the more complete earlier lists) are major works.  One after the other after the other.  Not a masterpiece and a few duds, but brilliant compositions showing Dylan at the height of his powers.  And in between, this song.

In a sense I could understand what was going on if “Guess I’m doing fine” was written and then forgotten – every composer like every author, artist, playwright etc has ideas that are quickly set aside.  But that it was kept and recorded… that bemuses me.  One can only presume that Bob really seriously did want to have a record of everything he did – although I can’t quite see why.

Particularly since a little while before he let all those Town Hall pieces just be played once in public and then vanish.

But record it he did.  And the only explanation I can muster is that since he broke up with his girlfriend at this time, he was trying the old folksy idea in which the song recounts all the many things that are wrong, but then says by way of stark contrast, but I suppose it is all ok somehow.

Or maybe he just wanted people to know he was hurting.

Well, I ain’t got my childhood
Or friends I once did know
No, I ain’t got my childhood
Or friends I once did know
But I still got my voice left
I can take it anywhere I go
Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine

So in a sense he was perhaps just getting a feeling dealt with, and part of that “dealing with” involved writing and recording this song, before he could move on.

Certainly by verse three this is where he seems to be… my relationship has screwed up, but that is nothing compared to what is happening in the world at large.

Trouble, oh trouble
I’ve trouble on my mind
Trouble, oh trouble
Trouble on my mind
But the trouble in the world, Lord
Is much more bigger than mine
Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine

And a little later he really is emphasising the way the music industry and his fans were treating him

I been kicked and whipped and trampled on
I been shot at just like you
I been kicked and whipped and trampled on
I been shot at just like you.
But as long as the world keeps a-turnin’
I just keep a-turnin’ too
Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine

and really I find it rather hard to emphasise with this.  I am not saying break ups of love affairs are not tough – they most certainly can bring the whole world crumbling down, but this doesn’t seem to ring true to me.  Not one bit.

There isn’t even too much to rescue the song as a piece of music – the basis of the piece is three chords over and over (C, Dm7, F), but maybe that is just how Bob wanted to express himself, going over and over, round and around.  Thankfully he didn’t play it at any gigs.

I want to stress this is not a criticism of Bob for writing this – as I say all artists do sketches and have ideas that don’t go anywhere, it is, most certainly, much more a failing of mine.  I can’t understand why he recorded this, and why he wanted to keep it, when all around him were the masterpieces.

Unless it was just to say, “Look at me.  I’m hurting.”

What else is on the site

1: Over 470 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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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8 Responses to “Guess I’m doing fine”: Dylan says, “Look at me I’m hurting”

  1. Babette says:

    I think it is a very powerfull song about his ego and it tells why he is still on the road.
    Nothing in the surroundings can break him down:

    “Many times I’ve bended
    But I ain’t never yet bowed
    Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine”

    and

    “But I still got my voice left
    I can take it anywhere I go
    Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine”

    and the last trick to convince yourself that everything is not so terrible:

    Trouble on my mind
    But the trouble in the world, Lord
    Is much more bigger than mine
    Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine

    I use the last trick myself, and I teach young people the same trick:
    Do not focus on your losses, but on your abilities/skills

  2. David J Devine says:

    I always liked that song a lot and wondered why he didn’t release it.
    “I’m still around some how” I still use that line when people ask me how I’m doing.
    I think it is a gem of a piece. Who can’t relate to it?
    I disagree with you but enjoy your articles.

  3. gypsygal says:

    I’ve always loved this song. Sure, the language might be simple compared with other songs of the period, but the vocal delivery is wonderful. I particularly like how he delivers the last line of each verse, especially the last word. And like every song he has ever written and sung, it has its own unique ‘sound’ when compared with all the others. I’m not aware of any other major artist who can do that.

  4. Laurette says:

    I read your blog with interest, song after song.
    Thank you for your work but sometimes I disagree with your analyse.
    For this song I will say :
    who can tell what is a Masterpiece and what is not.
    All along his career Bob Dylan had made choices that have been critisized ; that song was kept, that other song was not…
    His statement is that though he had been hurt he will go on singing.
    so the never ending tour.

  5. Becca says:

    He kept and recorded it because it is one of his masterpieces. Le duh

  6. Hello there, Thank you for posting this analysis of a song from Bob Dylan’s Music Box: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/228 Come and join us inside and listen to every song composed, recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, plus all the great covers streaming on YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and SoundCloud plus so much more… including this link.

  7. Tom Hazelnut says:

    This is a beautiful song, worthwhile in his catalog in every way. Too it wasn’t put on an album originally.

  8. Wouter van Oorschot says:

    L.S.

    1. It is the only song composed halfway three whole months of improductivity:
    ‘Restless farewell’ written around 31 october 1963, when it was recorded, this one attributed to january 1964 around the release of The times…. album, and ‘Chimes of freedom’, said to be written halfway 3-22 february in the stationwagon with which our hero crosscountried the States with some friends from New York to California.
    2. Please do remark that on the recording itself (click above), the two middle stanzas of the six are left out and because its seems to be the only recording ever made, I would propose that we leave out of our consideration these two left out stanzas as well. What we get is this:

    Well, I ain’t got my childhood
    Or friends I once did know
    But I stil gott my voice left
    I can take it anywhere I go.

    And I’ve never had much money
    But I’m still around somehow
    Many times I’ve bended
    But I ain’t never yet bowed.

    I been kicked and whipped and trampled on
    I been shot at just like you
    But as long as the world keeps a-turnin’
    I just keep a-turnin’ too.

    Well my road might be rocky
    The stones might cut my face
    But as some folks ain’t got no road at all
    They gotta stand in the same old place.

    Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine.

    3. It is obvious to me that the four-stanza song is much stronger than the surviving ‘six-version’ text. What happened is the following. The song takes of from the preceding last three verses of ‘Restless farewell’:

    So I’ll make my stand
    And remain as I am
    And bid farewell and not give a damn.

    Then came the Kennedy-murder and after that on December 13 the disastrous Tom Paine Award diner where our hero failed to take the bend, after which he was convinced by others to give an explanation for his badly received tablespeech (both texts to be found on the internet). Just like everybody else our hero was in shock and confused about what happened in the country but he had gotten confused about himself, his position as well, even before The times… album was to be released.

    4. ‘Guess I’m doin’ fine’ is no less than our hero’s first creative example of digesting what had happened to him personally. Musically it is also his last classic, one-dimensional ‘folksong’ for a very, very long time at least: ‘Chimes of freedom’ in february being his swan-song for the folk-community because after that one we witness the breakthrough of the artform that eventually earned him the Nobelprize for literature when he consecutively writes ‘Mr Tabourine man’ and ‘It ain’t me babe’.

    5. So yes: compared to many other songs ‘Guess I’m doin’fine’ is a quite mediocre one, but psychologically it fits perfectly in the chronology of our hero’s art.

    All the best from Amsterdam
    5 april / 20 august 2021

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