“Seeing the real you at last” – the meaning of the music and the lyrics

By Tony Attwood

Does quoting lines from the movies (which is what this song does) mean you are removed from reality?

That is the suggestion Heylin makes in reference to this song.  Obviously you’ll decide for yourself, but for me it is (to use the technical term) a lot of bollocks.  I quote lines from films, from Dylan songs, from Shakespeare, from TS Eliot, from novels…  Why not?  Maybe it is utterly pretentious, but hopefully some of the quotes actually illuminate what I am trying to say.

Quoting as a way of illuminating what one is saying, or simply doing it for fun, is part of being a literate human.  If I say to a friend in a club, “I have measured out my life in dance tracks,” it might just mean I’ve danced all my life.  It might mean time has passed by and I haven’t done a tenth of what I might have done.  Except that I have read Eliot, so I take one of his most famous lines and mess with it.  Just for fun.

The line “Think this rain would cool things off but it don’t” could be completely prosaic and pointless, or a vision of the constant mess we are in.  It all depends on where you are and what you are thinking.  It’s not something to be taken in isolation.  It is all context.

And the big point to remember here is that this is a blues on an album called Empire Burlesque which gives a clue as to the era we are looking back at.  Not a conventional 12 bar blues but a blues nonetheless.  Not a regular blues band either – you’ve got all the extra instruments in there, but it is still a blues rotating around F7, B flat 7 and C7, with a quick E flat 7 thrown in.  I mean, how blues do you want to be?

The blues is like a movie – all the blues is story telling about the central themes of movies – life, death, betrayal, poverty, men and women…

So in many senses the marriage of the blues and 1940s Hollywood movies is perfect – and the irony of the song’s title (Seeing the real you at last) is overwhelming.  In the movies nothing is real.  The blues is always told a real story, but of course it is just a way of expressing the world.  Today it is often a way of excusing failure and things going wrong but originally it was an expression of appalling oppression.

The fact that, unusually for Dylan, the album took nine months to sort out, rather than nine weeks (at most) shouldn’t mislead us.  Indeed it should give a clue.  Hollywood movies, even in the 1940s, were big productions.  This music is a big production number.  It all fits.  The fact that he managed to mix the blues in as well is something to marvel at.

So in essence this is a song about contrasting the real, and the fantasy.  The real of the blues story, the fantasy of Hollywood.  Nothing is real.  Everything is real.  That’s life.

And in passing we might note that the song was record on January 28, 1985, at Cherokee studios in Hollywood.

There is quite a bit of relief and recovery in the song, as with

Well, I have had some rotten nights
Didn’t think that they would pass
I’m just thankful and grateful
To be seeing the real you at last

But it is not to be thought that this is all 1940s Bogart.  Dylan expressing all the trouble he’s seen, and using an image from ancient Greece, is quite something in itself – but it is still Hollywood.

Well, I sailed through the storm
Strapped to the mast
But the time has come
And I’m seeing the real you at last

But throughout this is the real, real blues…

Well, I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble
Trouble always comes to pass
But all I care about now
Is that I’m seeing the real you at last

So is this happiness now, with trouble behind him?  Not a chance!

Well, I’m gonna quit this baby talk now
I guess I should have known
I got troubles, I think maybe you got troubles
I think maybe we’d better leave each other alone

Whatever you gonna do
Please do it fast
I’m still trying to get used to
Seeing the real you at last

A great song, with depths that I fear many have never quite got.

Index to all the reviews.



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2 Responses to “Seeing the real you at last” – the meaning of the music and the lyrics

  1. Jeffrey Hartmann says:

    Wondering whether this YouTube video could serve as a companion piece for this article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02-fRZixLa8

  2. hans altena says:

    Yes, and I think almost the whole Empire Burlesque has these hidden depths, the style he is now renowned for, though some illiterates never aware of Elliot or Joyce or Burroughs still call it shallow plagiarism, blooms here on grounds much despised, the Hollywood Movies, and perhaps therefore it received even more criticism, also because the music applied Hollywood tricks as well. But Dylan has always been about this, gathering lines from everywhere that paint a bigger picture because they reference so much more, especially when treated in his way, poetic, as if from shattered mirrors. At first he did it more subconciously, later on, as he said himself around the time of Blood on the Tracks, he had to rely more on concious action instead of automatic writing. Only those that take words on their superficial level sometimes don’t get it, to me they already hit home without the knowledge of their origin, but it sure opens doors when you get to them and see what cut and paste can do to your sense of reality. What fun, that video therefore! Empire Burlesque to me grows with the years, its expressive sound, though achieved with disco techniques I was not fond of in the eighties, hits me in the stomach now, irritations over some synths aside. I am very fond of Tempest, but it could have used some of this chaos and energy.

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