Bob Dylan visits Bourbon Street, but I’m not sure it was a worthwhile trip.

By Tony Attwood

Disc 4 of the Basement Tapes Complete ends with two songs in which one of the gang plays the trombone, possibly for no reason other than the fact that there was a trombone available.  Both recordings are fairly painful and I suspect no one has ever played those tracks more than a few times.

The first is “Don’t you tell Henry” and the second is “Bourbon Street” which ends the disc.

The trombonist can play, up to a point, but I suspect there are two problems: one he is not warmed up and the other is that he is not used to this sort of improvisation on the trombone.   Being able to play in a conventional way and then improvise around a wandering theme are quite different things.

As for Bourbon Street – it is a street within New Orleans French Quarter – the original part of the city.  It’s an area of bars, night life and strip clubs.   Living on Bourbon Street, as Bob sings, means have lost yourself in misery and regret, and having nowhere else to go.

The name of the street was given by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville who was in charge of developing the colony.  Three years after New Orleans was founded Adrien de Pauger was made royal engineer for the colony and developed the street layout naming the streets, as his patron required, after French royalty and Catholic saints. France at the time was ruled by the House of Bourbon.

Genius.com has had a bash at the lyrics and this is what they have delivered – I think its as close as anyone is likely to get.

I’d like another Bourbon Street
(??) oh so sweet
Hold that down, you better keep it neat
For when it’s over, it was incomplete
Oh, I took it down and said, oh, oh have a seat
But I don’t live down on Bourbon Street
No more, no more, no more, no more
No, I don’t live on Bourbon Street no more

Bourbon Street lordy-town
You better keep it sweet
Put all your loving apples on your feet
But I don’t even mind if you want to scratch your feet
You can bag it down in butter, butter sweet
Now don’t (??) on my Bourbon Street

Now, Bourbon Street
A happiness will get you, Bourbon Street
The girls they won’t forget you down at Bourbon Street
Here they come now
Here they come now
Here they come now
Oh them little girls

Well, I went down a-looking for Bourbon Street
I look a-high and low and then it took me off my feet
Bourbon Street
Oh man, let me tell ya, Bourbon Street
Mister bartender, I’ll have another Bourbon Street

Not more many people have ventured an opinion on this song which seems to come to an end part way through but is then picked up again, although the Washington Post did put forward this critique…

“Bob croaks “marvelous” and “play it pretty now, boys,” over a wounded trombone. Makes you almost miss Uriah Heep.”

Here’s the haiku

I no longer live
On Bourbon Street, but there are
Some nice girls who do.

The reviewer calls the song “Complete chaos” which is a little harsh, for if you took out the trombone there is something there that could be turned into a proto-song from which something could emerge.   There certainly is a structure, even if the guys lose their way part way through.

But as the writer of the haiky says, “In essence he used to live there but don’t go there no more.”

I can’t imagine too many people playing the song more than once largely because if you set out to write a song of dissolution and decay, singing as if you are dissolute and decayed makes for such painful listening, no one wants to share the experience with you.

All in all this makes disc four a very strange experience for anyone who does play it through from start to end.  It starts with “Tears of Rage” (try take 3 if you have the complete album – it is the strongest performance).

Then we get the first outing for Quinn the Eskimo (which took me by surprise at just how gentle those first two takes of Quinn are, and how unrelated to anything else the song is).  Then we have “Nothing was Delivered”, which really does sound like Bob in full control, and then it all starts to go downhill with things like “Get Your Rocks Off” and on down and down until we get to Bourbon Street.  Which I suppose is appropriate.

One wonders what on earth was going on with the guys during that sequence of songs.

Anyway, that means we have now gone through all of the songs on disc four, although I must admit, not taking into account each of the various takes.   Disc five started with “Blowing in the wind” and I’ll pick up the tracks we have not reviewed before, in the remaining reviews.

All the 1967 songs are listed in the Dylan in the 60s file– just scroll down the list.  Each song reviewed is linked from the list to the review itself.

What else is on the site?

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

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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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