She’s Your Lover Now: Bob Dylan’s 18 carat rough diamond

by Jochen Markhorst

JOSEPH
It’s very good. Of course now and then – just now and then – it gets a touch elaborate.

MOZART
What do you mean, Sire?

JOSEPH
Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say?
(he stops in difficulty; to Orsini-Rosenberg)
How shall one say, Director?

ORSINI-ROSENBERG
Too many notes, Your Majesty?

JOSEPH
Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes.

(Peter Schaffer, Amadeus)

Emperor Joseph II extensively compliments Mozart with Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K.384; The Abduction From The Seraglio) and also makes one critical comment that leads to a somewhat absurd, comical dialogue with the uncomprehending, hurt Mozart, but the Imperial Highness has a point. Die Entführung is certainly one of Mozart’s grand operas, but indeed, compared to the Big Four (Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosí fan tutte, and Zauberflöte), it is perhaps a bit long-winded and it does – just now and then – suffer from too much ambition.

Almost two hundred years later, on January 21, 1966, Dylan could also use some constructive criticism too. He spends an entire production day grinding a rough diamond, but can’t get hold of the sparkle he suspects therein. Thanks to The Cutting Edge we are able to follow Dylan’s struggle, growing frustration and eventual capitulation, thanks to the same Cutting Edge we are witness to the resigned sigh, after the last rehearsal with the band, which has since been quoted by all fascinated reviewers, journalists and blogging fans: “I can’t hear the song anymore.”

After the release in 2014, the same recording gets some cult status because a powerless Dylan does not finish an expression of frustration: I can’t even. Is Dylan the mint master of this so hated fashionable, adolescent catchphrase from the twenty-first century? The respected literary-cultural magazine The Atlantic, established opinion-makers such as The New York Daily and trendy online news sites such as City Pages and The Daily Dot devote amused editorials to the find.

“She’s Your Lover Now” truly is a rough diamond, a song that holds eighteen carats, and it is one of the greatest lost classics in Dylan’s illegal bootlegging circuit for years. But unlike with peers such as “Blind Willie McTell”, “Mama You Been On My Mind”, “Series Of Dreams” or “Farewell Angelina” (the list is long) the admirers also hear: this song is indeed not finished. Or rather: the song is too full – Dylan tries to cram one and a half song into one song.

The three or four completed couplets each work sixteen lines of verse to the refrain line She’s your lover now and change the melody line five times along the way. That is a lot. Irregularly too; after six lines, then after three, after one, after two and after three lines. The chord scheme is very similar to “Like A Rolling Stone”, but is more restless and partly unusual, and then there is the question of the lyrics.

The lyrics are limping. The poet Dylan jerkely steers back and forth between a cynical, bitter statement à la “Positively Fourth Street” on the one hand and a kaleidoscopic fog curtain like “Visions Of Johanna” on the other.

Too many notes, Your Majesty.

The opening lines promise hazy poetry. Dylan introduces Blonde On Blonde archetypes, a roaring pawnbroker and a landlord, places a scorching sneer in the tradition of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” and “Like A Rolling Stone” with the very Dylanesque pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it? but then switches to an edgy, unambiguous monologue in direct speech.

Initially the bard holds back on poetic imagery. She’s got her iron chain is a relatively traceable metaphor, just as the first poetic comparisons in the following verse (felony room and judge) are not too frenzied. Familiarly frantic again it does not get until the end of the third verse when the singer poetically expresses the unpredictable, hysterical character of the female lover: she is dancing on the bar with a fish head and a harpoon, and a fake beard on her brow.

In the unpublished fourth, final verse, the poet prolongs the surrealistic style. Bodybuilding legend Charles Atlas (1892-1972) is not out of place among the other passers-by on “Desolation Row” or the Mona Lisa, drunken politicians, Shakespeares and jugglers on Blonde On Blonde. Synesthetic imagery such as your voice is really warm, but has got no form would also fit on Blonde On Blonde, but not with the rest of this song, and the disdain of you were just there that’s all Dylan will eventually transfer to the closing song from side 1, to “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)”.

After a final recording, the breathtaking solo performance by Dylan on the piano when the rest of the band has already been sent home, the master leaves the song definitively. A first official release can be found on The Bootleg Series 1-3 (1991), a ‘complete’ band version, but many fans are fond of that lonely piano version, which appeared on the bootleg CD The Lonesome Sparrow Sings (1994), well before The Cutting Edge. Part of the popularity lies within the unfinished character, is the result of the tension that the Japanese call wabi-sabi (侘 寂), the beauty that is found in inadequacy, in transience and in authenticity – in perfect imperfection.

Fragments are preserved. The next recording day will be spent almost entirely on the difficult birth of “One Of Us Must Know”, which will turn out to be a polished version of “She’s Your Lover Now”, at least: thematically. The recording process is even more difficult, but ultimately it is fruitful; the last, twenty-fourth take is even the only New York recording that is good enough for Blonde On Blonde.

Despite the hidden life and the unfinished nature of the song, every now and then a brave artist ventures into a cover. In 1977 the American band The Original Marauders produces a sympathetic tribute album with mainly songs from the twilight zone (“Farewell Angelina”, “Tell Me Momma”) which also takes its name from “She’s Your Lover Now”: Now Your Mouth Cries Wolf. However, their cover is, with all due respect, love and sympathy, horrible. The songs that tolerate a country or folk approach (“Mama You Been On My Mind”, “Dear Landlord”) are passable, but as soon as an electric guitar is taken from its case, it goes wrong. The pianist hammers unimaginatively, for incomprehensible reasons the singer starts pinching his voice and the drummer loses his sense of rhythm.

On YouTube there are some more horrific mutilations te be found (Rich Lerner & The Groove, to name just one) and the only – very – satisfactory grade an English professional receives: Howard Devoto.

Howard Andrew Trafford, as he is actually called, founded the illustrious punk rock band The Buzzcocks in ’76 and reached an artistic peak with his next band Magazine. Especially on the debut album Real Life (1978), Devoto impresses with his specialty: working towards a captivating climax in melodic, almost symphonic punk songs.

Just before he more or less withdraws from the music scene, Devoto makes two albums with the multi-instrumentalist Noko under the band name Luxuria. Entertaining enough, but he reaches a final peak in his career with his take on “She’s Your Lover Now”, which is released very modestly as B-side of the single “Redneck”. Recorded in 1987, so Devoto has been able to think more than twenty years longer than Dylan about an arrangement in which he can channel the fanning melodies. He succeeds, oddly enough in an lavish mosaic of three guitar parts, energetic, dramatic piano and dynamic organ; a particularly tight drummer and disciplined bass player keep the boundaries strictly guarded. It is a beautiful, seven-minute reverence to a secret high point from Dylan’s wild mercury period.

 

 

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2 Responses to She’s Your Lover Now: Bob Dylan’s 18 carat rough diamond

  1. LarryFyffe says:

    ‘She’s Your Lover Now’ is on ‘Seems Like A Freeze Out’
    (side 2 , track 5,) vinyl bootleg (1971), Trade Mark of Quality Records.

  2. LarryFyffe says:

    That band-with-piano-and-organ incomplete version be quite familar to those who in 1971 bought the vinyl bootleg though many sites do not mention the ‘unofficial’ fine sounding TMQ release.

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