Why does Bob Dylan like “The End of Innocence”?

by Tony Attwood

The End of Innocence written by Bruce Hornsby and Don Henley was performed nine times by Bob Dylan during the autumn 2002 tour.    The song was released by the composers as a single as well as appearing on Henley’s third album which took the name of the song for its title.  Hornsby played piano on the track.

Hornsby spent two years with the Grateful Dead, and this year (2019) released his 21st album.  He is still particularly remembered for his work with Bruce Hornsby and The Range, and his song “The Way It Is”.  Although it is the social commentary in this and other songs that many have noted, Hornsby’s work is very notable for the way he uses rhythm and this has attracted many musicians to appreciate his work.

Don Henley (and I know you know all this, but I’m setting it all out, just in case) was a founder of the Eagles and wrote “Hotel California.”   He’s been with the Eagles all the way through, including the re-founding of the group after they split up.  Don Henley also shares a strong concern for environmental matters with Bruce Hornsby.

I’m setting out the lyrics straight away, before going onto the rest of the commentary, as I personally found them hard to follow from Bob’s rendition and he has changed the lyrics very slightly in places.  Here’s what I think Bob sings…

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
Mommy and daddy standing by
When happily ever after fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
Lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly
I know a place where we can go
Untouched by man
Watch the clouds rolling by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
Lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up offer up your best defense
This is the end
This is the end of the innocence

O’ beautiful for spacious skies
Now those skies are threatening
They’re beating plowshares into swords
For that tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we’ve been blinded by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie
I know a place where we can go
To wash away this sin
Watch the clouds roll by
The tall grass wave in the wind
Lay your head back on the ground
Let your long hair spill all around me
Offer up your best defense
This is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last
Or how we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
Darling give me just one kiss
And let me take just one last look
Before we say good bye
Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

As others have pointed out, the “Tired old man that we elected king” is Ronald Reagan. And indeed there are a lot of political comments in the song, plus a Biblical reference (“Beating ploughshares into swords”) which relates to Isaiah 2:4 “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Here the lyrics reverse the Bible text, and I have also read that Hornsby shares with Dylan the concern about the decline in family farms which Dylan charted from Hollis Brown onwards.  And indeed this concern was a strong enough concern to lead to Bob’s Live Aid comment about helping American farmers, and thence on to Farm Aid.

Here’s Bruce Hornsby’s version of the song – this video has a commentary in the middle which I know interrupts the music but I think it is an interesting commentary and a moving video of a beautiful song.  And of course you can find the album and the song in full on the internet.

 

So there are a lot of elements that would draw Bob to this song – and if we step back from the detail of the song for a moment and consider it as a entity, and as I just noted, it is a stunningly beautiful and moving piece of songwriting.

For me it is one of those pieces that I find hard to analyse meaningfully, because it is the totalality of the piece that makes it beautiful, combined with the phrase that makes up the title.

I totally love the piece, and I’m glad Bob found it moving as well.  The only regret I have is in the way Bob reimagined the piece, making it harder to hear the lyrics and cutting out some of the refinements of the melody.   But on the positive side I am sure that because he chose to sing it many people not familar with the song before would have picked up on it for the first time.

Why does Dylan like –

Here are some of the other songs covered in this series

This series contains reviews of the songs of other writers that Dylan admits he loves… along (where possible) with examples of Dylan performing the songs, in contrast with the originals.

I’ve kept “October Song” on its own at the top of the list, because it is for me perhaps the most fascinating and interesting of all the songs included in this series.

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7 Responses to Why does Bob Dylan like “The End of Innocence”?

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Remember when the days were long
    And a cloud wasn’t in the sky
    Didn’t have a care in the world
    Mommy and daddy were standing by
    Happy-ever-after fails
    We were blinded by these ugly tales
    Lawyers clean up all details
    Since daddy had to lie
    I know a place where we can go
    Untouched by man
    Watch the clouds go rollin’ by
    And the tall grass wave in the wind
    Lay your head here back on the ground
    Let your long hair fall all around me
    Offer up, offer up your best defence
    This is the end, this is the end
    This is the end of the innocence

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    O beautiful for spacious skies
    Now those skies are threatenin’
    They’re beatin’ ploughshares into swords
    For that tired old man we elected king
    Armchair warriors often fail
    We been blinded by these fairy tales
    Lawyers clean up all details
    Since daddy had to lie
    I know a place where we can go
    And wash away the sins
    Watch the clouds go rollin’ by
    Tall grass wavin’ in the wind
    Lay your head back down there on the
    ground
    Let your long hair fall all around me
    Offer up, offer up your best defence
    This is the end
    This is the end of the innocence

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Who knows how long this would last
    Or how we come so far so fast
    That same back there in the dust
    That same small town in each of us
    I need to remember this
    Darling give me one more kiss
    Let me take just one last look
    Before we say good bye
    Lay your head back down there on the ground
    Let your long hair fall all around me
    Offer your best defence
    This is the end of innocence
    This is the end of the innocence

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    Who knows how long this would last
    Or how we come so far so fast
    That same back there in the dust
    That same small town in each of us
    I need to remember this
    Darling give me one more kiss
    Let me take just one last look
    Before we say good bye
    Lay your head back down there on the ground
    Let your long hair fall all around me
    Offer your best defence
    This is the end
    This is the end of the innocence

  5. Larry Fyffe says:

    The second of the repeated posting of the end of the song corrects a slight inadvertent error in the first posted.

  6. Daniel John Mooney says:

    leaving out context as this tour was after 9-11 during the bulllshit runup to the Iraq war which was obviously even at the time built on total lies.

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    * rather post~ 9-11 …not ‘pre’-

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