By Paul Hobson and Tony Attwood
This series of articles looks at Dylan’s reinterpretations of his own work, with video examples from his concerts. In this article we look at Just like a Woman from the late 1990s, “It’s all over now baby blue”, and “My back pages.” As ever the recordings are selected by Paul Hobson and the commentary and personal comments are from Tony.
Details of the previous episodes in this series are shown at the end of the article.
First off today then, is Just like a woman.
Very unusally for Bob Dylan he starts with a harmonica solo, and it is a wandering and occasionally rambling solo not at all typical of Bob’s normal work. And that provides an intro for the fact that when he begins to sing it is a halting, uncertain voice that emerges. Indeed he’s so laid back he’s almost retreating.
The singer is totally resigned to the situation; he is broken by what has happened and what he has seen as the musicians weave counter melodies around his voice almost tangling him up in his sadness and desperation.
And indeed when he gets to “What’s worse is this pain in here” it really does sound like he is going to break up.
In fact so much pain is there in here that it almost becomes a relief to move on to the next song – which in our case is “It’s all over now baby blue.” And this time although the introduction eventually tells us what song we are going to hear it does take a while.
But when we do get to Bob’s vocal it is clear at once that we are getting a very much more reflective, inward looking consideration of the song than we are used to.
To my ear it does take Bob a verse to get into the new mood of the song, but it is certainly worth persevering with this piece because from the second verse onwards we get an interpretation that is well worth hearing and a very clear re-consideration of the emotions within the song.
In fact it is one of those re-working of songs that made me want to go back to the lyrics and reconsider them myself, even though I have lived with them since they were first heard on the LP.
Whereas sometimes the song appears to be just a statement of fact – almost a “get over it, it is over, move on” this is not that at all. There is a deep sadness here which we don’t always hear, particularly as the instruments weave in and out of each other’s melodic line
And indeed when Bob tells us “they will not bother you” it is with a level of regret that we rarely hear.
There is also a most curious effect when Bob sings the “all” in “It’s all over now baby blue” wherein he sings a note outside of the chord that the band is playing, to give a dischord that again we are not used to in this song. This break up really is tearing him apart.
And to stay with the meloncholia, we finish this set with My Back Pages from the 2000s. As you can hear the audience is very appreciative of being at a performance of the classic.
Unfortunately the balance of the band doesn’t work all the way through after the first verse, which may well be just a fault in the recording, and it is a great shame, but still we can appreciate what Bob is doing here.
Between 1978 and 2012 Dylan performed the song 260 times, which is of itself interesting, given that it appeared initially on “Another Side” in 1964. Quite what encouraged him to re-visit the song and perform it for the first time 14 years after he recorded the song I don’t know but it certainly gave the audience a surprise for which they show fulsome appreciation.
And the unexpected plaintive harmonica solo added to that sense of something special happening in the show. Indeed the decision to extend the final instrumental section at the conclusion of the performance across several verses is inspired. I am not sure there is another moment like this in Dylan’s work.
The series so far
- You can find the first article in the series here where we looked at Pretty Peggy O, Ring them Bells and the total reworking of Visions.
- The second article took in Like a Rolling Stone, Positively 4th Street and Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues.
- Part 3 took in Tears of Rage, Masters of War and Man of Constant Sorrow.
- Then we had Re-imagined 4: If not for you, the Watchtower and Make you feel my love
- Bob Dylan Re-imagined 5 took us to Shelter from the Storm, Forever Young, Simple Twist