Bob Dylan re-imagined 9: Blind Willie, Stuck in Mobile and Sooner or Later

Research and track selection by Paul Hobson, commentary by Tony Attwood

This series of articles now has its own index which is generally more or less up to date.  You can find it here.  The aim throughout is to take a listen to Dylan’s reworkings of his own songs across time.

This edition gives us Blind Willie McTell from 2002, Stuck Inside of Mobile from 2005 and One of us must know (Sooner or Later) date unknown.

“Blind Willie” has always struck me as a most curious song – it clearly is a great composition, but it is one of those that Bob then chose not to use on an album.  And it has one oddity – it’s not really about the actual Blind Willie McTell at all, but rather an imagined Blind Willie.

So it clearly is ripe for reworking, and that is exactly what Bob does here – and in his movements on the video above you can see that he is getting himself right inside the song, to such a degree that the lyrics become of less and less importance, leaving us instead with a feeling of a song, and no matter that it has nothing to do with the subject matter.

What I really love about this version is that it is not one of those where Bob just lets the band do its own thing – he’s got a real feeling of the overall sound here, with his own guitar playing and singing, an integral part of the whole operation.  This is a rehearsed version, not a “tonight we play it in A flat” performance.

Also it is great that we have a recording that is not interrupted by people talking or whistling.   Especially when we get to the Saint James Hotel verse.

One other thing to note is the way the instrumental verses are used – they are spaced out through the performance and it is only at the end that we get that sound of instruments playing against each other that Bob seems to enjoy.

“Stuck inside of Mobile” was one of the songs that I’ve an extra affection with since I found a way to extract a meaning about the song in an early review on this site.

Here we get a gentle introduction with Bob then belting out the lyrics knowing that most of the time there’s no point in singing them clearly – we all know them off by heart anyway.

We also don’t get much sense that there ever was a proper melody – but he still manages to surprise us with the way he says the title line at the end of the first verse.

It is curious, this whole effect, and I find it hard to find words to summarise what is going on – as the song progresses the lyrics get ever more unclear, as if the paranoia of being stuck inside of Memphis really is building up to levels of insanity not normally heard within Dylan songs.

As the music moves on from verse to verse and the lyrics become ever more incomprehensible (or they would be if we didn’t already know them), the desperation builds and builds; by the end I think we are all getting that feeling of being very stuck indeed.  It’s actually quite uncomfortable.

One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

After “Mobile” it was actually a relief to come to Bob just standing there singing and playing a song like he wants us to hear the lyrics.

With “One of us must know” he does want to spell out those words, as if he is still after all these years talking to the lady.  There are even new moments with additional melody written in.

So when he says “I didn’t know what you could show me” we really do think again what it was that Bob was shown.   Suddenly we are hearing the song afresh – not least with that altered melody in the chorus.

And then… what’s this … a completely new instrumental break that is not part of the song itself.  How un-Dylan is that?   It really gives the next “I didn’t know” an extra force.

I love the way this piece is so laid back and reflective – it fits the lyrics so perfectly.  For me this is Dylan re-writing for a purpose, to give us a clear new meaning – or at least additional levels of meaning.

And then we have the final chorus where one of the band joins in almost shouting out the lyrics.  Again, how unusual for Bob, but what an effect.   Just on six minutes of real joy and insight.

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