By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
If you have never tried to come up with a completely new arrangement of a Dylan song, perhaps we might be permitted to reveal that it can be incredibly hard, not least because it is so difficult to get Dylan’s distinctive original version of the song out of one’s head.
But now, if you an aspiring composer, you have a chance not to be an arranger of a cover version, but rather Dylan’s co-writer! And to be fully recognised as such!
Because we’ve got a set of lyrics by Dylan for which no music has been composed. All you have to do is to write the music, record a performance and then we’ll put it up on the site. And you will be Dylan’s co-writer.
The song is called Dope Fiend Robber. It was written in 1961 and was found in a notebook left at the McKenzies. It’s interesting because Woody Guthrie also had an unreleased song called Dopefiend Robber, apparently written in 1953, and then discovered in 2012, with music subsequently added by The New Multitudes. There is a copy of that newly created music here – but please don’t take this as a suggested model – if you are going to write the music for these lyrics, you can do what you like.
Of course it is possible that Dylan was somehow aware of the Guthrie work, although no recording was ever made nor music known to have been written by Guthrie for his lyrics … it is all very intriguing.
But back to Dylan’s lyrics, the point about this is that the music does not in any way have to sound like Dylan sounded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It most certainly doesn’t have to be along the lines of Bonnie Why’d You Cut My Hair or Talking Hugh Brown
Nor indeed does it have to be in the style of any of the VD songs that Dylan recorded, which we covered recently. It really can be in any style and with any approach that you want to use.
In the lyrics below you’ll see that the “verses” (maybe “sections” is a better word) are of varying lengths, which suggests that this is a very early draft, and that the song would have been modified as the music was added, to make the verses more regular. So if you are taking on the challenge please do feel free to do what you wish. You don’t have to use every line, you can modify lines, you can even add extra lines if you need them to make the scansion work.
After all, when Bob Dylan allowed all the famous songwriters to compose the music for the New Basement Tapes Notebook songs, he made it clear that the composers could do anything they liked with the lyrics. Indeed it is instructive to go back and look at those songs to see just how varied the composers were able to be in handling the notes that Dylan left.
So, if you wish to take up the challenge and send a recording in, we’ll be delighted to publish it here. And of course it will be noted as composed by Bob Dylan and YOU.
We’ll also be listing this as Dylan’s song number 604 and putting it in the alphabetical list of Dylan compositions – exactly as the New Basement Tapes songs are. And so you’ll be up there in the hall of fame, because that list of 603 (soon to be 604) songs is the industry definitive list. There are other shorter lists around, but we can tell you that some pretty important people take our list as the one that is complete (which is really a fantastic reward for everyone who has helped compile that list).
So, compose the music, record the song, send it to Tony, we’ll publish it on this site, and then fame and riches will undoubtedly follow*.
Here are the lyrics…
I got shot from gattling gun,
Defending your land,
I was doing nothing else but fighting for Uncle Sam.
They took me to the commissary room,
They had to give me something to ease the pain.
It was morphine, morphine
I was doing nothing else but fighting for Uncle Sam.
I left the Hospital in ’45
Quite lucky to be alive.
I’m a going home…
Now you fixed my wounds and I am glad,
But you didn’t fix the habit I had.
White gold — morphine.
It caused me ruin, it caused me shame.
My wife don’t even want my name.
I was buying high day by day
All I do is pay and pay.
Now I don’t mean to harm no man,
I just hope that you all understand,
That I’m a dope fiend robber
Now you need food to get along,
But I need dust inside my bones,
Cause I’m a dope fiend robber.
I had to rob the jewellery store,
But the cops they grabbed me at the door.
They soon found out I took morphine,
The papers said I was a dope fiend.
Now there’s a gang t’ me.
Nobody would go my bail,
I had to break out of the jail.
I didn’t mean to kill your man,
But he held the keys in his hand.
When you picked me up on the street that day,
You beat me up an’ I was in a daze.
I saw the headlines on the Morning Star,
Mad dope fiend killer behind the bars.
I was found guilty at the trail [sic],
Judge said I’m condemned to die.
Now I’m not asking for sympathy,
From anybody in your society,
There’s a man that keeps on pushing me,
You’ll take my life and he goes free.
*The note above about “riches” might be a slight exaggeration.
Please send your recording as an audio file, or as a YouTube video to Tony@schools.co.uk and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE mark the subject line “Dope Fiend Robber music.” Tony does get a fair number of emails as a result of running Untold Dylan – which is fine, and no complaints about that, but it is helpful to be able to identify what each is about from the subject line.
What else is on the site?
We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 4200 active members. (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm). Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site. You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.
The index to all the 602 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.
If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.
On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk
And please do note our friends at 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, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).