Bob says to Tony: The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented

By Tony Attwood

This article continues from part 1 of this piece, Bob says to Tony, “Make me an album”  and part 2  in which we get to Yonder Comes Sin.  These fairy tales express the totally fanciful idea that Bob Dylan asks his manager to give me a call, suggesting I might put together his next compilation album, under the condition that it has to have a certain amount of coherence, and can’t be a collection of greatest hits that everyone knows anyway.  Part one got us going in 1980, and part two reviewed the pivotal moment when Bob turned from the standard messages of the church he had joined the year before, and began to explore man and God as a partnership.

In parts 1 and 2 we got as far as “Yonder Comes Sin”, which just leaves us three songs to go…

  1. Let’s keep it between us (Love – all we need is honesty)
  2. Making a liar out of me (This is me, this is where I have got to)
  3. City of Gold (Revelations / gospel)

Let’s just move to the back of the back of the bus
Oh, darlin’, can we keep it between us?

This song about the prejudice that can arise from a mixed-race relationship was a central part of Dylan’s tour in the autumn of 1980 before being offered to Bonnie Raitt, who recorded it in 1982.

The piece is played with Bob at the piano in the key of Eb – a key that is tough for less than fully accomplished guitarists but nice for less than fully accomplished pianists.   This demonstrates what Bob called his own “untutored approach” to piano work

There are also several recordings on the internet…

and a rather fine cover version…

So we have moved away from Christianity as the base of all our understanding of the world and instead reached a point where we are now making up our own morality. A thought which flows into Making a liar out of me which in essence says, “This is me, this is where I have got to,” without making any reference to organised religion at all.

As lots of us said upon first hearing it is very similar to Where are you tonight?  written at the end of 1977.  Others have noted the similarity to “You Can’t Always Get what you want” by the Rolling Stones, or Dylan’s “Angelina”.

It is also the answer to Caribbean Wind.  The Wind poses the questions and uncertainty and here Bob gives the answers – the answers to all the issues he wrote as he tried to answer the points raised in Slow Train Coming.  In fact the Slow Train had got here, and it was the wrong train, going in the wrong direction.

And the question is, to whom is Bob addressing his words?

As we’ve seen so often on this site, trying to analyse a Dylan song line by line is a mug’s game because much of the time the overall vision encapsulated within the words is far more insightful than individual lines.

Therefore if we want to go beyond the individual lines (which with Dylan can so often be misleading) we do have to get some sort of context.  However to do this is so hard because so many of the lines are so good, it is always possible that there is not meant to be any connection between the lines – maybe they are just each individual impressions.

What I would say is that song really ought to have a much higher profile than it has among many fans.  It really is an incredible work, that has never been released.  It isn’t even on the official Bob Dylan site!!!!!!

Yet the wonderful thing that happens is that it just rolls on and on, the same and the same and the same, screaming out, no, you’ve fooled me this far, and no more.

I tell people you're just goin' through changes
And that you're acquainted both with night and day
That your money's good and you're just being courageous
On them burnin' bridges knowin' your feet are made of clay
Well I say you won't be destroyed by your inventions
That you brought it all under captivity
And that you really do have all the best intentions
But you're makin' a liar out of me


Well I say that you're just young and self-tormented
But that deep down you understand
The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented
Who threaten now to overtake your promised land
Well I say you'd not sow discord among brothers
Nor drain a man of his integrity
But you'll remember the cries of orphans and their mothers
But you're makin' a liar out of me
But you're makin' a liar out of me
Well I say that, that ain't flesh and blood you're drinkin'
In the wounded empire of your fool's paradise
With a light above your head forever blinkin'
Turnin' virgins into merchandise
That you must have been beautiful when you were livin'
You remind me of some old-time used-to-be
I say you can't be trusted with the power you been given
But you're makin' a liar out of me
So many things so hard to say as you stumble
To take refuge in your offices of shame
As the earth beneath my feet begins to rumble
And your young men die for nothin' not even fame
I say that someday you'll begin to trust us
And that your conscience not been slain by conformity
That you'll stand up unafraid to believe in justice
But you're makin' a liar out of me
You're makin' a liar out of me
Well I can hear the sound of distant thunder
From an open window at the end of every hall
Now that you're gone I got to wonder
If you ever were here at all
I say you never sacrificed my children
To some false god of infidelity
And that it's not the Tower of Babel that you're buildin'
But you're makin' a liar out of me
You're makin' a liar out of me
Now you're makin' a liar out of me

How much stronger a statement against the religion he had so recently been promoting do you need than

Well I say that, that ain't flesh and blood you're drinkin'
In the wounded empire of your fool's paradise

Indeed if this song was written to one person, that is one hell of a person Bob was addressing.  A young, struggling man or woman, who has learned so much, and who knows so much, and who has so much within him/herself to admire.  The mother of his children?  Or maybe to his young self?  Although other times he is seeming to write about someone no longer with us.  Or is it just no longer with him?

All options are possible, but I also keep coming back to the notion that Bob is addressing his own heritage – that of his parents and that he adopted in the past 18 months.   All the songs he has written and all the songs he will write.  I know I can’t prove it but to me he is in fact writing to himself about himself, and criticising himself in the way he was taken in.  It is the return version of Sad Eyed Lady.  Sad Eyed was about his wife.  This is all about him, and what the church did to him.

Indeed this song has some wonderful lines in it, including this one utterly amazing stand-out line

The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented

And that adds to the notion that he is talking to himself, for isn’t that what Bob carried from the days of second album onwards?  The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented.  Are they not there in everything from “Restless Farewell” through “Drifters Escape” and on to “Tell Ol Bill”?  The discontented.  The disinherited.  The lost.

So there are the possibilities: he’s talking about himself, he’s talking about the mother of his children, he’s talking about the lost.   And maybe also…

Bob is talking to his audience.

In this view Bob starts by telling his audience that they are all educated people who know what’s what.  And in loving his music and putting deep meanings into his lyrics they do have the best of intentions, and he can’t fault them for that, but that is not what really what he has been writing about.   They might not be able to effect change personally, but they really are trying to understand and trying to do the right thing…

I tell people, you just going through changes
And that you’re acquainted both with night and day
That your money’s good and you’re just being courageous
On them burning bridges knowing your feet are made of clay
Well I say you won’t be destroyed by your inventions
That you brought it all under captivity
And that you really do have all the best intentions
But you’re making a liar out of me

Bob was around 39 years old when he wrote this song, and most of his fans would probably at that time have been a bit younger than him.  Here he has the greatest respect for his fans and their desire to make a better life and a better world, but making him into a superstar who can actually tell them what to do and what to believe, well that is not right.  That is not what he is doing at all.  Just remember, “Don’t follow leaders.”

Well I say that you’re just young and self-tormented
But that deep down you understand
The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented
That threaten now to overtake your promised land
Well I say you’d not sow discord among brothers
Nor drain a man of his integrity
That you remember the cries of orphans and their mothers
But you’re making a liar out of me
But you’re making a liar out of me

If you have a moment, just hold onto that line “The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented“.   It doesn’t explain itself within that one line but the power and significances that are held within that line make it one of the most profound that Dylan ever wrote.

It is all a mess, and that if anyone can sort out the future it is the young, the idealists – we have the third verse in which he changes tack, and seems to turn his ire on religion and religious leaders – the flesh and blood of the Communion (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

The religious leaders can be trusted, but if they are seeking to use Dylan as a symbol of the Christian church (which still of course goes on, as Bob is claimed by many Christian as one of his own) then they are indeed making a liar out of Bob, because that is not what he is about at all.

Well I say that, that ain’t flesh and blood you’re drinking
In the wounded empire of your fool’s paradise
With a light above your head forever blinking
Turning virgins into merchandise
That you must have been beautiful when you were living
You remind me of some old-time used-to-be
I say you can be trusted with the power you been given
But you’re making a liar out of me

All in all he is full of praise for those who fight for a better world, but just doesn’t want them to do it by quoting Dylan.  To say of someone, “That you stand up unafraid to believe in justice” is surely among the highest praise that can be given to a person, but as always Bob asks for the person striving to make this world a better place, that he or she does not quote Dylan along the way.

So many things so hard to say as you stumble
To take refuge in your offices of shame
As the earth beneath my feet begins to rumble
And your young men die for nothin’, not even fame
I say that someday you’ll begin to trust us
And that your conscience has not been slain by conformity
That you stand up unafraid to believe in justice
But you’re making a liar out of me
You’re making a liar out of me

The final verse has the suggestion that Bob was talking to an individual all the way through, and not all his fans as I have been suggesting, and of course that is possible, as indeed it is possible that he is speaking to different people in different places in the song – to his lover, his fans, the media, the mother of his children.

And he is careful to ensure that his criticism in the repeated lines at the end of each verse are not in any way the same as when he expressed disdain in some songs ten or more years before.  He’s saying, you are not misrepresenting all my words, but by taking my writings in a particular way, you are getting me wrong.

Well I can hear the sound of distant thunder
From an open window at the end of every hall
Now that you’re gone I got to wonder
If you ever were here at all
I say you never sacrificed my children
To some false god of infidelity
And that it’s not the Tower of Babel that you’re building
But you’re making a liar out of me
You’re making a liar out of me
Well you’re making a liar out of me

As I say, in the end it comes across to me as another way of saying “Don’t follow leaders,” especially in this case since for many people the leader is him.  And he doesn’t want that.  And the world doesn’t need that.  Because there are good people out there who can take things forward.  And more than anything we can all think for ourselves, given the chance.

And then the final track.  In a way, this track could be said to be making a liar out of me, because it has been taken up as a gospel song.  But  City of Gold is not that.  It can be turned into a spiritual, but in essence, it is a simple song that says life doesn’t have to be like this; you can make it better.

In the end, we are left with the notion that life is what we choose to make it and in this regard, and at this level, the non-believer and the believer are on the same ground: you choose to follow the Lord, or you choose to be a good and honest person and just do your level best for your fellows, or you choose some other road to travel.

here is a city of gold
far from this rat-race with the bars that hold
far from the confusion, eats at your soul
There is a city of gold.

There is a country of light
Raised up in glory, angels wearing white
Never know sickness, never know night
There is a country of light.

There is a city of love
Way from this world, stuff dreams are made of
Fear of no darkness, stars high above
There is a city of love.

There is a city of hope
There ain't no doctor, don't need no dope
I'm ready and willing, throw down a rope
There is a city of hope.

There is a city of gold
Far from this rat race and these bars that hold
Rest for your spirit, peace for your soul
There is a city of gold

As Larry Ffyfe said

(The Imagery is that which) also appears in I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine….

“And a coat of solid gold…I put my finger against the glass”, contrasting the ideal in one’s head with that which one yearns with the pain of reality.    Judaism’s earth-bound and Christianity’s heavenly view different somewhat, but the biblical imagery serves Dylan’s Romantic inclinations well.”

Conclusion

And that was it: 1980.  An utterly amazing year.  An incredible year.  The year when against all my expectations, Dylan moved on.   The year in which Bob gave us the immortal “Every Grain”, “Caribbean Wind”, “Groom’s Still Waiting”, “Yonder Comes Sin, “Let’s keep it between us”, and beyond even the Caribbean, “Making a liar”.   Six amazing, sensational songs which just emerged one after another as he one more time transformed himself into a spiritual rather than a religious person.

So when Bob turns up at my front door one day and says, “Hey Tony that album you made for me, that was OK.  Do you want to do a book?” I’ll say “yes Bob of course,” and the words at the start and the end will be

I tell people, you just going through changes
And that you’re acquainted both with night and day
That your money’s good and you’re just being courageous
On them burning bridges knowing your feet are made of clay
Well I say you won’t be destroyed by your inventions
That you brought it all under captivity
And that you really do have all the best intentions
But you’re making a liar out of me.

And I’ll look up to see what he thinks of that, but by then, he’ll already be gone down the road, moving on, always moving on.

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2 Responses to Bob says to Tony: The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented

  1. Ronald Lee Hagelund says:

    Interesting in the Extreme…Love Dylan Thanks

  2. Bruce Robertson says:

    It’s about America and the great betrayal of her advocates. Sure there’s a lot of biblical reference points, as always, that’s Dylan. This is in the vein of Union Sundown which had to have been stewing the in soup. Love this man and don’t like to think about the world without him in it… long may he run.

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