- Caribbean Wind part 1 – verses 1 and 2
- Caribbean Wind: part 2. Verses 3 and 4
- Caribbean Wind part 3 Verses 5 and 6
“We left it off the album (as it was) quite different to anything I wrote….The way the story line changes from 3rd person to 1st person and that person becomes you, then these people are there and they’re not there. And then the time goes way back and then it’s brought up to the present. I thought it was really effective”. Bob Dylan
Caribbean Wind – 12/11/80 Fox Warfield Live version
‘The shock of recognition that greeted this song when Dylan fans got to hear the audience tape of this November 12 1980 show is hard now to convey. After two years of browbeating, Caribbean Wind seemed a lot like the old Dylan, disaffected with love and on the run from the End Times – hence his Leadbelly rap that prefaced the song; “Some people liked the old songs, some people liked the new songs, but he didn’t change, he was the same man.” (Hint).
Though Dylan seemed unhappy with the live performance, refraining from performing the song again at the remaining 1980 shows, Dylan knew that Caribbean Wind was an important song, opening up a new approach much as Mr. Tambourine Man, Visions of Johanna or Tangled up in Blue had in earlier times’(21). ‘He made a subtle point about the way the media had portrayed him in the past year, during his two minute introduction to the one and only live version of Caribbean Wind’(5). ‘The tour was known as the Musical Retrospective Tour because of the advertisements Bill Graham (the San Francisco Promoter) ran to try and assure fans that the ‘old Dylan’ was back in action’(7).
“Alright, this is a 12-string guitar, the first time I heard a 12-string guitar it was played by Leadbelly, don’t know if you heard of him? Anyway, he was a, uh, a prisoner in, uh, I guess it was Texas State Prison. I forget what his real name was but, uh, people’d just call him Leadbelly, and he was recorded by a man named Alan Lomax. I don’t know if you’d heard of him, great man who done a lot of good for music, anyway, uh, he got Leadbelly out and brought him up to New York and made a lot of records there. At first he was just doing prison songs and stuff like that, the same man that’s recorded him also recorded Muddy Waters before Muddy Waters changed his name, anyway Leadbelly did most of those kind of songs until he’d been out of prison for some time and he decided to do children’s songs. Some people say ‘Oh, what, Leadbelly changed’? Some people liked the older one and some people liked the newer one, but he didn’t change, he was the same man. Anyway, this is a song called, er, this is another song I wrote a while back, I’ll try and do it as good as I can, somebody important here tonight that wants to hear it, so I want to do it the best….”
The important person at that show that Dylan was referring to would appear to be the author Paul Williams; “I had some fascinating conversations with Dylan backstage during the Warfield shows. At one point he read the lyrics of a new song to me, which turned out to be Every Grain of Sand. Another time he talked about how he’d gotten in touch consciously with some of the songwriting techniques he’d used unconsciously (and so successfully) in the mid-sixties. He spoke of one song he was particularly proud of, that he’d written “a while back,” that successfully functioned on the level of complexity of his mid-sixties material, taking the listener outside of time (I don’t know that he actually used these phrases; I’m just recalling my impression of what he told me). He said the song was called Caribbean Wind, and that he’d try to play it if I’d phone his assistant some afternoon before a show and remind him of my request’(7). ‘Dylan allowed me to spend several hours with him backstage after four of the 11/80 shows. He even read me the lyrics of a new song, Every Grain of Sand, told me about another he was proud of, Caribbean Wind, and performed it at one of the shows at my request’(25).
She was from Haiti, fair brown and intense, .........................woman................................., I was playing a show in Miami, in the Theatre of Divine Comedy. Told about Jesus, told about the rain, She told me about the vision, told me about the pain, That had risen from the ashes and divided in her memory.
Was she a child or a woman ? I really can’t say, Something about her said ‘Trust me anyway’, As the days turned to minutes, and the minutes turned back into hours. Could I have been used and played as a pawn? It certainly was possible as the gay night wore on, But victory was mine, and I held it with the help of God’s power.
And the Caribbean winds still blow, from Trinidad to Mexico, The circle of light, the furnace of desire. And them distant ships of liberty, on them iron waves so bold and free, Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Shadows grew closer as we touched on the floor, Prodigal Son sitting next to the door, Preaching resistance, waiting for the night to arrive. He was well connected, but her heart was a snare, And she had left him to die in there, But I knew he could get out while he was still alive.
Stars on my balcony, buzzing my head, .......................................heat in my bed, Street band playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’. He had a secret, where the mission bells ring, She said ‘I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing, You can do about it, so you might as well agree to agree’.
And them Caribbean Winds blows hard, From the Iv’ry Coast into my back yard, Down below, to the furnace of desire. And the distant ships of liberty, on them iron waves so bold and free, Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Atlantic City, by the cold sea, I hear a voice crying ‘daddy’, I always think it’s for me, But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call. Every new messenger bringing evil report, About rioting armies and time that is short, And earthquakes and train wrecks and the heat words printed on walls.
Would I have married her, I don’t know, I suppose, She had bells in her braids, and they hung to her toes, The curtain was rising, and like they say ‘The ship would sail at dawn’. Then I felt it come over me, some kind of gloom, And I thought say, ‘come home with me girl, I got plenty of room’, But I knew I’d be lyin’, and besides she had already gone. Chorus And them Caribbean Winds still howl, from the Tokyo to the British Isle, ............................................................the furnace of desire. And them distant ships of liberty, on them iron waves so bold and free, Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
‘Caribbean Wind is the high point of the fall 1980 shows, a sublime performance of a Dylan masterpiece that never quite came together in the studio (the Biograph performance, recorded in April 1981, is inferior both lyrically and musically). Dylan was dissatisfied with the band’s playing on the song November 12, but that may be because he was on stage, not in the audience. Tim Drummond (de facto bandleader) and the other musicians provide superb support and hard-rock embellishment as Dylan delivers a blistering vocal performance; the net result, even though you can’t hear all of the words, is filled with an excitement comparable to the best of Dylan’s spontaneous studio sessions. The song, through this performance, burns itself into the consciousness of every person who ever hears it. It becomes flesh; it breathes; even the mere memory of hearing it roars in the listeners blood(7)’.
Caribbean Wind Recorded 31/3/81, Studio 55, Los Angeles, California).
Musicians: Bob Dylan, Vocals and Piano; Jim Keltner, Drums; Fred Tackett, Guitar, Steve Ripley, Guitar, Tim Drummond, Bass; Carl Pickhardt, Keyboards; Clydie King, 2nd Vocals; Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec, Regina McCrery, Backing Vocals. Producer, Arthur Rosato.
This is the version that really gets through to my soul and the intro. always knocks me out, the way the opening acoustic guitar chords gradually build up and the piano, and then the drums, come crashing in to dramatically kick the song into gear. The drums continue to pound out the heart beat rhythm and the perfect music is complemented by Dylan’s controlled vocals, for he definitely is in control here and everything is in the right place and it seems to happen naturally and doesn’t seem at all contrived (unlike the later 7/4/81 Biograph version), and on this recording we find a man who is sure of himself and of his work and it shows. All of his subsequent tinkering with this song’s lyrics would fail to yield a performance to equal this one, this is in spite of what was said by those who were involved in the studio recording process; “When it came time to begin work on what became Shot of Love, Caribbean Wind was as much as a starting point as Visions of Johanna had been for Blonde on Blonde. After booking a session at Studio 55 in L.A. Dylan called in Jimmy Lovine (he was probably already looking for a potential co-producer for the album to come).
The March 31 session, though, did not make either Dylan or Lovine very happy. Arthur Rosato: “We did Caribbean Wind at Studio 55. It was hell recording that particular song. I had told Bob, ‘You gotta give me that song to record. Let’s do a really good job with that.’ And he said, ‘Let’s get Jimmy Lovine.’ He would call everybody he knows to come down so we would have a band of like fifteen people. When we did Caribbean Wind I had the original recording that I did back at (Rundown). I played that for all the musicians. That’s a much better version because that’s the first time, live. When we got over to Studio 55 all the musicians loved the song. It had that Rolling Stone feel to it. So Bob finally shows up about three hours late, which was pretty much on time for him.
At Santa Monica studio he was there every day – pretty much same time – he was real comfortable (there) but this was a different gig. As soon as the musicians ran through it once he goes, ‘Nah, nah, nah, that’s all wrong.’ They could see it coming because they had all worked with him before, ‘Oh, here we go.’ And instead of that version he turned it into this country and western thing, like boom – chicka kinda stuff. That went on for a few hours. Meanwhile Jimmy had heard this other version and is going, ‘What are we gonna do? Okay, we will go with this guy, because he always wanted to work with him’. Then they had these backing vocalists singing this like train whoosh and that was really bad. I don’t even know how he ended up keeping it.
Toward the end of the session I think Bob himself even realized it wasn’t working and (said) let’s go back and try the original version. At the end of the session he was asking Jimmy Lovine to go out and get the lyrics for White Christmas! Jimmy didn’t want anything to do with this session anymore. Bob didn’t really know how to work with a producer’.
‘If the Caribbean Wind recorded at Studio 55 was still recognizably Caribbean Wind, Dylan had clearly begun to disguise its stronger religious elements (the narrator no longer talks of Jesus and the rain) and, in a confused attempt to blur the menage a trois element that is implicit in the song (which links it to Visions of Johanna and Tangled Up in Blue), cut some highly evocative lines. Although a particularly dumb stop-start arrangement repeatedly applies the brakes to the song’s cumulative power, Dylan still conjured up a vocal of some resilience, while some of the rewrites transcend the merely cute (the Dantesque circle of ice contrasts nicely with the furnace of desire). However, Dylan determined he would work on the song again, pushing it even further from its original form’(21).
She was well rehearsed, fair brown and blonde, She had friends who were bus boys and friends in the Pentagon, Playing a show in Miami, in the Theatre of Divine Comedy. Talking to shadows where the stop in the rain, I could tell she was still feeling the pain, Pain of rejection, pain of infidelity.
Was she a child or a woman, I can’t say which, One to another she could easily switch, Couples were dancing and I lost track of the hours. He was well prepared, I knew he was, Paying attention like a rattlesnake does, When he’s hearing footsteps trampling over his flowers.
And the Caribbean winds still blow, from Nassau to Mexico, From the circle of ice to the furnace of desire. And them distant ships of liberty, on them iron waves so bold and free, Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
She looked into my soul through the clothes that I wore, She said ‘we got a mutual friend standing at the door, And you know he’s got our best interests in mind’. He was well connected, but her heart was a snare, And she had left him to die in there, He had two payments due, and he was a little behind.
Well I slept in a hotel, where flies buzz my head, Ceiling fan was broken, there was heat in my bed, Street band playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’. We met in secret, where we drank from a spring, She said ‘I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing, We can do about it, so we might as well let it be’.
Atlantic City, two years to the day, I hear her voice crying ‘daddy’, and I look that way, But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call. Every new messenger bringing evil report, ‘bout rioting armies and time that is short, And earthquakes and train wrecks and heat words scribbled on wall.
Would I have married her? I don’t know I suppose, She had bells in her braids, and they hung to her toes, But I heard my name and destiny say to be moving on. Then I felt it come over me, some kind of gloom, But I say, ‘Come home with me girl, I got plenty of room’, But I knew I’d be lying and besides she had already gone.
And them mirror being winds still blow, from Nassau to Mexico, Circle of ice to the furnace of desire. And them building ships of liberty, on them iron waves so bold and free, Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Out of interest, I have listed here-under those words, and in a few instances, whole lines, which are duplicated in all three versions of Caribbean Wind and appear to form the base of the song. The only verse which remains virtually untouched, apart from the chorus, is verse 5: –
- Line 1: (I was) playing a show in Miami in the Theatre of Divine Comedy.
- Line 1: And them (the) Caribbean Winds still blow…………………………….
- Line 2: …………………………………………………………….the furnace of desire.
- Line 3: And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
- Line 4: Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
- Line 4: He was well connected, but her heart was a snare,
- Line 5: And she had left him to die in there.
- Line 1: ………………………………..buzzing (buzz) my head,
- Line 2: …………………………………………….heat in my bed.
- Line 3: Street band playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.
- Line 5: She said ‘I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing,
- Line 6: You can do about it..……………………………………………………..’.
- Line 1: And them (the) Caribbean Winds……………………………………..
- Line 2: ……………………………………………………....the furnace of desire
- Line 3: And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free,
- Line 4: Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire,
- Line 1: Atlantic City………………………………………………………………….
- Line 2: I hear a (her) voice crying ‘daddy’, I always think it’s for me,
- Line 3: But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call.
- Line 4: Every new messenger bringing evil report,
- Line 5: About ………. (army/armies) and time that is short,
- Line 6: ……….and earthquakes and train wrecks……………………….wall.
- Line 1: And them…………..Winds still ……………………………………….
- Line 2: …………………………………………………….the furnace of desire.
- Line 3: …………...ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free,
- Line 4: Bringing everything that’s near to me, nearer to the fire.
Asked as to why he left Caribbean Wind off the album Shot of Love, Dylan replied; “We left it off the album (as it was) quite different to anything I wrote….The way the story line changes from 3rd person to 1st person and that person becomes you, then these people are there and they’re not there. And then the time goes way back and then it’s brought up to the present. I thought it was really effective”. He also said; “That one (Caribbean Wind) I couldn’t quite grasp what it was about after I finished it. Sometimes you’ll write something to be very inspired, and you won’t quite finish it for one reason or another. Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone….Then it’s a struggle. Frustration sets in. I think there’s four different sets of lyrics to this, maybe I got it right, I don’t know, I had to leave it(5)”.
Whenever I hear Caribbean Wind played it always brings to mind the following passage with its references to the Gulf of Mexico, particularly also, in relation to Dylan’s Judaic beliefs:- ‘There is a river in the ocean. In the severest droughts it never fails, in the mightiest floods it never overflows. The Gulf of Mexico is its fountain and its mouth is in the Arctic Seas. It is the Gulf Stream. There is in the world no other such majestic flow of waters. Its current is more rapid than the Mississippi or the Amazon, and its volume more than a thousand times greater. Its waters as far out from the Gulf of Carolina Coasts, are of an indigo blue, they are so distinctly marked that their line of junction with the common sea-water may be traced by the eye.
Often one-half of a vessel may be perceived floating in the Gulf Stream water, while the other half is in the common water of the sea – so sharp is the line and such the want of affinity between those waters, and such the reluctance, so to speak, on the part of those of the Gulf Stream to mingle the common waters of the sea.
This curious phenomenon in the physical world has its counterpart in the moral. The mightiest floods of human cruelty, though seven times heated in the furnace of religious bigotry, have never caused it to dry up, although its waves for 2,000 years have rolled crimson with the blood of its martyrs. Its foundation is in the gray dawn of worlds history, and its mouth is somewhere in the shadows of eternity. It too refuses to mingle with the surrounding waves, and the lines which divide its restless billows from the common waters of humanity are also plainly visible to the eye. It is the Jewish people’(26).
I have in this article tried to faithfully interpret the fourth known version of this song, recorded on 7/4/81 and preserved on Biograph. I have not gained access to the October 1980 studio performance and I have included lyrics from the 12/11/80 San Francisco Fox Warfield Theatre concert, including Dylan’s preceding ‘Leadbelly’ rap. There are at least four different versions of this song and they certainly all seem to chart Dylan’s changing spiritual journey.
I believe that Caribbean Wind chronicles Dylan’s passage from his introduction to, and acceptance of, Jesus Christ in 1978 by a close female friend who also introduced him to the Christian Vineyard Fellowship, through to his self-realization that he was being used by the Christian Vineyard Fellowship for their own self-interests. He describes his experiences of performing in gay San Francisco and the hostile reception that he received from the audience at Tempe because of his Christian born-again gospel shows. He also chronicles the pain he suffered at losing custody of his children through the divorce with Sara and to his eventual sailing back to the waters of Judaism, although the mark of Jesus was indelibly etched upon his soul! The softness of the language of Caribbean Wind would soon yield to the bitterness of disaffection, not with Jesus Christ, but with organized religion; “Religion is another form of bondage which man invents to get himself to God. But that’s why Christ came. Christ didn’t preach religion. He preached the Truth, the Way and the Life”(27). In 1997 he said; “I don’t adhere to Rabbi’s, Preachers, Evangelists…”(28).
Caribbean Wind was written during a period when Dylan was still presumed to be a fervent born-again Christian and it is obviously not what one could describe as a religious song. With his part introduction of a non-religious song (Lay Lady Lay) during a concert on 16/5/80 (he didn’t repeat this during the remaining three shows of that tour), and the eventual introduction of Like a Rolling Stone during a concert at the beginning of his next tour, on 9/11/80, there is no doubt that this was a period of self revaluation, perhaps also of apostasy for Dylan, and during 1982 he would almost totally disappear from public gaze, spending some of his time with another backing singer, Clydie King, with whom it was rumoured he recorded an album of duets(5), to re-emerge, apparently no longer a born-again-Christian, with the album, Infidels (recorded during 1983), which no longer used relatively simple to understand images and Biblical lines and passages, but was embroiled and entwined in the language of apologues, parables, and also mythical and mystical characters.
Paul Robert Thomas
Notes and Sources
- (1) USA Today Interview, Bob Dylan, 14/9/90.
- (2) Cruden’s Concordance to the Bible (KJV), Lutterwoth Press.
- (3) The Holy Bible, King James Version, Ivy Press. New York.
- (4) Rolling Stone Magazine Interview, Curt Loder, 26/6/84.
- (5) Behind the Shades, Clinton Heylin, Penguin Books.
- (6) Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-1985, Harper Collins.
- (7) Performing Artist 1974-1986, Paul Williams, Omnibus Press.
- (8) Dylan, A Biography, Bob Spitz, W.W. Norton & Co.
- (9) The Gospel Speeches, Hanuman Books, New York 1990.
- (10) The Oxford Study Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1991.
- (11) Soncino Chumash Commentary, Soncino Press Ltd.
- (12) No Direction Home, Robert Shelton, (Gabrielle Goodchild quote), New English Library, 1986.
- (13) When the Ship comes in, Bob Dylan, 1963/4 Warner Bros. inc.
- (14) Four Quartets, Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot, Faber and Faber.
- (15) The Gospel According To Thomas, Harper & Row, 1959.
- (16) The Jerusalem Post, Divine Fire article, 16/1/98.
- (17) The Apocalypse in the Teachings of Ancient Christianity. Archbishop Aversky Taushev, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
- (18) Love You Too Much, Dylan/Springs/Lake composition, Special Rider Music, 1981.
- (19) Bob Dylan Approximately, Stephen Pickering, David Mckay Co. New York.
- (20) The Zohar, 11, 76b-8a (Kabbalah).
- (21) The Recording Sessions, Clinton Heylin, St. Martins Press, NY.
- (22) Seven Days, Dave Thomas article, Isis Magazine Issue 70, Dignity Magazine Issue 8.
- (23) The Jerusalem Post Postscript, Israel, January 1997.
- (24) The Times they are a-changin’, In search of the latest Bob Dylan, Interview, Martin Keller.
- (25) Watching the River Flow, Paul Williams, Omnibus Press.
- (26) To be a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books, New York, 1972.
- (27) Dylan in his Own Words, Chris Williams, Omnibus Press, 1993.
- (28) Newsweek Interview, David Gates, 13/10/97.