by Tony Attwood
So, if you have been following the series you will know by now what’s going on. Bob had converted to Christianity, but then within 18 months although still writing religious pieces was also writing songs which (I would argue) did not have religion as the central theme and ended that year with the utterly magnificent “Making a liar out of me”.
In 1982/3 then was the real problem – at least for myself in trying to assign a simple subject to each song, because most of the songs don’t have a simple subject. Instead of love, lost love, moving on and the blues we got…
Like the lion tears the flesh off of a man So can a woman who passes herself off as a male They sang “Danny Boy” at his funeral and the Lord’s Prayer Preacher talking ’bout Christ betrayed It’s like the earth just opened and swallowed him up He reached too high, was thrown back to the ground You know what they say about bein’ nice to the right people on the way up Sooner or later you gonna meet them comin’ down Well, there ain’t no goin’ back When your foot of pride come down Ain’t no goin’ back
So after a year which includes lyrics like this, where on earth would Bob go next?
Dylan started 1984 with a song he performed just once, and with lyrics that were never published. I’m rubbish at decoding lyrics, but fortunately Untold reader Mick Gold worked hard to give us what was certainly then, and may still be, the only copy of the lyrics of “I once knew a man”
I once knew a man With a needle in his arm Well he taught me to make Love ain’t even bad But you never need a nod Oh I once knew a man Yeah I once knew a man Seems like only yesterday He done pass this way Well I once knew a man I once knew a man opening a door In by another Opening a cupboard Never to be here no more Yeah I once knew a man Well I once knew a man Seems like only yesterday He done pass this way Oh I once knew a man Well I once knew a man Creeping in the side Opening a door Falling thru the floor Setting someone for a ride Yeah I once knew a man Oh yeah I once knew a man Well it seems like only yesterday He done pass this way Well I once knew a man
We have no commentary or background to the song. Was “The Man” that Dylan “knew” Jesus? Was this his final goodbye, done in private for the sound check of a TV show, or was it just a jam?
So that set the year going. And this is what we got
- I once knew a man (Blues, moving on)
- Who loves you more (Love)
- Almost done (Love)
- I see you around and around (Love)
- Dirty lie (Lost love?)
- Enough is enough (Fast blues)
- Go way little boy (Lost love, rejection)
- Drifting too far from shore (Lost love, strangeness)
- New Danville Girl / Brownsville Girl (Moving on)
- Something’s Burning Baby (Lost love)
- Night after Night (Tedium, a bad life)
- I’m ready for love (Love)
Which overall gives us
- Blues/moving on: 2
- Love: 4
- Lost love: 4
- Moving on: 1
- Tedium, the bad life: 1
Now what is instantly noticeable is that we are back to the sort of subject selection of the pre-Christian era. (For simplicity I have included the “Moving on” songs with songs also noted as “It’s falling apart”
|Year||Love||Lost Love||Blues, the end||Moving on||Faith||No going back|
Now I have said throughout that these titles are approximate. They overlap, the boundaries change, but they do give us a general indication of where Dylan was heading, and to my mind they certainly give an indication here.
And just to emphasise the point, these totals in the little table above do not represent all the songs that Dylan wrote in this time . They summarise the main subject areas.
1978 was a fairly regular year – these are the sorts of totals we have been seeing in these main areas of Dylan’s composition year on year.
1979 saw the faith songs emerged and Dylan wrote nothing else all year
1980 saw the faith songs remain dominant but they were now sharing centre stage with Bob’s favourite themes.
1981 saw faith songs still there, but this was their last year.
But it was 1982/3 that, when analysed this way, gives us a shock. 1982/3 contains no faith songs at all, but the two leading categories were very much of the old school: moving on and no going back. Indeed one could argue that these two could be linked together to give us eight songs in one category.
And by 1984 we were back to the old days in other ways. Love and lost love, the themes that had dominated Dylan’s work all the way through from the earliest days, were back in dominance. It was as if the faith period had never been there.
1982/3 took this further with the emphasis on the fact that there ain’t no going back, and he really meant it. Dylan was by no means at his peak as a song writer at this time and indeed I have previously argued that the highlight of the year was Tangled Up in Blue: “Real Live” version – the revival of which perhaps symbolised that he had now firmly cast aside those Christian songs.
He’d embraced Christianity totally and written nothing but faith songs for a year, then had a mix of songs before declaring, “There ain’t no going back”
For me from this strange period in which Dylan ran headlong into Christianity, and then took a couple of years to find his way out of the maze he entered, the highlights are the songs I have mentioned over and over:
and the one I have not touched on since it was a re-write, the Real Live version of Tangled up in Blue.
So, as you have made it to this point, I hope you will forgive me if one more time I return to what for me is the pivotal moment in this extraordinary period of Bob Dylan’s musical career, where he suddenly suggested (to me if no one else) that he was being manipulated.
Curiously “Making a liar” is not listed on the official Bob Dylan site. If the guys there do make another of their occasional visits to Untold Dylan (something that really makes me feel rather proud), I wonder if I might respectfully suggest that this utter, amazing and absolute work of genius, and statement of a man saying, yep, I went down the wrong track, is actually included in the lists.
I mean it is not as if anyone else could have written it.
I tell people you’re 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 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 making a liar out of me But you’re making a liar out of me 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 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 nothing 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 making a liar out of me You’re making 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 building But you’re making’ a liar out of me You’re making a liar out of me Now you’re making a liar out of me
(Let me not be trampled underfoot by proud oppressors, or driven from my home by wicked violence).
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But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page. I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information. Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.