I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You. And Offenbach and Johnny Cash.

By Tony Attwood

Lots of people have said a few words about this song, but sadly those few words are often wrong.  At least I think they are wrong.  So, I’ll try and explain and justify.

One of the first reviews I read said, “Here’s a love song in 3/4 time,” but even that starter is wrong, at least in my opinion.   And as I don’t often get a chance to show off a bit of my classical music education I’ll utilise it now.

The song is pretty much a straight copy of Offenbach’s Barcarolle from “Tales of Hoffmann,”   So we can start there.

Jacques Offenbach was a 19th century German-French composer and impresario. known for his operettas.  His single opera “Tales of Hoffman” (which was never completed), is still a key part of  the repertoire of opera companies today.

Here’s the original

So barcaroles were not in 3/4 time (as in three beats in a bar) as indeed this one isn’t.  They are in 6/8, which sounds quite different.  6/8 is six beats in a bar in two groups of three, moving

1  2  3  1  2  3  /  1  2  3  1  2  3

and so on – generally quite quickly as here.  The usual description is that this music is lilting.  Barcaroles do give a feeling of relaxed sentiment.   This comes from Act 2 if you want to listen to the whole work.

So what it is not, is a reference back to “Got my mind made up” by Tom Petty, which Dylan did record, but I can’t find a copy freely available on line.  So here’s Tom larking around with it.

But that’s got nothing to do with it, so we should quickly return to Bob and agree that what he has done is taken a popular piece of operatic music and put lyrics to it with a new accompaniment (but keeping the same melody and chords).

Incidentally for those who like to claim that Bob is a musical thief and he should be prosecuted for stealing all these old songs, the work of Offenbach is out of copyright.

Here are the lyrics

Sitting on my terrace lost in the stars
Listening to the sounds of the sad guitars
Been thinking it over and I thought it all through
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

I saw the first fall of snow
I saw the flowers come and go
I don’t think anyone else ever knew
I made up my mind to give myself to you

I’m giving myself to you, I am
From Salt Lake City to Birmingham
From East L.A. to San Antone
I don’t think I could bear to live my life alone

My eye is like a shooting star
It looks at nothing, neither near or far
No one ever told me, it’s just something I knew
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

If I had the wings of a snow white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real - a love so true
I made up my mind to give myself to you

Take me out travelling, you’re a travelling man
Show me something that I’ll understand
I’m not what I was, things aren’t what they were
I’m going to go far away from home with her

I travelled the long road of despair
I met no other traveller there
A lot of people gone, a lot of people I knew
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

My heart’s like a river - a river that sings
It just takes me a while to realise things
I’ll see you at sunrise - I’ll see you at dawn
I’ll lay down beside you, when everyone is gone

From the plains and the prairies - from the mountains to the sea
I hope that the gods go easy with me
I knew you’d say yes - I’m saying it too
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

The line that gives all the problems in one go is “Take me out travelling, you’re a travelling man”.  Up to this point it is all fairly comfortable with lines such as

Been thinking it over and I thought it all through
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

That sounds like a relationship proposal, and since this is Bob Dylan and we know a bit about his life, and his loves, we might assume the song is sung to a lady.  Especially as later we have

I’ll see you at sunrise - I’ll see you at dawn
I’ll lay down beside you, when everyone is gone

but then we have the “Take me out travelling, you’re a travelling man.”  So is he suddenly back to giving himself up to Jesus all these years after running away from the Christian Church?  I have seen that proposed but it seems deeply unlikely to me and besides might Bob not have described “you” as “You” in that case?

Besides Bob Dylan knows about the travelling man, as does everyone whose been brought up through popular music and  the blues.  Indeed Bootleg 15 was “Travelling through”.  (That’s the one that starts with the alternate version of “Drifters Escape”; almost as if the guys at the record company had been reading Untold Dylan and knew at once what the most important Kafaesque song of the “travelling through” era was).

The one thing that did strike me however was the comment in Rolling Stone (what an excellent magazine that is) about the Bootleg 15 set where they said, “It’s rare to hear Dylan sound like a fan trying to be a peer, but that’s what’s evident here.”  That is in relation to him singing with Johnny Cash.  So is he here giving a tribute to the great master, the man he admires so much?  In that case the “lay down beside you” is easily recognisable as saying he will always give tribute to Johnny Cash, no matter what.

Of course it might just be a throwaway line.  I know that is not a popular idea – that the mighty Bob Dylan might on occasion just throw in lines that are there because they sound good, but why not?  Does every single Dylan line really have a great powerful meaning?    (Incidentally when I was studying classical music we did occasionally use the phrase “Mozart on an off day” for a brilliant section of the score which seemed out of context.  Why not “Dylan on a off day” as well?  He couldn’t find a line that worked so dropped  that in.)

But no, I’m going with the Travelling Man being either Johnny Cash, or just a phrase that means a person who keeps on keeping on, rather than necessarily a specific man.  So in the lyrics we ought to write

Take me out travelling, you’re a "travelling man"

We will of course continue through the whole album until everything is reviewed.  Here’s what’s be done so far.  Hope you enjoyed my little meander.

Postscript: As you will see from the comments, the song has been used before – something I was not aware of.  Here is a link to the earlier version by Donald Peers from 1969.

Rough and Rowdy Ways

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

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  1. The Offenbach tune was used before in 1968 by Donald Peers with the words ‘Please Don’t Go’, which reached number 3 in the UK charts in early 1969. It’s also been recorded by Eddie Arnold and Rose Marie. A comparison of the lyrics shows definitively why Dylan is in a league of his own.

    Please Don’t Go
    (Lyrics by Les Reed / Jackie Rae)

    Please don’t go, I beg you don’t go
    For I need you here with me
    If we part, down deep in my heart
    I know what the end will be

    No one else can take your place
    The love that I have known
    If I don’t see your sweet face
    My life I’ll live alone

    Stay here with me
    That’s the way it should be
    The World can see
    That I can’t set you free

    Just this once, I beg you just once
    Forgive me for what I’ve done
    I adore you, I was meant for you
    Much more than anyone

    Darling, I love you so
    More than you seem to know
    Stay here with me
    Please don’t go

  2. I wouldn’t call “I’ll lay down beside you when everyone is gone” a ‘throw in’:

    I died for beauty, but was scarce
    Adjusted in the tomb
    When one who died for truth was lain
    In an adjoining room
    (Emily Dickinson: I Died For Beauty)

    Your train of thought was heading in the right direction in the first place.

  3. Hi Tony,
    First of all let me thank you for sharing your classical music education. I sensed there was more than 3/4 timing on this but I really did not know how to figure it out and now you have brought the sense I needed to it! I was feeling a little frustrated about it, so thanks! Personally, I find this music quite hypnotic an I wonder if it is the melody or the timing or both that make it that way. I mean you can get lost in it. I would love to know what you think about that?

    Secondly, I want to thank you for the rest of your article and for providing the photo and videos here.
    Thirdly, I recently watched this song made into a lyric video on YouTube and in the comments a person who often has very knowledgeable and insightful commentary had some marvelous things to say which I think you and all your readers might like to peruse so I have copied it for here and feel safe to do so because it is already public commentary. If I could have contacted this person for permission I would have done so, but failing that his name is provided instead and I hope that it is alright to do so.

    Nicolas Garcia Gonzalez
    2 days ago
    This is an ode to the Muse of Poetry , according with Barcarolle’s main theme , the aria that wrote Jules Barbier to Jacques Offenbach for his Tales of Hoffmann . This is a fantastique opera based on three short stories by ETA Hoffmann , who himself is the protagonist of the story . It was Offenbach’s final work , he had a premonition that he would die prior to its completion . Shortly before his dead he wrote to director of the Opera-Comique Theater in Paris ”Hurry up and stage my opera . I have not much time left , and my only wish is to attend the opening night” . He died in Oct. 1880 , four months before the premiere in Paris , with the manuscript in his hand . The storie relates the love between Hoffmann and three women : Olympia, a mecanic doll with human appearance ; Antonia , a young woman that is killed and Giuletta , a courtesan . But in fact they are three aspects of the same woman : Stella , the Muse of Poetry , the musicians and the young girl . The opera ends in a tavern in Núremberg , where Hoffmann , drunk , swears he will never love again and explains Olympia , Antonia and Giuletta are three facets of the same person : Stella . His friend Nicklaus reveals she is the Muse and reclaims Hoffmann : Be reborn a Poet ¡¡¡ I love you Hoffmann ¡¡¡ Be Mine ¡¡¡
    I think that is an interesting back story to add to your article.

    Lastly, I just want to say that with many of Bob Dylan’s work it has layered meaning; leaving room for some personal perspective and interpretations. Though I do not doubt that between you and Nicolas Garcia Gonzalez, you have covered the main aspects of this song. I think, however, that as far as lyrics are concerned this offers itself as a love song of devotion based on choice; allowing each listener a personal opportunity to adopt or muse if you will on whom or what they find personally meaningful. This is another reason I love Bob Dylan’s layered and big picture writing because it does not have to be so overly definitive or carved in stone. For me, personally in human terms it can be thought of in a very romantic and being in love sense as well as an eternal sense in meditating not on the muses but on God. Being able to have both the temporal and eternal moving in sync is something so special and something that Bob Dylan provides for me over and over again!

    To be a contemporary of someone of this poetic genius and anointing fills me with deep gratitude.


  4. I died for beauty, but was scarce
    Adjusted in the tomb
    When one who died for truth was lain
    In an adjoining room
    (Emily Dickinson: I Died For Beauty)

    In regards to: “I’ll lay down beside you, when everyone’s gone”

  5. Larry,
    Nice, thanks for that great reference!

    Paul Mackney,
    Thanks for your comments, very interesting to know that too.

    One more thing about the hypnotic nature of the song. I would like to add that the way Bob delivers it has much to do with it, as well as his baritone (?) timbre. I would really like if you would address the questions about the musical aspects of the hypnotic qualities of this song! I value your opinion.

    denise k

  6. T0ny,

    Sorry for so many separate comments but again I want to share some other pertinent and interesting info by the same YouTube commentator:

    Nicolas Garcia Gonzalez
    2 days ago
    “Offenbach’s Barcarolle was included in the soundtrack of ‘Life is Beautiful’ (Roberto Benigni) , it sounds two times in the film . First time when Guido assist to the opera to see Tales of Hoffmann , and his love is with other man on the balcony of the theater ”Look at me , princess , look at me ” … The second time is when Guido , his woman and his son were on a Nazi prisoners camp , he put a vinyl with Barcarolle’s song connected to the speakers of the camp , so his woman could listening the song and knowing that his love its above the circumstances . Barcarolle’s song was one of the classical tunes that the Nazis selected to relax the Jews when they came to the camps in trains , before making the selection of those who go to work or to incinerate them in the crematory.”

    denise k

  7. Tony,
    Nice with the integrity, but I know you know what you are talking about with music. lol

  8. There could be even more to it, Tony. To go traveling further on this theme(and the other songs on this album), see my review that should be in the next issue of ISIS

    Terry Gans

  9. This is most likely bob singing both sides of a male female dialogue.

    Female: “Take me out travelling, you’re a travelling man
    Show me something that I’ll understand”

    Male (bob?): “I’m not what I was, things aren’t what they were”

    Internal dialogue: I’m going to go far away from home with her

    No need to reach, though it is fun to theorize.

  10. I believe RM is exactly correct, it’s a back and forth in point of view or who is speaking, and then internal thought… you can even hear it in his vocal delivery, which has a change in inflection between the male and female ‘voices’.

  11. I interpret the ‘travelling man’ is Dylan himself, singing to himself to take himself travelling. He has traveled in his life, hasn’t he.

  12. Ricky Nelson is surely referenced by “Travellin’ Man”;
    “Hello Mary Lou” is mentioned in ‘False Prophet”.

  13. Then there’s Johnny Cash:

    Would you lay with me in a field of stone
    Would you go away to another land
    Walk a thousand miles through burning sand
    Wipe the blood from my dying hand
    If I give myself to you?
    (Johnny Cash: Would You Lay With Me ~ David Coe)

    And Don Williams:

    So lay down beside me
    Love me and hide me
    Kiss all the hurting of this world away
    (Don Willians: Lay Down Beside Me)

  14. Being familiar with the evangelical vocabulary I don’t think that there would be anything ‘sudden’ about Dylan reprising his Christian convictions. I hear many overtly Christian lines material he has produced supposedly after his Christian period.

    In this piece the phrase ‘I am’ appears to me as a reference to the biblical term ‘I am’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_am_(biblical_term) in summary the term is used over 300 times in the bible as a name for God rather than as a verb. Jesus is recorded in the gospels as using the term to refer to himself on several occasions.

  15. Some really interesting comments here (had tried to post one a while back that I don’t see arguing this is not a love song to a woman but is about Dylan giving himself to — god? a particular muse – the muse of troubadours?).

    It seems the entire album is Dylan in conversation with the muses — more than ever before. I wouldn’t take the Christian references as a “return” to Christianity, but an acceptance of it along with all religions (several are mentioned).

    I think the key line to opening the whole album is “let every thought be a prayer”. In other words, prayer is the way we communicate with God (or however you choose to name it, the muses, Mary Lou, Miss Pearl…).

    I think this is the most religious of all his albums. Probably not his “best” but perhaps most consistently beautiful and profound – line by line – like the Psalms. This album is sublime.

  16. Isn’t he just reflecting of a life on the road and his decision to devote himself to it aka Never Ending tour. Or is that just too simple? Whatever, is my favorite song on the album at the moment, will no doubt change with time and mood.

  17. Agee with others that this a song about Dylan’s happiness or enjoyment of performing before fans. He references performing through the seasons and different cities. Many talented performing artists and songwriters have and he realizes he is nearing the end of his career and his time will come.

  18. He spoke to his angel, a dear baby girl
    He loved every footstep, he loved every curl
    But she went to heaven, just one year ago
    The angels came for her, at the first fall of snow
    (Molly O’Day: At The First Fall Of Snow~ Lorene Rose)

  19. On the wings of a snow-white dove
    He sends his pure sweet love
    A sign from above
    On the wings of a dove
    (Ferlin Husky: The Wings Of A Dove ~ R. Ferguson)

  20. I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You is a song about love. Pure and simple. But it is not about love as a romantic impulse of heart but also about love as a conscious decision. I give myself to you means I forget about myself and of what I need but instead I will do everything possible to make you happy. And it is about trust. It means I trust you. It is the opposite of “I want” and “I need”. When Jesus died on the cross He gave Himself to us. He died tortured and in great pain to save every one of us. There are examples of people saving the lifes of others and giving their own life so others could live. One such example happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau nazi camp when a priest Father Maksymilian Colbe volunteered to be executed instead of another prisoner. Strangely the Germans agreed to that and father Colbe was shot to death and the Polish prisoner who was selected for execution survived the camp and the whole war. That was the exceptional example of love as a conscious decision in the place where it seemd that love did not exist. It is no coincidence that this song is sung to the Offenbach barcarolle which was played in concentration camps to fool and relax the Jews before putting them in gas chambers.
    Now there are people who probably think that this (the mass murdering of people in concentration camps never happened because it is too evil).
    There are still witnesses who have seen it with their own eyes and experienced it. And it is important to remember what happened because hate and greed and contempt for other people lead to evil which is unimaginable. The humanity will not survive the III World War. Not with the weapons we have today. Nowadays the political atmosphere and sentiments are very similar to the sentiments before the 1939.
    So it is the last moment to realize that we as people have to unite and realize that only by spreading the message of love we can save ourselves. This is the only way out of this mess we are in together. Not competition but cooperation is the way to save ourselves. But of course this song is about the love between two people no matter the differences and religion. God, if he exists, is only one. Not Christian, not Muslim or Jewish. I always understood God as the highest form of Love. So people who love other people believe in God whether thay realize it or not.

  21. Father Maksymilian Kolbe (not Colbe as I wrote before for which I apologize) and other prisoners were condemned to death by starvation. When only he remained alive after other prisoners have died, he was given lethal injection and died on the 14 of August 1941. ( the most dangerous day of the month – “Crossing the Rubicon”). And was cremated on the 15th of August 1941 the Holiday of The Assumption of Mary). He was canonized by John Paul II on October 10th 1982.
    It is interesting to know that Maksymilian’s father was German and his mother was Polish. Another interesting fact is that he founded monastery in Nagasaki and also sheltered 2000 Jews in another monastery in Niepokalanòw in Poland. He also had a doctorate in philosophy.

  22. ‘I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you’. This is an intellectually phrase, not from the heart.
    ‘Sad guitars’, ‘flowers come and go’, ‘I’ll go far away from home with her’
    ‘I’ll lay down beside you when everyone’s gone’, ‘I’ve traveled from the mountains to the sea’.
    All signs that this is not a sincere narrator. Far away from home is not what a girl in love wants. See all the songs written about ‘going home’.
    He picks her up when she is lonesome. Also not a good sign. He traveled from the mountains to the sea, while in all songs the mountain, the higlands, is the place to be, not the sea. This person travels from hapiness to despair.

    This is a character all women should stay away from. A personage of rough and rowdy ways, even though this person maybe appears decent from the outside. Like the main character of the book Room at the Top, the picture of the cover.

    Dylan apparantly knows this kind of personage so he can write about it.

  23. ‘Take me out travelling, you’re a travelling man’
    The devil is a travelling man.
    The narrator can be seen as a serpent man – See Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard – and the serpent man speaks to his boss, the devil. The devil has rough and rowdy ways, but the serpent man can act like a nice person, can even preach the gospel.

    At Rough and Rowdy Ways Dylan is writing songs from the view of a serpent man. Because he knows how a serpent man thinks. See songs like Jokerman.
    And see, also the public thinks this is a really really nice love song …

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