By Tony Attwood
It is curious that the phrase “I don’t believe you” was the proper name for a Dylan song of 1964, when then became known popularly by another name (“She acts like we never have met”) while “I don’t believe you” became known as Dylan’s response to the cry of “Judas!” (the full response of course being “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!”)
Dylan also later turned the phrase around with the phrase ” They’d like to drive me from this town; they don’t want me around, ’cause I believe in you.” Indeed he said that “I believe in you even on the morning after,” in 1979.
I’m not sure if that means anything, but it is just a phrase that seems to pop up in his life.
“I don’t believe you” appeared on Another Side in 1964. If you want some contrast in the way that the song can be performed there are two Alternate Takes from album – (the second runs straight on from the first so stay on the site) and then compare and contrast with a Thump it out live version with The Band – which I must admit I don’t like. It seems to take everything that was worthwhile in the original, out of the song. The delicacy and poignancy is all gone – it’s just blame, blame, blame.
Yet Dylan clearly liked the song as he continued to play it off and on through the years, saying at an early performance “This is about all the people that say they’ve never seen you…”
The song has also over the years not only undergone a musical transformation from a delicate reflection in its early acoustic versions to a belt it out rock song, the chord sequence has changed – originally gently rocking back and forth between C and G7, to a more negative challenging change in the full band version between Em and Dm. He’s clearly a lot more angry and wanting to spell out his feelings later on and the change in the chord sequence absolutely reflects that.
But both ways of performing the song has Dylan using the standard chords of folk music – it just gets more edgy in the transformed version because of the minor chords. Yet it is a song that has lived on through the years, because the story of a person who seemed to show affection but then turns away and ignores you, is something that many people have suffered.
And suffered is the right word, because the person who has taken affection and then turns away is both cruel, and admired. Cruel because the person who is left can’t understand why it happened, and admired because the person who has suffered can want to be like that, can want to be able to turn away and ignore another, rather than be at the mercy of the other’s emotions.
It is all a question of power.
Acceptance can lead to happiness rejection leads to great pain. Acceptance gives power to the other, rejection – that cruelest of moves – gives the individual who does the rejecting, the power. They control the game for both of them – although from my experience the regular rejectors of others never get the ultimate happiness they think they will find next time around.
But Dylan always, in the songs of this era, can pick himself up and move on, go wandering, leave town, stroll down the highway, go on to another town. It’s all just “One to many mornings”, he’s the ultimate drifter, he can move on to another town.
Rejecting relationships and anything that lasts more than a night is fine if you have the confidence to keep moving and know you will find another bed to share, more warmth which you can take, giving little back, and then move on.
And it is utterly selfish.
In the end, in the modern world everything ends, everything changes. The stability that was everything in mediaeval society is now replaced by total turmoil.
So Dylan starts with incomprehension.
I can’t understand
She let go of my hand
An’ left me here facing the wall
I’d sure like t’ know
Why she did go
But I can’t get close t’ her at all
And the assertion that it was all so perfect in the past.
Though we kissed through the wild blazing nighttime
She said she would never forget
But now morning’s clear
It’s like I ain’t here
She just acts like we never have met
And I think this is the heart of the success of the song – its universality. We’ve all been there.
But what really adds to the song is the language – from the everyday description of what has happened and his disbelief at the situation, we move to
From darkness, dreams are deserted
Am I still dreaming yet?
A really powerful jump, to my mind.
There’s the desperation that it isn’t him, that there is some explanation other than the fact that she’s just gone off him…
If she ain’t feelin’ well
Then why don’t she tell
’Stead of turnin’ her back t’ my face?
But at the same time he knows she’s gone for good
Without any doubt
She seems too far out
For me to return to or chase
And then in exactly the same position in the verse as last time around, the lines that reflect rather than tell…
Though the night ran swirling and whirling
I remember her whispering yet
Then we have that desperate plea of all abandoned lovers: what did I do?
If I was with her too long
Or have done something wrong
I wish she’d tell me what it is, I’ll run an’ hide
And to round it all off, a brilliant, brilliant, summation leading to an ability to move on and start again.
And if anybody asks me
“Is it easy to forget?”
I’ll say, “It’s easily done
You just pick anyone
And pretend that you never have met.”
It is superb, and in a very real way prepares the ground for the songs of disdain and the songs of hopeless drift. Like a Rolling Stone turns the bemusement into sheer disgust, while Johanna is as lost as Dylan suggests his past lover has become in “I don’t believe you“.
Pretending that you have never met someone is the cruelest way out, and the way chosen by only the most selfish. But ultimately they get their comeuppance, for they become lost and alone: that is the message across the songs.
“Once upon a time you dressed so fine” really does follow on from “And pretend that you never have met”. Just as “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet” does.
It is the preparation for the darkness.
Index to the songs in chronological order (still being developed)