This article is part of our on-going series tracing the Never Ending Tour, with commentary and audios of the performances.
A full index of all the articles tracing the tour from 1988 onward, is available here. The two previous articles about the Prague concerts of 1995 are…
- 1995, part 1: The Prague Revelation and other astonishments
- 1995, part 2: The Prague Revelation – Salt for Salt, Peak Prague
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
In the first and second of these posts on his March, 1995 Prague concerts (see links above), I covered some of the finest performances of the 1990s phase of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. “So what is left but the leftovers?” you might ask. And it’s a valid question, but with Prague, even the leftovers make a wonderful feast.
Take ‘Just Like a Woman’, for example. Dylan performed this controversial song twice at Prague, on the 11th and 12th of March. It’s controversial because of the sweet savagery of the lyrics and its outright attack on ‘Queen Mary,’ the subject of the song. Is this yet another example of Dylan putting down women?
There is too much contempt in it for us to feel easy with it. And that ‘breaks just like a little girl’ at the end feels like a final kick in the guts. Or is it the line ‘you fake just like a woman’ that does it, as if being fake is particular to women?
Interestingly, Nina Simone, a powerful woman if ever there was one, could take it to heart, identify with it, while avoiding the ‘fake’ line. Here’s her version of the chorus:
‘I take Just like a woman Yes I do And I make love Just like a woman And I ache Just like a woman But I break Just like a little girl’
But doesn’t the singer indicate that he too might break like a little boy? Look at this last verse:
‘It was raining from the first And I was dying there of thirst So I came in here And your long-time curse hurts But what's worse is this pain in here I can't stay in here Ain't it clear that I just can't fit Yes, I believe that it's time for us to quit But when we meet again, introduced as friends Please don't let on that you knew me when I was hungry and it was your world’
Ashamed of his neediness? And vulnerable. Miserable in the rain, compelled to go to her.
Also it strikes me that the real target here is not the woman so much as pretentiousness and falsity. The fakery of masks. The same target we find in a range of songs from ‘Ramona’ to ‘She’s Your Lover Now’.
Listening to these Prague performances, I hear the song as a love song, that desperate edge of a love that just can’t fit. It’s a confession, and we shouldn’t be deceived by the opening line, ‘nobody feels any pain’, as the whole song is reeking with pain, and it might be that which saves it from its contempt. We often turn our vitriol on those who have exposed our weaknesses.
Here’s the first, from the 11th. Hard to find a more anguished performance. Or more wonderful harp work.
Just like a woman (A)
The performance on the 13th is somewhat more muted, perhaps a little more reflective. I like the strength of the first version, but the second is better structured, with the harp break taking us right to the end, rather than letting the band do the last chorus alone.
Just like a woman (B)
Time to kick back with something a bit more relaxed and watch the river flow. The easy beat of ‘Watching the River Flow’ (1971) might disguise the heavy dose of fatalism that runs through the song. A rather tongue in cheek expression of ‘go with the flow’ hippie philosophy. According to the session men, Dylan wrote the lyrics in a few minutes in the studio.
‘Oh, this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow And as long as it does I’ll just sit here And watch the river flow’
I love the down-home, gutsy sound of the band on this one.
Watching the river flow
Speaking of the blues, and songs penned in 1971, this performance of ‘If Not For You’ is given a bluesy twist here, especially when Dylan pulls out the harp at the end. Those interested in the origins of the song could do no better than check out the version on Another Self Portrait (Bootleg Vol 10).
This one, from the 11th, kicks along nicely.
If not for you
I still think the song ‘God Knows’ reached its performance peak in 1993, with Mr Guitar Man playing a guttural, intricate weave of sound (See, NET, 1993, Part 1). I don’t know if Dylan picked up the guitar for this one on the 11th of March, but it sure sounds like it. Dylan is in great vocal form. The song is a somewhat frantic mix of despair and hope:
‘God knows it's fragile God knows everything God knows it could snap apart right now Just like putting scissors to a string’
Since 1992 Dylan had been developing slow, bluesy endings to his performances. Some of these endings last almost as long as a whole pop song. ‘Don’t Think Twice’, especially when sung in a fast, peppy manner, lends itself to a slow, thumping end, which is what we get here. There is an unexpected emotional sophistication in what sounds like a bit of ditty, the title being a throw-away line.
‘I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' walkin’ way down the road I once loved a woman, a child I am told I give her my heart but she wanted my soul’
We might be hard put to explain the difference between heart and soul here, but we can feel the difference. Some people just want to consume you. They don’t want you to be your own person, and Dylan is all about being his own person.
In the last lines I detect a touch of tragedy. There’s nothing worse for the artist than being trapped in a time wasting relationship. There’s a deeper calling for the ‘road’, the dark side. The road would become perhaps the defining motif in Dylan’s songs.
‘I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind You could have done better but I don't mind You just kinda wasted my precious time But don't think twice, it's all right’
This situation is repeated years later in ‘Caribbean Wind’, (1981).
‘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 kept hearing my name and I had to be movin' on.’
And again in ‘I And I’ in 1984.
‘Noontime, and I'm still pushin' myself along the road, the darkest part Into the narrow lanes, I can't stumble or stay put Someone else is speakin' with my mouth, but I'm listenin' only to my heart’
In this performance Dylan keeps the bounciness of the original, and delivers another soft, intimate vocal.
Don’t think twice.
‘I Don’t Believe You’ is another song from Dylan’s early acoustic era that has gone through many changes. The original was a wildly sarcastic romp, which turned into a wailing screamer during the 1966 tour, which turned into… this upbeat 1995 version, with that easy, catchy, mid-tempo beat that Dylan had been working on for the last couple of years. It works as a foot-tapper. My complaint about these later versions is that they don’t capture the wry self-irony of the original, the humour inherent in the situation that lifted it above being a mere complaint.
I don’t believe you
Dylan performed ‘All Along the Watchtower’ twice, on the 12th and 13th. There is little to choose between the two performances. I once used the term ecstatic rock to describe this frantic, full on guitar fest. This one is from the 12th.
All along the Watchtower
‘Maggie’s Farm’ may be a rejection of stifling conformity, but it is also a good, beaty, hell for leather rock song. Who can forget the moment during the 1964 Newport Folk Festival when Dylan first belted out his new rock sound. This is the song Dylan chose to finish the shows on the 11th and 12th (with encores to follow). This one is from the 12th, and you can hear Dylan introduce the band which is: Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar),Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar), John Jackson (guitar), Tony Garnier (bass) and Winston Watson (drums & percussion).
‘Just Like a Rolling Stone’ may be Dylan’s most iconic hit. It was the way the song caught the public that did it. It is Dylan’s sharpest ‘attack’ song, portraying a rich girl blinded to her own pretensions and having to face the truth about herself. Voted by Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest rock song ever, it was a wonderful way to finish the last evening of his Prague residency. A triumphant finish to three triumphant performances.
Like A Rolling Stone
Of course the year didn’t end with Prague. Rather it started there. In the next post I’ll be looking at 1995, post Prague to see what goodies we can discover. Until then, all the best and happy listening.
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