All Directions 40: 100 twists before trying Christianity

There is an index to the complete series of All Directions at Once here.

The most recent articles prior to this one are

By Tony Attwood

My whole point in writing this long and convoluted series of articles under the title “All Directions at Once” is that if we consider Bob Dylan’s songs in the order in which they were written, and relate each song to what has gone before and what comes after, we get insights into Dylan’s writing, beyond those we can glean by listening to and considering each song in isolation, (as has been the convention over the years).  And with this series approaching a moment where uniquely in his career, Bob Dylan gave himself over to one, and only one, subject for around a year and a half, the lead in to this unique period is quite important to understand.

I have, through the series, noted already several religious influences on Bob in the years leading up to 1978, but over and above these, as I have tried to show, the decade was dominated by a series of unique impulses and events which led to a series of very distinguished albums, each with their own feel.

However after writing the main body of songs for Street Legal in 1977 Dylan really did meander around various themes and ideas in 1978, finishing off the album, working with Helena Springs and then travelling in all directions ending his compositions for the year with “Slow Train” and “Do right to me baby”.

It is possible to see religious elements within these songs, but I suspect that if we didn’t know what Dylan spent all of 1979 writing about, we wouldn’t particularly call them religious songs.  Indeed if the idea that “Slow Train Coming” had never been expressed and if we knew nothing of what was to follow, would anyone have said, “That’s about religion?” or even “He’s become a Christian.”  I very much doubt it.   For “Slow Train” has lyrics which hardly touch on religion, and even when they do, we mostly only see this  because of the knowledge we now have of what came the following year.

Thus for me, 1978 was not a year of getting to grips with the religious theme that Dylan would embrace in 1979. In song writing terms it was much more of a meander as Dylan tried to discover what to do next.

What we have, after the collaboration with Helena Springs ended, is a set of eight songs, of which Slow Train was the penultimate, and the first of which was Stepchild.  All eight are listed here, but this article takes us through the first six.  The remaining two are considered in the following piece.

  1. Stepchild
  2. You don’t love me no more
  3. This a-way that a-way.
  4. Take it or leave it
  5. Daddy’s gonna take one more ride
  6. Legionnaire’s disease
  7. Slow Train
  8. Do right to me baby (do unto others)

Thus in this and the next article I shall look at these songs in terms of  their relationship to each other and to what was to come, wondering if Bob knew where he was heading after writing the stunningly amazing “Stree Legal”.

1: Stepchild

Mr Tambourine, who most certainly knows a thing or three about Dylan’s performances has the first song in the series listed as an outtake from Street Legal (hence the image below).  Such info as I have gleaned suggest it was written after the co-writing sessions with Helena Springs meaning it was composed after the track selection for the album, but it could have been considered as an alternative to “New Pony” or “Baby Stop Crying” which we considered in some depth in the previous article in the series.

I find this song a really curious notion but perhaps “You treat me like a stepchild,” is a phrase that might be used in the USA.  It’s not a comment I have come across in the UK.

But we must admit this is a very secure blues performance, and BobDylan.com has it noted as being performed 53 times between September and December 1978.  Dylanchords has three sets of lyrics, in case you want to delve deeper.

It’s a straight 12 bar blues (which would make it an alternative to “New Pony” if it were considered for the album, and it really works.  Bob back to his roots, and performing with a real vigour.

Solomon Burke released his own version…

But the theme is odd given that by this time Dylan was a step father having adopted Sara’s daughter Maria.  Maybe that is just a reflection of the turmoil that Dylan found himself in, after the difficult divorce and the challenging of access arrangements for the children.  Or maybe the word “stepchild” has different connotations in the States.  If so, do let me know.

2. You don’t love me no more

As for the next song,  (also sometimes known as “I don’t love you no more”) there are suggestions by some writers that Dylan is not necessarily the composer, but there is no evidence I have seen, and the official Dylan site says he is, so I’m sticking with that.  If he were not surely there would have been complaints by now.

In the recording below it is the opening track in a soundcheck.  It is particularly interesting because the song has a properly written ending which exists outside of the sung material – a fulsome coda no less (to use the correct Italian term).  Something rather rare for Bob – and indeed not that common in pop, rock and blues in general).

This sounds like an evolution from the Dylan/Springs collaboration, and rather a good one.  That’s not to say Ms Springs had anything to do with it, but maybe Bob still had that sort of music in his head as he was sketching out songs for his next album.

Here we have it from September 1978:

What makes the song work so well is that the chorus, “You don’t love me no more” is based on three chords that make up thousands of pop songs (described in music as tonic, flattened 7th and sub-dominant) while the intervening verse sections go into a series of minor chords.  This really is musical experimentation for Bob.

I think what we have here is a sketch – a very well worked out sketch, but like the other songs after the Helena Springs period Dylan is working his way into a new set of musical forms.

3.  This a-way that a-way

The next piece, “This a-way, that a-way” then takes the song-writing journey onto another track because yes there is now a slight hint of the religious songs to come.

Dylan seemed to be toying with two ideas: “the world is stuck, there is nothing to be done, that’s all there is” in this song along with  “life goes on, so it goes.”   Now of course those are not religious messages, but can be preludes to deciding that the only way out is belief.

If I am an illusion,
It’s a waste of time
If I am an illusion
I’ll be gone in time
Let me go this way, let me go that
Better to move that way than steal like a cat
This a-way, that a-way

4.  Take it or leave it

And now we have the real leap into the halfway house between moving on in general, and moving onto Christianity.

Interestingly, “You don’t love me no more” is dealing with the same sort of romantic troubles, but in a much more upbeat manner, and is being positive about the end of the affair – “Down the road I go”.   Take it or leave it has a form of hopelessness about the whole situation which is there from the jagged guitar introduction.

Although somehow I can hear elements of Slow Train in this piece.  I know it doesn’t sound like Slow Train, it is just… well, that’s how it feels.

The song is not listed on the official BobDylan.com site in the index of songs but it does have a page of its own which tells us it was played just once on 7 April 2018.  No lyrics are included.  One would only find it by doing a Google search.  (It is also, I should report, on my computer at least, one of those crazy wonderful moments where on Google, the Untold Dylan link appears above the link to the official Bob Dylan site.  I know its probably just a trick of the algorithm, but it still makes me feel good.)

5.  More than flesh and blood can bear (Daddy’s gonna take one more ride).

In these sound check recordings we also get a new version of “More than flesh and blood can bear” which in the first round of decoding the sound check tapes I copied down as Daddy’s gonna take one more ride.

The song of interest here is the last on the recording and it comes in at around 16 minutes 40 seconds.   It has changed somewhat from the earlier version but it is interesting not just for that but because it is being played just before “Slow Train Coming” was composed.

I'm going down to find a church that I can understand
I need new inspiration and you're only just a man.
And with the blackjack table I can't play another hand,
The meat you cook for me is blood red rare 
It's more than flesh and blood can bear 
More than flesh and blood can bear 
Take the saddle off your horse and give yourself a chair 
More than flesh and blood can bear.

It is indeed a very curious set of lyrics – that church reference might suggest this is the first overtly Christian song, and yet the lyrics immediately go somewhere else.  Personally I think Bob was making them up as they go along, but whether he was or not, “Take the saddle off your horse and give yourself a chair,” is one of those priceless Dylanesque lines that need  to be cherished.

6.  Legionnaire’s disease

 

I wish I had a dollar for everyone that died within that year
Got ’em hot by the collar, plenty an old maid shed a tear
Now within my heart, it sure put on a squeeze
Oh, that Legionnaire’s disease

Granddad fought in a revolutionary war, father in the War of 1812
Uncle fought in Vietnam and then he fought a war all by himself
But whatever it was, it came out of the trees
Oh, that Legionnaire’s disease

Reading that in 2021 my main thought is, thank goodness Bob didn’t try a song about coronavirus.  “Dylan is a-searching.  Dylan is confused.  Dylan is uncertain.  He doesn’t quite know where to go,” is how I hear it.

What else are we to make of this?  Perhaps the best thing to say is that Bob was experimenting, trying anything, everything, feeling something that was building up inside him but not being sure what it was.  Maybe he was just clearing the air, clearing his thoughts, before coming up with a singularly superb piece of writing…

The remaining songs from the year are covered in the next episode.

What else?

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to All Directions 40: 100 twists before trying Christianity

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    Stepchild –

    She probably leaves the narrator to sweep up on Desolation Row after the ambulance goes –

    Revises Perrault’s ‘Cinderella’, gives her a sex change to boot; throws in a dash of Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale – “you’re going to make me kill someone”

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    Introducing his singing of ‘Step Child’, Michel Montecrossa says Dylan wrote it
    “together with Helena Springs”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.