Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word. Part VIII: But it’s all over now


by Jochen Markhorst

Part VIII: But it’s all over now

They met once, as Bobby Womack tells us shortly before his death in 2014. In fact, they even made music together, although unfortunately history does not tell when, nor what they played;

“I was at Ronnie Woods’ house. Ronnie said to me, “you ever met Bob Dylan?” I said, “I’ve seen him but never really met him. I would love to meet him.” Ronnie said, “I’ll call him and maybe you can play something together.” I’ll never forget that when we played, I was looking at him and the whole time, he was looking at the wall. I couldn’t believe that he would be shy of me. If anything, it should’ve been the other way around, me in awe of him, cuz you know, Bob Dylan is history.”

(interview met Tee Watts, Glide Magazine 4 april 2014)

“We never talked,” Womack adds, still amused. Intermediary Ronnie Wood later explains it to him. Dylan is bashful, and, “He’s just a quiet guy and with you being there, he’s kind of freakin’ out.”

Well, perhaps Womack has, as a kind of reaching out, tried his version of “All Along The Watchtower” (although his cover, from 1973, is more Hendrix than Dylan based), but more tempting is the thought that he has harked back to his first world success, “It’s All Over Now”;

Well, baby used to stay out all night long
She made me cry, she done me wrong
She hurt my eyes open, that's no lie
Tables turn and now her turn to cry


Bobby is nineteen when he writes the song for his and his brothers’ band, The Valentinos. At that time, Sam Cooke is already the boys’ mentor, which opens doors. When The Stones are in New York in the radio studio of DJ Murray The K, Murray plays them “It’s All Over Now”, and Mick and Keith are immediately sold. Bobby Womack, then twenty years old, is still arrogant enough to want to veto it (“I told Jagger to get his own song”), but fortunately Sam Cooke puts his young protégé in his place. Six months later, when the first royalty check has come in, Womack gladly changes his mind – that one cover is a financial treat until his death.

Dylan may be familiar with The Valentinos’ modest hit (peaking at 94 in June ’64), and obviously, he knows The Stones’ world hit. In the summer of 1964, their first English number 1 hit is in the top 10 all over the world. The song is still hovering in the ether when Dylan forces a final verse for “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word” out of his pen, and the first verse of Womack’s song echoes in the first line of it:

Strange it is to be beside you, many years the tables turned
You’d probably not believe me if I told you all I’d learned
And it is very, very weird indeed
To hear words like “forever,” “please,”
Those ships sail through my mind, I cannot cheat
It’s like lookin’ in the teacher’s face complete
I can say nothing to you but repeat what I heard,
That love is just a four-letter word.

…as is the overarching plot, the wounded lover who has a sweet moment of revenge years later. And the similarity to “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, which Dylan wrote a little later, is also a little too great to be a coincidence, of course.

In terms of narrative technique, this “extra” couplet may offer a nicely rounded plot, but stylistically and linguistically it is rather disappointing. It seems to demonstrate the truth of Dylan’s own remark, I never finished it:

  • This is the only time in the five verses that Dylan resorts to a semi-rhyme (indeed – please);
  • Those ships sail through my mind seems to be a draft to integrate a playful adaptation of the expression that ship has sailed, which would be very appropriate in this context. The choice of words (“please”) suggests that the adulteress has now lost her husband and would like to continue with the narrator. But as it is, those ships can only refer to the preceding words “forever”, “please” – making the metaphor rather lame;
  • “I cannot cheat” suggests a fourth party (apart from the female antagonist and her husband) and comes completely out of the blue;
  • The incomprehensible It’s like lookin’ in the teacher’s face complete is hardly anything more than filler lyrics and suggests that the poet had half a mind to do something with “lookin’ at her completely blank” and maybe something with a metaphor on the student has become the teacher, or in that vein – but didn’t find the words right away and left the unfinished note thereon as a reminder.

All weaknesses, anyway, justifying Dylan’s refusal to include this verse in Writings & Drawings, and confirming Dylan’s outburst I never finished it. The attempts to do so, to write a final couplet, are perhaps also frustrated by that tables turned and the consequent, untenable Bobby Womack associations. The refrain keeps imposing itself on the poet,

because I used to love her, but it's all over now

… but perhaps that comes a little too close to being an overly autobiographical reference to his broken relationship with Joan Baez.

Baez herself has no problem with that, with voyeuristic frankness, as evidenced by her autobiographical, wonderful song “Diamonds And Rust” and by her candid memoirs – in which she even publishes parts of her letters. And the “unfinished” closing couplet that she chooses to sing, despite the filler and the break in style, is really not out of place, in terms of content. It is after all a satisfying finale, with a moving, poetic ending.  In which one can hear how the narrator actually wants to answer with that other Womack song, with “I Don’t Wanna Be Hurt By Ya Love Again”. Or better still, with “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”:

If you think you're lonely now
Oh, wait until tonight
I'll be long gone
And you'll never find another man that'll treat you right

Oh, ain't it funny how the tables turn
When things aren't going your way
But when love runs out, and the pain walks in
And settles for a stay, ooh

To be continued. Next up the final: Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word part IX: I sit and watch the children play


Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:




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