The story so far…
- Gates Of Eden part I: The Lady In The Water
- Gates Of Eden part II: As if he was just taking dictation
- Gates Of Eden part III: Hello lamppost, nice to see ya
- Gates Of Eden part IV: Out of the depths have I cried
- Gates Of Eden part V: A wedding-cake left out in the rain
- Gates Of Eden part VI: The cowpuncher and the Golden Calf
- Gates Of Eden part VII: She-devils and wild angels
- Gates Of Eden: part VIII. When everyone’s super… no one will be
- Gates Of Eden: part IX: I’m The Greatest
- Gates Of Eden: part X: Domus ad orientem solem
- Gates of Eden part XI: Forever Young
- Gates Of Eden part XII: Plato and that sort of thing
by Jochen Markhorst
XIII Where did you sleep last night?
At dawn my lover comes to me And tells me of her dreams With no attempts to shovel the glimpse Into the ditch of what each one means At times I think there are no words But these to tell what’s true And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden
For the filling in of the only line Dylan left open in the draft phase, the poet chooses the loaded, enigmatic with no attempts to shovel the glimpse into the ditch of what each one means. The “colour” is still unambiguous; “to shovel into the ditch” is condescending, dismissive, denigrating. And so it fits in with the Heine-like tone Dylan often chooses in these years; the tone of the ironic point. Just as the nineteenth-century German master likes to do, the last verse opens with the promise of a tender, loving conclusion. “At dawn my lover comes to me and tells me of her dreams”… it is an opening like I wish I could write you a melody so plain from “Tombstone Blues” or like Bow to her on Sunday from “She Belongs To Me”. Vulnerable, elegant introductions, which then turn into vicious, deconstructive continuations, into “your useless and pointless knowledge” and into “for Christmas, buy her a drum” respectively, into a punch line that destroys the promise of tenderness.
It’s not very clear, the words with which the narrator rebuffs his soon-to-be ex, but it’s not friendly; apparently, she’s the kind of person who thinks that others are enormously interested in her dreams. In any case, she makes no attempt to shovel their supposed meaning into the ditch – which is a pity. There is, after all, perhaps only one thing more boring than people who want to tell their dreams: people who interpret their own dreams.
Anyway, it seems that for this last verse and its vague narrative, the poet has been inspired by the last words of Rimbaud’s Un Saison En Enfer, from the last chapter, appropriately titled “Adieu”:
Et à l’aurore, armés d’une ardente patience, nous entrerons aux splendides villes.
Que parlais-je de main amie ! Un bel avantage, c’est que je puis rire des vieilles amours mensongères, et frapper de honte ces couples menteurs, -j’ai vu l’enfer des femmes là-bas ; – et il me sera loisible de posséder la vérité dans une âme et un corps.
And at dawn, armed with burning patience, we shall enter the glorious cities.
What was I talking about a friendly hand! A nice advantage is that I can laugh at the old deceitful loves, and smite these lying couples with shame, – I have seen the hell of women down there; and I shall be granted to possess the truth in a soul and a body.
An even more subtle hint that this final couplet hides a love break-up is that odd time of day. “At dawn”? His lover comes to him at dawn? In the blues and folk tradition, that can only mean one thing:
My girl, my girl, don't lie to me Tell me where did you sleep last night?
… that’s what both the deluded Lead Belly (“Black Girl”, 1944) and the desperate Bill Monroe (“In The Pines”, 1941) ask, following the source of the song, the time-honoured “The Longest Train”. And it’s not an original question. “Five O’Clock In The Morning” (Big Joe Williams), “Quarter Past Nine” by Elmore James, “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”, Neil Young’s “What Did You Do To My Life?”, George Jones’s “Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong”… it’s usually not a good sign when the protagonist’s sweetheart doesn’t come home until morning;
She's been out all night and it's the break of day One scotch, one bourbon, one beer
Which would trivialise the heavy, symbolism-soaked closing line of “Gates Of Eden”, of course. “There are no truths outside the Gates of Eden” is then reduced to the punch-line of a break-up song, to a self-pitying lament of a deceived lover.
No, maybe we should stick to the more distinguished Heisenberg/Plato approach.
A very negative direction
“This is called a sacrilegious lullaby in D minor,” says Dylan on that Halloween night in October 1964 in New York’s Philharmonic Hall, when the world is introduced to the song. Not unwitty, but it seems to be deterrent nonetheless. “Gates Of Eden” is not in the Top 30 of most covered Dylan songs. Not by a long shot. Except for Bryan Ferry and Julie Felix, all the usual suspects ignore the song. Joan Baez, for one, is not impressed. David Hajdu quotes her in Positively 4th Street (2001):
“I didn’t like what he was doing. It was haphazard and it was sloppy and too negative for me. There was hardly anything positive in it. I thought he went just one step too far in a very negative direction.”
But then again, she’s not impressed by Highway 61 either. “A bunch of crap,” as she tells biographer Scaduto.
Why Jimmy LaFave, who after all plays half the Dylan catalogue, skipped the song is unknown. Manfred Mann may feel trumped by The Myddle Class (1965), which indeed seems to be fishing in Mann’s pond, just as the jingle-jangling, semi-psychedelic cover of The Etonians (1967) cuts the grass at the feet of any Byrds version (though ex-Byrd Gene Clark did perform the song, occasionally and breath-takingly). Barb Jungr, Bettye LaVette, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hugues Aufray… not even Jerry Garcia and/or Grateful Dead play the song – although Bringing It All Back Home is in Garcia’s list of “10 Favorite Albums Of All Time” according to Far Out Magazine; “Beautiful mad stuff. And that turned us all on, we couldn’t believe it.” Certified superfan Robyn Hitchcock may still play it every once in a while (twice in 2005, twice in 2018), but studio-recorded, serious covers are otherwise all done by the second ring, by artists with no solid reputation for Dylan covers.
Among them, by the way, are plenty of gems. Arlo Guthrie is wonderful, as is veteran Ralph McTell, and in the outsider category, Swede Totta Näslund scores, as in fact Näslund’s entire tribute album Totta’s Basement Tapes/Down In The Flood (2010) is a brilliant, surprising ode to Dylan’s oeuvre (including, by the way, a rather unique cover of “Wigwam” – more beautiful and melancholic than the somewhat dubious original).
Another candidate for the Top 3 Best Gates Of Eden Covers is also on an equally overwhelming tribute record, on Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home (various artists, 2010). The record features the chillingly beautiful version of “She Belongs To Me” by Norwegian Ane Brun, a rare and very successful “On The Road Again” (by the pride of New Brunswick, Julie Doiron), a staggering, almost lugubrious “Farewell Angelina” by William Fitzsimmons, and among all that beauty, a poignant, unsettling attack on “Gates Of Eden” by New Yorker DM Stith.
The only one with some sort of official Stamp of Approval, however, comes from another outsider, from “one of Ireland’s great lost songwriters” (Irish Times, February 2014), Jim Carroll, whose majestic, driven, layered labour of love is even on the highest stage for a while – as an audio stream at bobdylan.com.
Non-competitive are amusing, incomprehensible covers from Scandinavia; a solid Danish translation by Steffen Brandt, “Porten Ind Til Himlen” and a freakier one by Norwegian weirdo Oddvar Torsheim, “Lukk opp, lukk opp”.
And above all categories towers the jazz trio that demonstrates the profound truth of Dylan’s words from Chronicles (“Musicians have always known that my songs were about more than just words”): Michael Moore’s Jewels and Binoculars. The trio has produced more Olympic Dylan covers. “Floater”, “Visions Of Johanna”, perhaps the finest cover ever of “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” – and their graceful, thoroughly elegant and heartfelt “Gates Of Eden” also deserves a place of honour among them.
At times I think there are no words.
Jewels and Binoculars
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:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse