Love Minus Zero/No Limit (1965) part I
by Jochen Markhorst
[Publisher’s note: this article appeared on Untold Dylan recently, before Jochen’s series on Gates of Eden had finished. That was entirely the editor’s fault, and he has been sent to Bouvet Island (you can look it up) for the rest of the year, with eight 78rpm discs and a wind up gramophone as punishment. We’re now publishing this article again, and will follow it shortly with part II. If we can work out how to do that. Sorry.]
I Rose of England
Steve Harley is one of England’s national treasures, and with the acoustic Uncovered he reaffirms his class in 2020. Two of his own songs and nine beautiful covers form a kind of road map of Harley’s musical roots, development and role models. The Stones’ “Out Of Time”, the traditional “Star Of Belle Isle”, McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, Bowie, Cat Stevens, Hot Chocolate… it’s probably in the DNA of any musician born in the fifties, actually.
Dylan is at the top of Harley’s list. The album closes with a beautiful, sunny, intimate rendition of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, demonstrating true Dylan love. Which the old Cockney Rebel also professes in so many words in every interview; how he was in hospital from the age of 12 to 14, as a polio patient, and discovered Dylan there. “I was 12 years old when I got Freewheelin’ by Bob Dylan and then Another Side of Bob Dylan when it was all about drum, bass and guitar. I bought into it all. Bob Dylan changed my life.” And that Highway 61 Revisited is the “record to grab in an emergency”.
Steve Harley – When I Paint My Masterpiece:
Usually, Harley mentions in such an interview, without too many details, how he had one real tête-à-tête with Dylan. “I’ve met him. He was incredibly charming,” for example (Birmingham Entertainment, November 2016), and “Dylan is a strange man – he’s out there – but he couldn’t be nicer” (The Guardian, August 2005).
But on stage at Nell’s Jazz and Blues in London on October 27th, 2017, he finally tells the whole story:
“I’ve had time with Dylan, I met him. He was very very sweet to me. It’s a long story, I won’t bother you with it. He was very sweet to me. He didn’t say anything for ten minutes. I had to say everything. For ten minutes. And my lips dried up. You know, I ran out of energy. And words. You know, when you meet a hero after 45, 50 years, you’ve got all these things, you accumulated thoughts, words, questions, that you’ve got to have to put to this idol of yours, and you meet this person, and you haven’t got a word to say. It just all goes, it just disappears, through a sieve. And that kind of happened to me, but it was quite good with him. But he didn’t talk back. It’s hard work. It’s like hard work. And when it was over, when he wanted to go, he stood up and shook my hand, and he said four words to me. No wait, it was two words. But he repeated. He stood up, and he took my hand to say goodbye, he said: [growling imitation of Dylan’s voice] ‘The weather, the weather.’
[audience laughter, but Harley is smiling proudly] I spent time with Bob. Got two words. It’s good enough for me.”
“When I Paint My Masterpiece” is of course not Steve’s first Dylan cover. On stage, he plays a wonderful “Mr. Tambourine Man” and a fine “She Belongs To Me”, at the start of his career he tries to get a record deal with a demo of “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and in his peak year 1975 ( “Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)”) he produces a single for his sister-in-law; a remarkable, loving, rather failed cover of “Can You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window”.
This video Patricia Paay sadly is not available in all countries – but you can find the song on Spotify.
Presumably due to a kind of midlife crisis, to a kind of gotta-change-it-all phase that every great artist goes through from time to time. Occasionally, this turns out to be surprisingly good. Steve Harley’s cover of “Here Comes The Sun” (1976) is so curious and inappropriate that it still stands, half a century later – though perhaps more as a guilty pleasure than for purely artistic reasons. And, not to forget, for Stuart Elliot’s jaw-dropping work on the drums.
Harley’s cover of another pop monument, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” balances on the edge. The love is real, and the approach – a stripped-down, slightly melodramatic interpretation with mainly acoustic instruments – is not wrong either, but unfortunately Harley chooses to let an extremely dated-sounding synthesiser carry the whole arrangement. As a result, the song drowns in a sterile, Teutonic 80s sauce.
But then, the song is so strong – it survives even those full, stately chords on a pathetically echoing synthesiser. Although, apparently, Harley seems to be touching the right chord by 90s standards: when Rod Stewart records the song in 1997 for the somewhat sentimental album Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute, he copies the arrangement almost one-on-one.
Rod Stewart – Love Minus Zero:
(Another video giving me problems in the UK. Try here )
The song has a special attraction for Britons anyway. No coincidence, probably; “Love Minus Zero” is one of Dylan’s most Shakespearean love songs, underpinned by Blakean imagery with a touch of T.S. Eliot. The song also made a great impression on another Stewart, on Harley’s fellow countryman Dave Stewart.
When The Wall Street Journal interviews him in February 2016, Dave Stewart once again loses himself in a long declaration of his Dylan love in general, and specifically of his love for this song. And for him too, like young polio patient Steve Harley, it starts with hospitalisation.
“When I was 13, I had to have surgery on my left knee due to a soccer injury. Back at home a few weeks later in Sunderland, England, I was forced to rest for six months. My brother gave me his acoustic guitar, and I began working out how to play things. One of the first songs I learned was Bob Dylan’s Love Minus Zero/No Limit.”
The Eurythmic tells how he performs the song in front of an audience as a fifteen-year-old boy, at the Rose & Crown, a local pub, remembers making an impression and attributes it, very elegantly, to the power of the lyrics, “so gothic and epic”,
“Bob took stuff that you’d expect to be spoken in Shakespearean plays and added these dime-store situations, throwing them down like dice in our contemporary world. They were quite captivating. His lyrics also capture moments in time in a visual as well as an allegorical sense. In Love Minus Zero, the lyrics start as social insights but then conclude with something romantic and sexy.”
… and concludes by telling how he still plays the song today, at the age of sixty-three. Just a few days ago, for his wife, sitting in front of the fireplace. “My wife was knocked out. She teared up but was incredibly happy. Bob can still do that to you.”
With which he, once again very elegantly and very British, gives all the credit to Dylan. Sympathetic, but the analysis “the lyrics start as social insights but then conclude with something romantic and sexy” is a bit puzzling. Or actually just wrong. A similar testimony from Stewart’s autobiography Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Life In Music (2016) puts the anecdotal declaration of love in The Wall Street Journal somewhat into perspective:
“Then one day I had an Eko acoustic. I can’t remember where it came from. I do remember playing Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom over and over again, memorizing the words and how to play the chords without looking at my fingers.”
…so perhaps Mr. Stewart is allowing himself some poetic license when expressing the origins of his love for Dylan in general and for “Love Minus Zero” in particular.
Which goes to show. Nothing speaks love like silence.
To be continued. Next up: Love Minus Zero/No Limit part II: A Song Of Ice And Fire
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
You can read details of some of our latest series on the home page, and in the listings below the picture at the top of the page