All Directions at once part 63: Completing “Time out of Mind”

The five songs Dylan composed in 1997 take us on a strange journey as he worked to complete the recordings for Time Out of Mind.  An index to the full series is here

The articles covering 1996 are

This article concludes the writing of “Time out of Mind”

“Cold Irons Bound” clearly describes a journey, but notes that he is in chains (probably metaphorical chains, but chains nonetheless,) which of course reflects the title of the album.  Time is passing, as it does on a journey, but his mind is not in the same place as his body.   It’s a theme that seems to be there through much of the album.

Then in the next piece, that journey sees a possible end point as the central character in the tale is “Trying to get to heaven”.  If he succeeds then time really will be out of mind, for as Talking Heads so clearly reminded us, “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”.

Yet we soon see that the heaven he wants to reach is not the actual Christian heaven but a symbolic heaven in which he can make the woman he loves understand that he loves her.  The mental emphasis is there once more; it has nothing to do with religion.

So we come to the final three compositions of the year “Make you feel my love,” “Til I fell in love with you,” and “Love Sick”.   After that all that is left is the putting of the songs in the right order for the album.

Make you feel my love

To see how life has changed we only have to look at the opening

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

The man who last year was thinking it was not dark yet but getting there, is now wanting the woman he loves to feel his love.  Having given up, having been in chains, he’s now trying once more.

This is not just a long way from

I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping.

this is so far removed from those thoughts, we are now at the other end of the spectrum.

Now I am not with those who think that “Feel my love” is a mistake for this album or in any way an inferior song.  If I had written it, and never written anything else, I’d still spend every day walking around saying to people “I wrote that”.   Of course I’d probably get carried off to an institution at the same time, but even so… to me it is a magnificent work of art.

Dylan is offering us both sides of love – the total and utter despair on the one hand, and the overwhelming yearning, desire and need to express the love he feels, on the other hand.  And that is perfectly reasonable at this point, because this is what the whole album is about.  He loves her, but it has no impact on her.

And that is emphasised because he knows that he was ok until he met her and fell for her.  So he changes track again and writes…

Till I fell in love with you

It is a strange conundrum: Dylan puts at least one 12 bar blues song onto every album, which acknowledges that this is the key to his roots, this is the music he loves.  And yet it is these 12 bar blues that are so often ignored by reviewers looking for the very essence of Dylan’s music.

So when we come to Time Out of Mind we think of Love Sick and Not Dark Yet maybe, but not of Til I fell in love with you,  a classic 12 bar blues.   And it is the same through all the albums.

This is more than a song of disengagement, this is a song of falling apart; and the cause this time is not the reminiscence of things past but rather the total lack of self.  He loves her so much, he is losing himself.

He has, in the previous composition, expressed his utter love for the lady and the need to make her feel his love, and now he finds that expressing that love does not lead to paradise at all but to torment.   In fact this is the old blues of perfidious womanhood betraying honest hardworking men, underlined by the fact that love itself cannot be trusted.

But there is also the old blues concept of life going on, you just have to suffer it, that is how it is.  Just keep on keeping on.  And the piece moves the “keep on keeping on” thought to the notion that…

If I’m still among the living, then I’ll be Dixie bound.

Down the Road to the Southern States, the home of the blues, Highway 61, New Orleans.  At least there people will understand.  And anyway, I’ll have the music.  Although having spent so much time professing he stayed in Mississippi a day too long, he’ll probably not planning to hang around in any one particular place.

The jagged chord at the very start on the album, played over and over punches at our nerves from the first second.  During the first verse, it overpowers us as the first sound we hear and then slowly fades into the background – but always there.  Our nerves are on edge.

And as if that were not enough, as an opening

Well, my nerves are exploding and my body’s tense

is about as hard as a blues song, or come to that any song, can get.  You want a punch in the face?  Here it comes.

I’ve been hit too hard, I’ve seen too much

Incidentally, that line and the following line (Nothing can heal me now, but your touch) both turn up on “Marchin’ To The City” which was recorded in the same sessions but dropped from the album.

So, we kick off with desperation, and then we find the resolution is no resolution at all.

Nothing can heal me now, but your touch
I don’t know what I’m gonna do

She’s got the power, he’s sucked in, (or perhaps I should say, “All boxed in”) and has no idea how to escape.  Oh this really is the blues.

This song, with its continuing images of the world falling apart (it won’t even rain, damn it, when he needs it to), is part of the descent from desperation to utter total despair and then a complete sense of giving up, that marks out the first seven songs on Time Out of Mind.

Yes it is the world gone utterly, totally wrong.

Well, my house is on fire, burning to the sky
I thought it would rain but the clouds passed by
Now I feel like I’m coming to the end of my way
But I know God is my shield and he won’t lead me astray
Still I don’t know what I’m gonna do
I was all right ’til I fell in love with you

That’s a lovely contradiction of the religious message.  God won’t lead me astray, but even so, I still don’t know what to do.

This being the blues, there is no relief for the middle 8, no change of key, no variation in the chord sequence, it is just verse after verse pounding after verse of desperation.

When I’m gone you will remember my name
I’m gonna win my way to wealth and fame
I don’t know what I’m gonna do

That old terrifying fear that no one will come to the funeral, no one will miss me or even remember me when I’m gone, so little is the mark we have left on this world, so tiny is the care other people have for us.  And so he does the only thing a Dylan character can do; he keeps on keeping on, moving on, always moving on, because that way he’ll never know if people remembered him or not.

And yet, I spy something odd – although this might be my complete misunderstanding of American phraseology, so do put me right if I am mistaken.  He’s Dixie bound.  Now I have always (as a non-American) understood Dixie to be the south, and I thought Mississippi was part of the south.  I guess if that’s right his solution is just to tour in the home of the blues.

So, by my understanding, Bob now had everything he needed for his album except for a song that would introduce the collection: a song that would show us the landscape we were inhabiting once we ventured into Time out of Mind.  A total and absolutely unmistakable scene-setter.

I would guess that also by this point Dylan had the title for the album, because the songs are so very much about his mental state and the way that plays around with the notion of time that he really couldn’t help but use the words “time” and “mind” in the album.

But in other ways we can understand why “Love Sick” was written at the end of the 18 months or so of composing this work.  It is, to my mind, the most amazing opening to an album – and one that very few composers would ever have contemplated.  At the time of writing Dylan has performed the song 914 times live in a 22 year period, making it the 12th most performed song ever by Dylan and his band, and the most performed song from this album.  (Cold Irons Bound is second, in relation to the album’s songs, with 423 live performances – but that song only lasted 14 years).

And to divert for just a moment, in case it is of interest, here is the list of the 14 most performed songs as of August 2021.

  1. All Along the Watchtower
  2. Like a Rolling Stone
  3. Highway 61 Revisited
  4. Tangled Up In Blue
  5. Blowin’ in the Wind
  6. Ballad of a Thin Man
  7. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  8. It Ain’t Me, Babe
  9. Maggie’s Farm
  10. Things Have Changed
  11. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  12. Love Sick

I find that interesting.  I’d classify all the 11 songs before “Love Sick” in the list to be utter classics from the Dylan genre.  Not my own personal favourites, but songs that symbolise the very essence of Dylan in different ways.   But “Love Sick” feels to me like a different sort of song.

If one can just stand aside from the music for a moment and consider the lyrics, the sheer power of this song emerges as once.

I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping.

Also of note, I feel, is the fact that the final three compositions required for the album all have the word “love” in the title, and love is clearly the curse.  As he says in “Til I fell in love with you”

I don’t know what I’m gonna do
I was all right ’til I fell in love with you

And what of “Make you feel my love?”   How does Dylan write “Love Sick” and “Make you feel my love” one after the other?   Indeed what made Bob write three consecutive songs with “love” in the title, ending with, as we note above, “Love Sick”?

The only answers I have are a) Bob writes as the ideas that plop into his head rather than in a thoroughly planned way, and b) that as the songs emerged he began to understand what the album was about.   In this second explanation the album wasn’t fully planned as he started writing, although he had a general idea.   But as he got near the end the order of songs began to emerge and he realised what he needed to make the whole concept work.

In the classic approach of popular music, albums start with something fairly upbeat, and then have a slow number as the second track, but this album begins

I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping

So he sets out travelling and experiences total disintegration – yesterday was too fast, today is too slow.  He moves on and on, until in the end he acknowledges that the moving on and moving on has begun to deflect the pain just a little as “Every day your memory grows dimmer…  It doesn’t haunt me like it did before, I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere, Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.”

And as the songs move on he knows full well what the cause of all this is, as he says, “I was all right ’til I fell in love with you.”   And so we reach the point where it’s not dark yet but getting there – the lowest possible point that there can be.

From there on we get the sense of movement forwards.  He’s still trapped in one sense in “Cold Irons Bound” but he is moving on, and the lightness slowly returns until he gets to the even suggesting that he still feels the love that started off this whole disaster of a life.

But he knows that there is no point hanging about, no point in waiting for the woman to change her mind,  he manages at last to move his thoughts away from this utter disaster of a relationship which was announced in “Love Sick”.  He knows he can do it, and that “There’s a way to get there and I’ll figure it out somehow; But I’m already there in my mind; And that’s good enough for now.”

Now I fully admit, virtually everyone to whom I have presented this view of “Time out of Mind” has scoffed and suggested I am fitting the songs to a notion that I already have – and yes many theories emerge in that way.  All I can say is, it works for me.

I don’t think Bob had this vague story of how a break up of a love affair led to decline and despair, and how eventually the character in the story managed to pull himself back together by imagining a place where he could feel ok once more, at the time he started.  I think it evolved as time went by.

I enjoy the story I hear in this album, but then I also enjoy the individual songs.  And I enjoy some of the cover versions too.


There are indexes to some of the series developed on this site under the picture at the top of the page, as well as on our home page.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to All Directions at once part 63: Completing “Time out of Mind”

  1. John Carvill says:

    What is your source for being able to say when and in which order the songs were written?

  2. John Carvill says:

    Hello? What is your source for being able to say when and in which order the songs were written?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.