- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 1: To have and have not
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 2: Slut wives cheating
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 3 … and cheating husbands
- Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You (1969) part 4: The cadence of click-clack
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 5: Hits of sorts
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 6: A mattress and sand letters
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 7: A Spider’s Life On Mars
by Jochen Markhorst
VIII On The 309
Is it really any wonder Is it really any wonder
The love that a stranger might receive the changes we put on each other’s heads
You cast your spell and I went under You came down on me like rolling thunder
I find it so difficult to leave I left my dreams on the riverbed
The second alienating, radical textual change, after that mattress-slinging village beauty from the opening couplet, is the closing line of the bridge. Of course, almost every line in the 1975 Rolling Thunder version has been radically changed, in the sense that they are all different words, but the tenor is almost the same as the original. Throw my ticket in the wind is not much different from Throw my ticket out the window, and I could have left this town by noon communicates in other words the same as I should have left this town by morning, to name but two examples.
That also applies to the bridge at first. Stranger and changes are related, You cast your spell and I went under has the same emotional charge as You came down on me like rolling thunder – with the wordplay reference to the name of the tour as a bonus (which is appreciated by the audience with slightly exaggerated hilarity).
I left my dreams on the riverbed, however, suddenly takes a turn that is radically different from the message I find it so difficult to leave. The latter is a tender, loving expression of an infatuation; the revision, taken in isolation, expresses a rather bitter resignation – “leaving your dreams” is far from romantic in any case. Riverbed, while somewhat strange, can be understood as an insider’s wink at “a bed in a house by the river” or something like that. Anyhow, riverbed does not have an unambiguous, commonly understood connotation. A vague Western association at most. Dylan himself has used the word once before, not so long ago by the way, in “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts”;
Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall And cleaned out the bank safe, it's said that they got off with quite a haul In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground For one more member who had business back in town But they couldn't go no further without the Jack of Hearts
… Dylan himself seems to have that vague Western association as well: a riverbed is a piece of scenery for a nineteenth-century scene somewhere in the Wild West. Just like Johnny Cash (in “All Around Cowboy”; he’s dry as an old riverbed) or the Irish cowboy Van Morrison in “Moonshine Whiskey” (I just want to lay my feet on a river bed). Or Doug Kershaw’s hit “Louisiana Man” – which somewhere in Dylan’s inner jukebox is sung by Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Ricky Nelson, Jan & Dean, and an array of others. The most beautiful perhaps by the irresistible Bobbie Gentry;
At birth mom and papa called their little boy Ned Raised him on the banks of a river bed On a houseboat tied to a big tall tree A home for my papa and my mama and me
… wherein, however, the emotional charge of riverbed drifts far from the tenor of Dylan’s song. I left my dreams behind has a melancholic, maybe even a bit bitter, overtone. But then again: maybe Dylan just shouts something out of the blue, filler lyrics – at the rehearsal in New York, a month earlier, this line did not yet exist. Dylan sings something partly unintelligible there (I finally …. …. so true, something like that), but nothing about lost dreams and riverbeds, in any case.
The remainder of the revised text, the third stanza, gives no reason either to think that the strange closing line of the bridge was a well-thought-out textual intervention:
I can hear that lonesome whistle blowin' I hear them semis rolling too If there's a driver on the road Better let him have my load cause tonight I'll be staying here with you
…the meaning of which is pretty much the same a month earlier, in the rehearsal:
I can hear that lonesome whistle blowin' I can hear those semi-trucks rollin’ too If there's a cowboy on the plane then let him have my train cause tonight I'll be staying here with you
An anecdotal change from train to the Rolling Thunder Revue’s mode of transport, with the resulting disappearance of the stationmaster and the poor boy in favour of a driver or a cowboy… it’s all not too earth-shattering. No hint of a clue, anyway, as to why or which dreams were abandoned in the preceding bridge. Still, Dylan seems to be quite content with that anecdotal shift from train to semi-trucks. The original from ’69 closes with a repeat of the first verse, of the throw my ticket out the window verse. During the first performance of the song at the Rolling Thunder Revue, he decides to repeat this last semi-truck verse.
Maybe because he thinks it’s the first rock song to use the word semi-truck, who knows. Though in fact he is just beaten on that front by Tom Waits and his cover of Red Sovine’s 1967 hit, “Big Joe and Phantom 309” (Nighthawks At The Diner, 1975). Waits is fairly faithful to the lyrics of the original, touching ghost story about the friendly spirit of Big Joe who picks up hitchhikers in his truck Phantom 309, entertaining them with his stories, but Waits changes one small detail:
He pushed her ahead with 10 forward gears Man that dashboard was lit like the old Madam La Rue pinball, a serious semi truck
… he turns Red Sovine’s truck into a semi-truck.
In 2003, Johnny Cash writes his last song, the masterful “Like The 309”, which is released only three years after his death (on American V: A Hundred Highways, 2006). Cash borrows “309”, obviously, from “Big Joe and Phantom 309”, but turns the truck back into a train. Johnny wrote his very first song in 1954 about a train journey (“Hey Porter”), and Johnny writes his very last song about a train journey again, fifty years later – about his coffin that will be taken on the 309 to its final resting place. Probably because Johnny Cash, just like Dylan, needs to hear the steam whistle blow:
I hear the sound of a railroad train The whistle blows and I'm gone again Hitman, take me higher than a Georgia pine Stand back children, it's the 309 It's the 309, it's the 309 Put me in my box on the 309
Yep, I can hear that steam whistle blowin’.
To be continued. Next up: Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You part 9: Music from the Big Mushroom
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
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978