Untold Dylan

To be alone with you 5: The big sleep

Previously in this series…

by Jochen Markhorst

V          The Big Sleep

 As with the text changes of the first verse, the rewritten bridge also seems unspectacular at first glance. In 1969, Dylan wrote and sang:

They say that nighttime is the right time
To be with the one you love
Too many thoughts get in the way in the day
But you’re always what I’m thinkin’ of

… so clichéd and clumsy as to be almost comical. “Nighttime is the right time to be with the one you love” is a lazy copy/paste from the song the whole world has been singing along for years now with Nappy Brown (1957) or with Ray Charles (1958), or with Rufus and Carla (1964). A song that is actually much older, by the way; already in 1937 Roosevelt Sykes recorded “Night Time Is the Right Time”… with exactly these very same words.

Not to mention the dull “in the way in the day” and the weak closing line. Which, to make it even more awkward is a semantically incorrect continuation of the previous one – if I always think of you, there won’t be, obviously, “too many thoughts in the way”. Not during the day either.

Irrelevant, of course – the Nobel Prize winner is not aiming here for a gripping epic about a scorching love, nor for a heartbreaking lyrical declaration of love, but is quite content with an accumulation of empty clichés. “Words don’t interfere,” as he would later explain (Playboy interview with Ron Rosenbaum, 1978). Anyway, fifty years later, the poet revises the bridge;

They say the nighttime is the right time to hold each other tight
All worldly cares will disappear and everything will come outright

… starting off again with a puzzling intervention; one cliché is exchanged for another (“to hold each other tight”), which seems rather pointless. Well, perhaps Dylan changed it because he finds the uncritical copying of the second part (“to be with the one you love”) a bit too easy-going or corny by now.

The second line, then, is a real enrichment. The disappearing worldly cares in the bridge also builds a substantive bridge to the preceding ivory tower and high castle, the crime scene to which the narrator wants to take his victim. An ivory tower, after all, is a synonym for detachment, an absence of worldly concerns. And, remarkably enough, worldly cares is a relatively uncommon word combination in the art of song. The old Rodgers/Hart jazz standard “Blue Room” comes to mind, there are not many more examples. In which, by the way, the blue room is also something like an ivory tower, a place where the protagonist and his beloved can isolate themselves from everyday worries. Really isolate themselves – – even Robinson Crusoe is still closer to bleak reality;

You sew your trousseau, 
and Robinson Crusoe, 
Is not so far from worldly cares, 
As our blue room, far away upstairs

Dylan presumably knows Bing Crosby’s rendition (1956), or Perry Como’s hit (1948), and the cinephile Dylan will have noticed the song on the soundtrack of The Big Sleep as well; from that film, Dylan also records “You Go To My Head” and “I’ll Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plans” (both on Triplicate, 2017), and “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine” is played by the DJ in his Theme Time Radio Hour (episode 39, “Tears”)… every song from The Big Sleep comes along with Dylan sooner or later. Apart from that, he undoubtedly considered “Blue Room” in his American Songbook years 2015-2017.

Still, it is probably only an unconscious echo, this worldly cares, or perhaps just a coincidence – but in any case it flows smoothly and pleasantly into the continuation, into the half Gandhi quote (“Therefore, replace greed by love and everything will come outright”); on both a substantive and an instinctive level, a successful match with disappearing worldly cares. Gandhi is anything but a high castle dweller in an ivory tower, but he is, of course, detachment incarnate.

And a more macabre interpretation of this seemingly lovely bridge is offered in hindsight, when we hear whereto the bridge is being laid:

I wish the night was here, make me scream and shout
I’ll fall into your arms, I’ll let it all hang out
I’ll hound you to death, that’s just what I’ll do
I won’t sleep a wink ‘till I’m alone with you

… the verse that marks a definitive break with the tenor of the original text. The first six words remain unchanged, but after that, the tide turns quite drastically;

I wish the night were here
Bringin’ me all of your charms
When only you are near
To hold me in your arms
I’ll always thank the Lord
When my working day’s through
I get my sweet reward
To be alone with you

… the closing couplet of the original version. Not-a-care-in-the-world words as they have echoed against the walls of Nashville studios for decades, words we have all heard dozens of times in songs by Hank Snow and Roy Orbison, by Hank Williams and Glen Campbell. But there is little left of these innocent words. The safe and obedient “I’ll always thank the Lord” is rewritten as “I’ll hound you to death”, the sweet and cute “all of your charms” is now “scream and shout”… the hard-working, God-fearing sweetheart from 1969 is transformed into a bloodthirsty sexual predator who will not rest until he has that girl in his claws, until he is alone with her. Upon which he shall put her to a Big Sleep, we may fear.

To be continued. Next up: To Be Alone With You part 6


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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  1. The Sound School of Dylanology will repeat these words ’til the cows come home- “the words don’t interfere’ while ignoring that Dylan also says he’s ‘ultimately’ a songwriter as well as a musician ….that is, neither the lyrics nor the music should interfere with one another, not overwhelm one anoter, but fit harmoniously together.

    Artist or not, a human being is not a purely rational crearure. A person can indeed always be thinking of someone or something (in his subconscious) even when he has other things on his mind, ie, especially during the daytime.

    The back of Dylan’s artistic-inclined head be crammed with lines from other songs, movies, whatever, from which to draw in order to bring sound and words together in a coherent whole, often an obverse motif to that in the original piece.

    He is the god who creates the tiger in the pasture of the lamb.

    At one time there was nothing wrong with me
    That you couldn’t fix
    (Seeing The Real You At Last)

    What’s wrong with you?
    Nothing you couldn’the fix
    (The Big Sleep)

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