What songs that get included in a Dylan studio recorded album, are a mystery to us, especially when many “masterpieces” like Blind Willie McTell, become outtakes. Perhaps, for Dylan, it is not important how “good” the song is but whether it fits in atmosphere or tone with the rest of the album. Likewise, the sequencing of songs on an album are important to Dylan, and the first and the last song bear special significance.
Love Sick is not only the first song on Time Out of Mind but it is also the first released composition in about five years. Love Sick sets the theme and atmosphere for the whole album. On a broader note, we shall also examine our role as interpreters of Dylan’s music. Our song interpretations, however unlikely they are in matching the intended meanings given by Dylan, nevertheless, add life and timelessness to each song.
We know from the first verse and even the first line, that this song and album are going to be melancholic:
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
Compare the opening line in Love Sick:
“My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet I have no one to meet And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming”
The two songs were written about thirty-two years apart represent different journeys, for the narrator of the songs, at different times in his life and at different places, if indeed the narrator for each song is the same person.
Dylan wrote Mr. Tambourine Man in his mid-twenties in or before 1965. The narrator of this song is likely a young man with a long journey ahead.
In Love Sick, Dylan, or the narrator, is more like an elder statesman, and his walking is more like a slow even pace, close to the end of his journey or death, not gazing at the future, because there isn’t much of one, but looking over his shoulder at his past.
The elder statesman is struggling over a past relationship as he is “walking with you in my head”. The lost love theme is introduced here and becomes a recurring theme in the album.
The narrator in Love Sick is love-sick, walking through the streets, as if he was a walking dead person, his senses numb, a zombie, or an invisible man. He is not part of and/or is unmoved by the whole world around him.
Who is the narrator of this and other Dylan songs?
In Love Sick, he sees everyone around him, happy and in love, accentuating his own loneliness and hopelessness. He walks in a “shadow”, unseen by others:
I see lovers in the meadow I see silhouettes in the window I watch them ’til they’re gone and they leave me hanging on To a shadow
We have become so “intimate” with Dylan over the years because he has been quite a force in our lives. We form strong associations with his lifetime of songs, as they connect us to personal and global events in places and times in our lives.
As such, we want to believe the narrator is Dylan himself.
However, Dylan denies that his songs are personal, about him or people he knows.
Afterall, when he writes about mortality, world dysfunction, love relationships and spirituality, he is writing about the whole human condition and not just himself.
When Dylan is in concert these days, he is on stage, never talking directly to the audience, because like the other “stage actors” or band members, he is playing a role. He carefully selects the songs and their sequence, which together make up a “stage play” he and his band members are performing. Dylan is in costume. It is not surprising that Dylan had a white painted face, like a mask, and wore a cream-coloured fedora adorned with a bouquet of flowers during his Rolling Thunder Review concerts. As Dylan ages, he changes and his “acting roles” suitable for stage, also changes.
Likewise, his songs are often constructed like plays or stories. As Dylan, the songwriter changes with age, so to do his songs with his evolving emotional sensibilities, along with his vocal and physical abilities to perform them.
So, one more time, who is the narrator in Dylan songs? While many of us would like to think it is Dylan himself, who is Dylan? Dylan, clearly, is everchanging. The Dylan who first sang Mr Tambourine Man in 1965, is not the same Dylan who sings it today. Dylan, I believe, consciously recognizes that. While using his growing lifetime experiences and changing moods to inform him in his songwriting, he is writing about the broader human condition.
Dylan inserts a character or “actor” to play the part of the narrator in each song. The narrator may possess physical and emotional qualities which are like his own, but the character in each song is fluid.
As such, going forward, I will use DYLAN and the ‘narrator of the song’ interchangeably.
The all- important refrain in the first song of the album, sets the atmosphere for the song and album. The theme it expresses, lovesickness, which he cannot shake off, is an important and recurring theme in the album:
“I’m sick of love…but I’m in the thick of it This kind of love…I’m so sick of it”
DYLAN is experiencing an internal struggle, and is torn between the desire he still has for his former lover and his need to erase her from his memory.
The last song refrain, DYLAN in anguish sings:
“I’m sick of love…I wish I’d never met you I’m sick of love…I’m trying to forget you”
The last refrain is followed by the last lines in the song which are:
“Just don’t know what to do I’d give anything to be with you”
Compare the refrain with King Solomon’s lament in the Song of Songs, 2:7:
“(Bereft of your presence)/ I am sick with love.”
Dylan has alluded to the Song of Songs in other compositions. Could this be another allusion to the Song of Songs? If so, it is a very important one.
The Song of Songs is a love poem written by King Solomon. On the surface it appears that King Solomon is grieving about his love for a woman.
However, Song of Songs as explained by Seth Rogovoy, author of Bob Dylan, Prophet, Mystic, Poet, “is commonly understood to be an allegory for the love that exists between G-d and the exiled people of Israel. Early in the poem, Israel speaks to G-d, seeking His comfort from afar, from exile…In other words, Israel is “lovesick” for G-d.”
If Dylan is deliberately making an allusion to the Song of Songs in Love Sick, it is not much of a leap to believe that Dylan too is using an allegory in his song and album for the narrator’s love for G-d. DYLAN too, like the exiled people of Israel, is living “afar” and in “exile”, removed from G-d.
Dylan or DYLAN is perhaps still struggling in finding communion or even a relationship with G-d after unsatisfactory life experiences with Institutional Religion. Is Dylan or DYLAN searching for a more unconventional method to connect with G-d?
Substituting G-d for woman whenever the lovesickness theme appears in the album songs, seems to fit well, as we shall see below.
However, before digging deeper into this interpretation, let me raise the question, ‘is this interpretation a stretch?’
The article continues….
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