By Tony Attwood
“A lover out there; I recall.”
It could be the title for the collection of the 1973 songs in which Dylan deals with current love and past love. It is of course the heartbeat of a billion songs throughout the history of popular music, but these songs were more than just delightful pieces by a great songwriter.
For these were the sketches and notebooks in which he worked towards the solution of how to write on the theme of past, present and future loves all at once, and at a level of utter perfection.
And here, in these songs we are seeing the opening steps, the initial thoughts, the first considerations, that finally led us to Tangled up in Blue the following year. We had to wait while he made these notes and worked on these ideas, but oh wasn’t it worthwhile?
Thus we should not dismiss these sketches on the road to a masterpiece, for these 1973 songs are certainly worth a listen. In order of composition they are…
Of course they are not all dealing with the same subject precisely – but given a bit of time, and some relief from the roar of the world around, we can surely hear little bits and pieces that ultimately turned one year on into “Early one morning the sun was shining,” that ultimate, ultimate opening line repost to Robert Johnson’s “Well I work up this morning, blues falling down like hail.” It took 36 years to get from Johnson’s bleak opener, to Dylan’s warm answer, but it sure was worth waiting for.
That these songs from the year before Tangled up in Blue were sketches comes not just from my own personal judgement (which of course can readily and easily be challenged any day of the week) but from the fact that none of these songs became key parts of Dylan shows.
Never say goodbye is shown as never being sung by Dylan on stage (my figures coming from BobDylan.com), Hazel seven times, Nobody cept you eight times, Something there is about you 26 and Going, going, gone, 79, but this latter total was, I am sure, down to the multiple re-writes of both music and lyric. I have tried to give examples in my review of that particular song (see the link in the list above).
Something there is about you, lasted as a tour song between Jan 74 and Feb 78, but even so, got few outings, and it does have one most interesting musical feature, in which the bassist plays around with the notion of the complete descending bass.
Step by step bass lines are something Dylan particularly likes, starting on the key note and slowly rising up (as in Rolling Stone) or declining (as in Is your love in vain). But there are two things that really make this stand out – the bassist keeps varying what he does, and only on occasion does he deliver the whole eight note run.
In verse one for example we get a partial descending bass with gaps
Something there is about you that strikes a match in me
Is it the way your body moves or is it the way your hair blows free?
Or is it because you remind me of something that used to be
Somethin’ that crossed over from another century?
And the last line gives us the clue musically and lyrically of where we are going – not now from the descending bass but from the lyrics. To my mind the lyrics are generally interesting, but not really spectacular. But that “another century” instantly makes me think on to the “Italian poet from the thirteenth century.” Dylan was indeed getting ready to paint his masterpiece, one year ahead.
In the second verse the bassist is playing with us again, and has jumps in the descent – until he gives in at the last
Thought I’d shaken the wonder and the phantoms of my youth
Rainy days on the Great Lakes, walkin’ the hills of old Duluth
There was me and Danny Lopez, cold eyes, black night and then there was Ruth
Something there is about you that brings back a long-forgotten truth
The descent of the bass is finally there, down to the recovery of the long-forgotten truth.
And that long-forgotten truth is….?
Maybe just lying there “Wond’ring if she’d changed it all”. Maybe it was “standing on the side of the road, Rain falling on my shoes” paying the dues at the crossroads yet again. Maybe it’s “”Jimmy, Don’t I know your name ?””
Or maybe it is just that book of poems Written by an Italian poet From the thirteenth century.
But we also have to ask, in passing, who are these people referenced here? Danny Lopez is another boxing reference from Dylan – the world champion featherweight, and apparently very popular in his day.
Plus here’s a nice extra: Danny is married to Bonnie Lopez and has three sons, Bronson, Jeremy, and… Dylan.
Moving on, in 1994 Ruth Tyrangiel served Bob Dylan him with a $5m law suit, claiming they had lived as husband and wife for 17 years. The case apparently was ultimately settled out of court. I, obviously, can’t verify any of that.
And so from me that’s it. The lyrics of this song don’t leap out and stick in my brain, the song has none of the amazing expression of the middle 8 of Going going gone. Yep, that’s it – but it was, I am sure, part of the movement into Tangled.
As I say, that’s it. Except that on 27 March 2008 Tara Brabazon, professor of media studies at the University of Brighton (wherein I spent three years) published an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement under the title “Something there is about you”. It’s not about the song – it is about her husband, Bob Dylan, and (in particular) Scorsese. Worth a read. I thought I’d mention it since we’ve reached this song.
The Dylan anniversary list – it has only just started, but it’s getting there