- An index of the Never Ending Tour series can be found here.
- Never Ending Tour 2005 part 1: Choice cuts from London and Dublin
- Never Ending Tour 2005 part 2: More choice cuts from London and Dublin.
- Never Ending Tour 2005 part 3: Seattle Stopovers
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
‘If something’s worth thinking about, it’s worth singing about.’
Bob Dylan (Interviews)
As the years go by Dylan sheds some songs and introduces new ones. In 2005 he did introduce one new song, an orphan, which we’ll come to shortly. A notable first performance.
I haven’t always noted last performances, but for 2005 I count nine songs never to be heard again. They are not core songs, but rather songs that have been hanging around in the periphery, occasional songs used to bring some variation into the setlists.
But we have the remarkable case of a song only ever performed once, both a first and a last, ‘Million Dollar Bash’ from The Basement Tapes. Like ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ and ‘Tiny Montomery’ the lyrics merely flirt with meaning. We know there’s a crazy party going to happen (or is happening), and some Dylan circus characters will be there, and chaos will reign, but not much else. It has a similar anarchic feel to ‘Rainy Day Woman.’
Well, I'm hittin' it too hard My stones won't take I'm get up in the mornin' But it's too early to wake First it's hello, goodbye Then push and then crash But we're all gonna make it At that million dollar bash
Note the reference to the Beatles song, ‘Hello, Goodbye.’ It’s not the only reference to a popular song:
Well, I took my counsellor Out to the barn Silly Nelly was there She told him a yarn Then along came Jones Emptied the trash Ev’rybody went down To that million dollar bash
‘Along Came Jones’ is a Leiber-Stoller song released by The Coasters in 1959.
‘Million Dollar Bash’ is a raucous, drunken kind of song. A celebration of partying. Dylan’s one and only live performance is from the London residency (2nd night) and there’s nothing tentative about it; it sounds like he’s been doing it for years. And the audience loves it.
Million Dollar Bash
Now to ‘Waiting For You,’ the new Dylan song I mentioned. Untold editor Tony Attwood is not a great fan of the song. After digging into some of the song’s references he writes: ‘And all in all I find this a bit confusing, a bit of a mish-mash, a bit, dare I say it, of a waste of time. I have the awful suspicion that Bob had thrown everything into his writing this year, and just as with the song that preceded this (“Sugar Babe”) he was somewhat out of ideas, and so used an old classic for the music and lines from elsewhere, so he started collecting other people’s lines and putting them together. The problem for me is that he now seemed to be writing them at random…. Of course I could be completely wrong – maybe there is an art in all this. Maybe it all makes a lot of sense and carries deeper meanings, but … well sorry. Someone else needs to write a review of this song to make that point, because I really just don’t see it.’ https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/487
I sympathise with Tony’s frustrations. I have to confess when I first heard the song, I didn’t know it was a Dylan song and thought he was singing something by Hank Williams or the like. It had that doleful sound. As with other orphan songs, ‘Things Have Changed,’ ‘Cross The Green Mountains’ and ‘Tell Ol Bill,’ ‘Waiting For You’ was written for a film, this one called Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, which was released in May 2002, and the song alludes to the relationship in the film between the characters Shep and Vivi.
Interestingly, in response to Tony’s article a correspondent, Carrie Frey writes ‘I always felt like this song was Shep describing his and Vivi’s relationship. He loved her so much and waited for her to return the love despite knowing he wasn’t her first choice. Vivi was so unhappy about losing her first love that I felt like “happiness is but a state of mind, anytime you want you can cross the state line” was him begging her to see she could be happy with him. Even the “it’s been so long since I held you tight, been so long since we said goodnight” makes me think of them sleeping in separate rooms and never speaking at night. All of the jazz references fit with the Louisiana backdrop and while it sounds like a mish-mash, it seemed like a poetic way of Shep promising to always be there for Vivi no matter the abuse she threw at him.’
Without overthinking it, the song seems to have quite a simple emotion driving it, summed up in the title. Arguably, as Carrie Frey suggests, the songs random images fall in line with this emotional pull, or rather tug on the heartstrings. Anyway, here it is from London (3rd night)
Waiting For You
Now for the songs we must bid farewell too. Let’s start with one of my favourites, one I most regret not hearing again, ‘To Be Alone With You,’ an exuberant, rousing 1950’s style rocker. Dylan was to find the song again after the NET, for Shadow Kingdom and his 2022 performances, but for the NET it is lost.
Here it is from 29th April, and Dylan doesn’t sound the least bit tired of the song. With Donnie Herron ripping it up with his violin and Dylan with an exultant harp break, the song has never sounded more vigourous and so much fun. Another celebratory song.
To Be Alone With You
‘Never Gonna Be the Same Again’ is a real rarity, having only ever been played twenty-six times, and only twice in 2005, but I can’t say it’s a favourite. It comes from Empire Burlesque, 1985, and although Dylan does his best to breathe some life into the song, I find it a bit lumbering, and it doesn’t break any new or interesting ground, at least for me. Not even the sharp, jagged harp break can lift this one. (26th October)
Never Gonna Be the Same Again
I feel a bit the same about ‘I’ll Remember You’ also from Empire Burlesque. Dylan is seldom mawkish, although he doesn’t mind being sentimental. For me, this song slips from the sentimental into mawkishness. Crying into his cups. We all know the feeling; remembering somebody we can’t forget. Consider the apologetic last verse:
I’ll remember you When the wind blows through the piney wood It was you who came right through It was you who understood Though I’d never say That I done it the way That you’d have liked me to In the end My dear sweet friend I’ll remember you
‘Piney wood’ is a good example of the kind of poetic diction we can do without, and rarely indulged in by Dylan. Yet, on the other hand, one of things I love about Dylan is his unselfconsciousness. He doesn’t censor himself. If something’s worth feeling it’s worth singing. Certain kinds of feeling might require language like this, to explore the maudlin and not care if it sounds like some pop song on the B side of a Patty Paige album. Yes, there is a strong tradition in pop songs for this kind of emotional indulgence. (26th May)
I Remember You
‘Bye and Bye’ takes that kind of feeling to a whole different level, one with humour and wry reflection (‘I’m singing love’s praises with sugar-coated rhyme’), an exquisite little song, and I was surprised to learn that this was its last performance, especially since it is from “Love and Theft” and so only four years old, with only 76 performances. The song contains one of my favourite couplets:
Well the future for me is already a thing of the past You were my first love and you will be my last
It’s with much regret that I say goodbye to this little gem. And, to rub salt into the wound, this is a great performance, full of bitter-sweet nostalgia. Brilliant period sounding violin from Herron. I lovely take on 1930s jazz. Dylan manages to turn his upsinging into a jazzy style all its own, with some muted trumpet sounding harp to take the song out. (17th October)
Bye and Bye
Another song I’m reluctant to see go is ‘If Dogs Run Free.’ This song, from New Morning, made an unexpected appearance in 2000, and had a brief run with 104 performances. It fits in well with the jazzy turn Dylan took with “Love and Theft” and I think the song has rather come into its own over those five years, with its lazy beat and insouciant, jaunty lyrics. As I have written, it’s a send up, a piss take of the cosmic mysticism of the beat poets, but it is beguiling in its amusing play with those ideas.
It’s a solid performance, with Dylan doing so much upsinging it becomes, as with ‘Bye and Bye,’ a style all of its own. It’s no longer just a flourish at end of the line, but comes in midline, any point. The instrumental is outstanding, with Dylan doing some great jazzy harp to finish.
If dogs run free
‘Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)’ is another song from The Basement Tapes. It had 176 plays from 1995. This song is not to be confused with ‘The Levee’s Gonna Break,’ which will appear in 2006 on Modern Times, but the song does remind me of ‘High Water (For Charley Patten)’ from “Love and Theft”. ‘Crash on the Levee’ might be seen as a background song for both these later songs, as rising flood water is used to suggest chaos and apocalypse in all three. This final performance is from Karlstad, Sweden, 20th Oct.
Down in the flood
What a great rocker! We’ll miss this one.
I wrote about ‘Ring Them Bells’ in NET, 2004, part 3, and don’t have much to add to those comments except that I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. It has a magic to it I find hard to explain. It’s a song that haunts us with the possibility of salvation. He does, however, change one of my favourite lines. ‘Time is running backward and so is the bride’ becomes ‘time is running backward and there’s nowhere to hide’ which to my mind is not an improvement. This last performance is from Erfurt, Germany, 6th Nov. A strong, somewhat dreamy performance. Somewhere those bells will go on ringing for the ‘lilies that bloom.’
Ring Them Bells
‘Hazel’ from Planet Waves must be, ‘Million Dollar Bash’ aside, the rarest of the rare, played only seven times from 1994, four of those performances from 2005. It is a beautiful tribute song, slow and gentle. This is from Clearwater, 29th May, and is the second to last performance. The last was on 10th June but I don’t have that recording on hand.
So we’ve said our hellos and goodbyes. Next post we’ll visit some old friends, friends that stick around and never say goodbye.