- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 1: Dreamin’ of Henry
- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 2: The Lay of the Last Minstrel
- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 3: I don’t reckon I got no reason to kill nobody
- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 4: If moonshine don’t kill me
by Jochen Markhorst
Feel like a ghost in love Underneath the heavens above Feel further away than I ever did before Feel further than I can take Dreamin’ of you is all I do But it’s driving me insane
It remains baffling, although it is actually not that extraordinary. Rimbaud is barely nineteen when Un Saison En Enfer is published, Hergé starts the Tintin series when he is twenty-two, Dylan is twenty-one when he records “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, Picasso and Mozart produce works of genius as teenagers, Stevie Wonder is twenty when he records his thirteenth (!) album Signed, Sealed & Delivered (1970). And Kate Bush may also be placed in this line-up. Kate is nineteen when she releases The Kick Inside (1977) – the oldest songs on it, such as the perfect “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”, were written around the age of thirteen. And her biggest hit, the masterpiece “Wuthering Heights”, was written when she was eighteen.
The song has more distinctive qualities, obviously, and one of them is its narrative perspective: the lyrics are narrated by Cathy, by a ghost in love – it is probably the only song ever where the protagonist is a love-struck apparition.
As an archetype, s/he has never really penetrated the upper world, the ghost in love. Only once in a while, in films like the witty Ghost Town (with Ricky Gervais, 2008), in The Phantom Of The Opera, in a way, and in the rather overpolished 1990 blockbuster Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, does a ghost in love play a leading role. A film, by the way, about which everyone may have their own opinion, but still: Ghost has firmly re-anchored “Unchained Melody” in the cultural baggage of yet another generation, so it has at least one big plus.
In songs however, apart from “Wuthering Heights”, smitten ethereal beings do not appear at all. Radiohead’s “Give Up The Ghost” from 2011 insinuates a spirit in love, as does Kristin Hersh’s wonderful “Your Ghost” (1994) – but there, too, ghost is actually used as in most other songs: as a metaphor for “the memory of you”. As Joan Baez introduces her former lover Bob Dylan in her remarkable Dylan ballad “Diamonds & Rust” (1975): “Well, I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again.” No, not many real ghosts in love in songs.
Apparently, it does not have such potential, such dramatic power as – for example – the vengeful spirit or the wandering poltergeist; there are hundreds of stories around these archetypes. And Dylan, too, uses the image here only as a metaphor, of course. But then still in the spirit of those few stories in which a real ghost in love appears; not to represent a memory of a loved one, but to express something like “being ghosted”, like you can look but you cannot touch, the frustration of being so-near-and-yet-so-far. Or, somewhat more literary, the frustration of Kafka’s beetle in Die Verwandlung or the accursed judge from “Seven Curses”: being able to hear and see everything, but at the same time invisible and unhearable to everyone.
The lines that follow seem to confirm that intention. Feel further away than I ever did before expresses a similar so-near-and-yet-so-far feeling, articulating the anguish of a narrator who feels an emotional distance from his beloved growing. And the lines reveal a fourth offshoot of the prolific “Dreamin’ Of You”; apart from the text fragments and images that move to “Things Have Changed”, “Cold Irons Bound” and especially “Standing In The Doorway”, the cast-off is apparently also a supplier for “Million Miles”. And especially for its motif (“tryin’ to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you”), of which we had already seen that Dylan’s inspiration for it came from Henry Rollins, from Black Coffee Blues;
“The next song I wrote was about the distance I felt when I thought about that girl. The song centered around the lines, “The closer I get, the farther away I feel.” I was thinking that all the time I was with her, I worked hard to put that out of my mind. Romance passes the time.”
Much more unlikely, and certainly more remarkable, is the source for the insubstantial middle line Underneath the heavens above: Glenn Frey. In themselves, of course, the words are far too mundane to attribute to any source of inspiration, but on the other hand, there is an all too coincidental match. In 2020, Dylan leads the attention of Dylanologists to the ex-Eagle through a name-check in “Murder Most Foul”:
Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey Take it to the limit and let it go by
On his most successful solo album, 1984’s The Allnighter, the piece of craftsmanship “I Got Love” stands out. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, in the same studio with the same men who assisted Dylan on Slow Train Coming and on Saved: Barry Beckett on keyboards and the studio’s horn section. The lyrics of the second verse apparently made an impression on Dylan:
Jumped on the freeway with this song in my head I started thinkin' 'bout the things we said I said I'm sorry; she said I'm sorry too; You know I can't be happy 'less I'm happy with you
… the distich “I started thinkin’ ’bout the things we said / I said I’m sorry; she said I’m sorry too” moves almost literally to the monumental song Dylan writes and records during these very same days as the conception of “Dreamin’ Of You” takes place: “Mississippi” (respectively I was thinkin’ ’bout the things that Rosie said and I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too). Words that are far too specific to be attributed to coincidence or any other source, in any case. And with that, the chorus that follows in Glenn Frey’s song suddenly gets more weight too:
I got love, it's my lucky day I got love, gonna keep it that way It's the sweetest gift from the heavens above I got you, babe, I got love.
… so that Glenn Frey can suddenly call himself, with some right of speech, inspirator or rather: contributor of at least two Dylan songs. Incidentally, at the end of the album’s track list we find the horribly dated sounding “Living In Darkness” with its unmemorable chorus
You're living in darkness You're living in the past Living in darkness Your dream is fading fast
… could just as well be about a ghost in love, come to think of it.
To be continued. Next up Dreamin’ Of You part 6: The movement on your shoulder
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
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang