- 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
- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part V; It’s me, Cathy
- Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 6: The movement on your shoulder
by Jochen Markhorst
VII Perhaps soft-boiled egg shit
“Maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you,” sings Sir Paul at the beginning of one of his many masterpieces, of “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970). The first of many maybes in this particular song – seventeen more will follow. It has a poetic power and a wistful beauty that has been recognised in all ages by poets in all corners of art history: the single word “maybe”. Dylan has already tapped into its power before in his songs, as in one of his most beautiful love songs, in “Mama, You Been On My Mind”;
Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that But mama, you been on my mind
… in which the elusiveness of a strong emotion is, of course, reinforced by the equally helpless addition or something like that.
Part of the magic is due to the bonus value of “resignation” contained in maybe. A bonus like the one exploited by Cat Stevens in “Maybe You’re Right” (1970);
Now maybe you're right And maybe you're wrong But I ain't gonna argue with you no more I've done it for too long
… but which only becomes truly irresistible when combined with melancholy – like the heartbreaking melancholy of the sublime quatrain from one of Nick Drake’s all-time great songs, from “River Man” (1969):
Betty said she prayed today For the sky to blow away Or maybe stay She wasn't sure.
Mastery such as you would otherwise only find in French, the language that has an unfair advantage. After all, everything sounds more melodious and melancholy in French. We see it in the poets who have penetrated Dylan’s work since the mid-1960s, in Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, and we hear it in the chansonniers like Moustaki, Cabrel and Françoise Hardy, the artists who share an artistic affinity with Dylan in more ways than one. As demonstrated in a chanson like “L’arbre noir”, the closing track of Nino Ferrer’s Blanat from 1979 – a song that, in eight lines, captures Dylan’s entire Time Out Of Mind plus the outtakes:
Rien n'est changé, tout est pareil Tout est pourtant si différent Il flotte comme un goût de sommeil Ou de tristesse, je ne sais comment Ce n'est peut-être que le temps Qui passe et laisse une poussière De rêves morts et d'illusions Peut-être est-ce ton absence, mon cœur Nothing has changed, everything is the same Yet everything is so different It floats like a hint of sleep Or sadness, I don't know Maybe it's just time That passes and leaves some dust Of dead dreams and illusions Maybe it's your absence, my love.
It is, therefore, arguably the most beautiful verse, or, depending on your point of view, the most beautiful octave of Dylan’s “Dreamin’ Of You”: the closing lines. An ending that could stand on its own, a sestain like one by Byron, Schiller or Verlaine;
Maybe you were here and maybe you weren’t
Maybe you touched somebody and got burnt
The silent sun has got me on the run
Burning a hole in my brain
I’m dreamin’ of you, that’s all I do
But it’s driving me insane
… despite its technical imperfection. If Dylan had not discarded the lyrics so readily, he would undoubtedly have done some repair work on rhyme and rhythm. The weak repetition burnt-burning would not have survived, in all likelihood. And the silent sun line was probably sacrificed to achieve a troubadour-like aabcbc rhyme scheme, or something like that. But as it is, it is still a beautiful sestain – the lyrical power of the words is convincing even without a classical corset, the “minor” stylistic devices such as internal rhyme and alliteration provide the sextet with more than enough melody and euphony.
The opening Maybe you were here and maybe you weren’t has its own almost magical power, which transcends its simple dialectic; with these few simple words, the poet colours all that has gone before a few shades more melancholic – and at the same time more resigned. In all its simplicity, a masterly line of text, with the same magical, elusive poetic power as Ferrer’s “L’arbre noir” or Drake’s “River Man”. A magic that Dylan also seems to seek here, witness the following line Maybe you touched somebody and got burnt. The trigger is probably Dylan’s love of rhyme; the rhyme weren’t-burnt is yet another Dylanesque rhyme in the category of sick-in-chicken (from “Tombstone Blues”) and buy her-fire (“Love Minus Zero”), of frenzied rhyme finds in short, for which Dylan has had a contagious weakness for over sixty years now. This rhyme weren’t-burnt is probably only found in one place in all of Western culture. By the poet whose work in the 1960s was disqualified by Dylan as being “bullshit”, “bad” and “soft-boiled egg shit” (in the Los Angeles Free Press interview with Paul J. Robbins, 1965), by Robert Frost, that is:
I name all the flowers I am sure they weren't; Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt-
… from the beautiful poem “A Passing Glimpse” (1928), the poem with the brilliant, rather Proustian line Heaven gives it glimpses only to those / Not in position to look too close. A work of art, all in all, that the 55-year-old Dylan in 1997 will look at with considerably more respect and admiration than the 23-year-old angry young man Dylan in 1965. Frost as a direct source for the choice of words in this particular Dylan song is unlikely, but who knows: the following silent sun seems to have been borrowed from William Blake, but Dylan certainly did read Henry Rollins just before the creation of “Dreamin’ Of You”;
After life Miles away A life away Up a long river On a beach Silent sun will watch over me
… from Now Watch Him Die, the poignant poetic mourning from which Dylan has drawn so much more for the Time Out Of Mind songs.
The closing Burning a hole in my brain seems to be another final product of the blender’s work in Dylan’s creative brain. “Holes in brain” abound in Rollins’ oeuvre, who seems quite fond of metaphors describing destructive activities in the cerebellum area (“I am left with hammer holes in my brain,” for example, and “It drills a hole into your brain”), and perhaps Dylan’s associations meander along songs in his inner jukebox like Connie Smith’s “Burning A Hole In Mind”. But a more obvious inspiration source, after those earlier borrowings, would seem to be lyrics by the unlikely purveyor Glenn Frey, the ex-Eagle who, apart from “Mississippi”, also contributes several fragments of lyrics to “Dreamin’ Of You”. This time from the rather mediocre “Long Hot Summer” (from Strange Weather, 1992):
You see the heat comin’ up from the sidewalk
You can feel the temperature rise
All I see is a blazin’ sun
Burning a hole in the sky
… in itself hardly specific enough to be considered a source for Dylan’s Burning a hole in my brain, but then again: the verse before it also says “go insane”, in the next verse Frey sings “It’s too hot to sleep, we’re in trouble so deep,” which Dylan takes to “Not Dark Yet” and in two stanzas after that “There’s a fire in the sky and the earth is so dry,” which echoes again in “Mississippi”. Too many similarities to be coincidental, anyway; for some reason Glenn Frey’s “Long Hot Summer” also gets under Dylan’s skin. Unbelievable and improbable, though still hardly surprising anymore: Henry Rollins, Junichi Saga, a Time Magazine from 1961, Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu…. Dylan has by now convincingly demonstrated that he can just as easily draw from improbable sources. Glenn Frey fits right in. Even though he writes, apart from a few okay lyrics, mostly soft-boiled egg shit.
To be continued. Next up Dreamin’ Of You part 8 (postscript):
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