by Jochen Markhorst
IV It Keeps Rainin’
Junk is piling up, taking up space My eyes feel like they’re falling off my face Sweat falling down, I’m staring at the floor I’m thinking about that girl who won’t be back no more I don’t know what I’m gonna do I was all right ’til I fell in love with you
“He soon got used to the various changes in his room. It had become a habit in the family to push into his room things there was no room for elsewhere, and there were plenty of these now.” The family treats Gregor more and more as what he, in fact, is: an annoying insect. At first, Grete, the sister who has taken on the care, still has a loving urge to give “him as wide a field as possible to crawl in and of removing the pieces of furniture that hindered him,” but after the painstaking process of habituation and the growing irritation, Gregor’s room degenerates into a junk room. Junk is piling up, taking up space.
Dylan communicates in this fourth verse the same claustrophobic feeling as Kafka in Die Verwandlung (“The Metamorphosis”, 1912), but we may assume that in “’Til I Fell In Love With You” it is meant purely metaphorically – to express a panic-stricken state of mind of the protagonist. He feels, just like the narrator in “Mississippi”, trapped and tight as the corner that I painted myself in, and
Time is pilin’ up, we struggle and we scrape We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape
An identical state of mind, very similar word choice (Time is pilin’ up versus Junk is piling up; thinking about Rosie versus thinking about that girl; my eyes go blind versus my eyes feel like they’re falling off my face )… it starts to look like “’Til I Fell In Love With You” is one of the reasons for Dylan’s unforgivable decision to discard “Mississippi” from Time Out Of Mind.
It might even be the same narrator, one might think after hearing the last two stanzas. In the last verse of this song, the narrator considers going “Dixie bound”, the narrator in “Mississippi” has meanwhile arrived in the South, coming from the North (“I got here following the southern star”). And seems to be haunted by a similar unspeakable something that is insinuated in this song now, at the end.
The narrator’s panic-stricken claustrophobic attack in “’Til I Fell In Love With You” is followed by a bizarre emotion that is hard to fathom: “My eyes feel like they’re falling off my face”. Either he is crying very, very hard, or his subconscious has a very strong need to stop seeing something. In the canon, we recognise at most a half-resemblance of the latter option to the gruesome climax in Oedipus Rex, when Oedipus is so shocked by the crimes he has unknowingly committed that he gouges out his eyes. And furthermore, we only know about eyeballs popping out from Spongebob and Tex Avery’s whistling wolf in Little Red Walking Hood – but it is highly unlikely that Dylan is trying to drive the listener’s associations towards Looney Tunes. No, apparently there is something particularly shocking there, so shocking that the eyes want to leave their owner. But what?
The lyrics are, as we can reconstruct thanks to the outtakes on Tell-Tale Signs, largely pasted together from scraps of the rejected “Marchin’ To The City” (57% of the 277 words come from that outtake), making it less obvious that Dylan had a narrative in mind when he sat down for “’Til I Fell In Love With You”. It’s more like, as in many Dylan songs, Dylan gets inspired by his own words while he’s writing, arrives at a hint of a scenario, and then doesn’t worry about plot holes or incongruities – it’s lyrical poetry, after all.
He seems to want to build in a hint of a murder ballad now, about halfway through the song’s lyrics. The opening, with its claustrophobic panic attack, is then retroactively given a kind of logical underpinning; Sweat falling down, I’m staring at the floor / I’m thinking about that girl who won’t be back no more suggests the aftershock of a dramatic climax, of a man who, panting, stands bent over the corpse of the woman he has killed to his own dismay – she won’t be back no more, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. In which, incidentally, Dylan incorporates a nod to Fats Domino, to his 1961 hit “It Keeps Rainin’”, probably out of playfulness. At least, the way Dylan, especially in live-versions, sings “she won’t be back no more”, is very much à la Domino’s “she won’t be back no mo’ah’” – also as a rhyme word for the preceding “floor”, by the way;
She left me reelin' an rockin' Walkin' the floor She lef' a note last night She won't be back no mo'
Reasoning back, the preceding stanzas are then something like fragments of a bitter quarrel, fragments of scenes, echoes of reproaches back and forth. A sentence like I’m gonna win my way to wealth and fame is, in that scenario, not spoken by the protagonist, but by his female counterpart while she is packing her suitcase. “I feel like the whole world got me pinned up against the fence”, the second line, expresses the strangling panic attack that overwhelms the narrator when she says she is going to leave him. And so, with some adjustments, each line of the text can be interpreted as a non-chronological account of a murder and the run-up to it.
It is, of course, a facile interpretation. Well, lazy even. All exaggerations, incongruities and untruths in the text would then be explained by the stressed, and therefore unreliable, state of mind of the narrator in the first minutes after a traumatic event. But then again – still more conclusive than the interpreters who get no further than “a pretty nasty song” (Heylin), “reflections of a man who still trusts in God” (Beckwith), a lost love (Weir) or “dull and pointless” (Kevin P. Davis in Judas! #19). But, by far, most commentators and Dylanologists ignore the song.
Still, everyone does agree that he is in some kind of trouble, this narrator. He should leave. And go South, for some reason…
To be continued. Next up ’Til I Fell In Love With You part 5 (final): Still among the living, all of them
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
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