by Jochen Markhorst
XII We must find the next little girl
You won’t find any happiness here - no happiness or joy Go back to the gutter and try your luck - find you some nice young pretty boy Tell me how many men I need and who I can count upon I strapped my belt and buttoned my coat and I crossed the Rubicon
Jim Morrison, who we can hardly accuse of prudery or conventionality, who, for instance in “The End”, effortlessly identifies with Oedipus, and in a dramatic reconstruction kills his father and does the unthinkable with his mother, the Lizard King, who doesn’t practise self-censorship when he loudly proclaims the pleasures of anal sex (“Back Door Man”) – this taboo-breaking Morrison does have a boundary after all, as it turns out when he sings the second verse of “Alabama Song”, the fifth track on the “greatest debut album of all time”, 1967’s The Doors.
“Alabama Song” (or “Whiskey Bar”, or “Moon Of Alabama”, the song has been recorded and performed under different titles) is, along with “Mack The Knife” and “Pirate Jenny”, one of the crown jewels of the song treasure left to the world by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and has probably been under Dylan’s skin since 1963, when he breathlessly absorbed a performance of Tabori’s play Brecht On Brecht. At least, that is what we can conclude from both the memoirs of Dylan’s girlfriend at the time, Suze Rotolo (A Freewheelin’ Time, 2008: “Brecht would be part of him now”) and from Dylan’s own autobiography Chronicles (2004):
“Every song seemed to come from some obscure tradition, seemed to have a pistol in its hip pocket, a club or a brickbat and they came at you in crutches, braces and wheelchairs. They were like folk songs in nature, but unlike folk songs, too, because they were sophisticated.
Within a few minutes I felt like I hadn’t slept or tasted food for about thirty hours, I was so into it.”
And Dylan, of course, is not the only one touched by Brecht songs. Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Marianne Faithfull, Bing Crosby, David Bowie… the entire premier league plus the divisions below it have Brecht & Weill songs in their repertoire. Including “Alabama Song”, with that second verse:
For we must find the next pretty boy, For if we don't find the next pretty boy I tell you we must die I tell you we must die I tell you I tell you I tell you we must die!
… the verse that Jim Morrison, apparently fearful of homoerotic connotations, cannot get out of his throat. Instead, Mr. Mojo Rising sings:
Show me the way to the next little girl Oh, don't ask why Oh, don't ask why For if we don't find The next little girl I tell you we must die I tell you we must die
Even more remarkable is the fact that even Bowie is beating about the bush. Remarkable, given that in his wild 70s, Bowie had no qualms about venting his bisexual predilection, with a fairy stage presence and an androgynous image. But when Bowie has shaken off his mascara and funky hair, in 1980, and records “Alabama Song”, he too sings very straight:
Oh show us the way to the next little girl Oh don't ask why, no don't ask why For we must find the next little girl Or if we don't find the next little girl I tell you we must die I tell you we must die
(Although, in the twenty-first century, both Morrison and Bowie would probably have found this “little girl” a little too sensitive as well.)
“Nice young pretty boys” are, in short, rarely sung by our male entertainers. But Dylan, in 2020, seems to be beyond shame. Partly, at least. He doesn’t yet go so far as to put himself in the shoes of an I-person looking for a handsome lad, but is emancipated enough to allow his interlocutor a homoerotic escapade: Go back to the gutter and try your luck – find you some nice young pretty boy.
It is the first and only time in the studio version of “Crossing The Rubicon” that Dylan makes such an atypical, semi-aggressive allusion to his opponent’s sexual preference, whether supposed or not. There is a charm in the fact that the poet borrows words from a song that is almost a century old, but it is atypical and alienating nonetheless. Dylan himself seems to think so too: these words, and the entire verse, are radically removed even before the first performance – in none of the 53 performances of the American tour in which “Crossing The Rubicon” debuts (Phoenix, 3 March 2022 – Denver 6 July 2022) is this verse sung. Weirdly enough, Dylan initially seems to want to keep a homoerotic allusion anyway, as evidenced by that odd text change in the previous verse, in verse 6, in which he changes the original lines
You defiled the most lovely flower in all of womanhood Others can be tolerant - others can be good
and replaces with:
Well, you foxy man, you’re the talk of the town You’ve been suckin’ off all of the younger men
… but as we have seen, this variant lasts only three performances (Phoenix 3, Tucson 4 and Albuquerque 6 March). At the fourth concert (Lubbock 8 March), Dylan already waters down the line by deleting the vulgar “sucking off”: “You foxy man, you’re the talk of the town, you been going down for other men”. And from performance five (Irving, 10 March) onwards, this last LGBT+ connotation has also completely disappeared:
Well, there’s nothin’ you got, my good man, and that ought to be understood You can keep your gifts, take ’em all back, I got things that are just as good
After which, with the earlier deletion of the seventh verse, the entire song is finally completely free of same-sex innuendo.
Apart from discomfort at the nice young pretty boy fragment, the song poet might also feel a certain redundancy at the opening of this deleted verse. “You won’t find any happiness here – no happiness or joy” has the same tone and communicates the same message as the Dante quote in stanza 1, as “abandon all hope”. It could be a nod to his old comrade in arms Roy Orbison, to his charming little ditty “Paper Boy” (1959), with the same opening words;
I walk down to the blue side of town Where there's no happiness, no joy Down at the end of a long dark street I saw a little paper boy
… but a reverence to The Big O would probably have been less subtly hidden and, moreover, not so rashly deleted. No, “dispensable,” he probably thinks, like the unspectacular metaphors he chose for the next two equivalents in the accumulatio, “I strapped my belt and buttoned my coat”: dispensable.
The ghost couplet, as befits a good ghost, does not disappear completely. The band keeps playing it, but the words don’t come. In all his performances, Dylan remains stoically silent, at the piano, sitting through the verse. The now-empty verse still does get its own intro, though; a sudden, frightening eruption like the entrance of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, or rather à la Scottie Moore’s solo in “Heartbreak Hotel”, insinuating a dramatic climax – but soon Tony Garnier’s bass, à la Bill Black in “Heartbreak Hotel”, calms the waves. And peacefully, the Rubicon ripples on to the next verse.
Crossing The Rubicon live: the silenced 7th verse at 4’17” (Spokane, 28 May 2022):
To be continued. Next up Crossing The Rubicon part 13: I’m hot as a bull
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
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master