Marchin’ To The City (1997) part 3: You’ll be sorry when I’m dead

Marchin’ To The City (1997) part 3

by Jochen Markhorst

III         You’ll be sorry when I’m dead

 Most films and stories in which a ghost roams the earth have such a scene. Sometimes romcom-like, as in Just Like Heaven (2005) and Ghost Town (2008), sometimes even corny (Topper, with Cary Grant, 1937), but mostly melancholic to just plain sad: the spirit wanders unseen over the stopping places of his life, stares lonely at playing children, sadly observes smiling people at outdoor cafes and his shadowy presence is noticed at most by a passing dog. Who, to the incomprehension of his owner, starts growling at an emptiness.

His sojourn in The Zone brings Dylan’s meandering creative mind a protagonist in death’s cave, chained to earth, so that is the direction where “Marchin’ To The City” now flows:

Boys in the street beginning to play
Girls like birds flying away
I'm carrying the roses that were given to me
And I'm thinking about paradise, wondering what it might be

… cinematic, indeed. First the wide-shot of a street scene where life goes on as usual, then the camera pans the protagonist with the loaded image of roses in his hand. Which reminds the Dylan fan of “Love Minus Zero”, of course (people carry roses, and make promises by the hour – where it also illustrates something like “life goes on”), but here the ghostly narrator insinuates that he has just attended his own funeral and taken some flowers from it. All the while musing about the next stop, “paradise”.

The latter does not survive. The image of the boys playing and the girls running has a lasting quality, is eventually taken to “‘Til I Fell In Love With You”. No such luck for the roses and paradise. Perhaps too sweet, too cute – both are discarded. The tenor is maintained, though; they are replaced by “When I’m gone you will remember my name” from verse 7.

In the end, the same net result as verse 5 will have, coincidentally;

Go over to London, maybe gay Paree
Follow the river, you get to the sea
I was hoping we could drink from Life's clear streams
I was hoping we could dream Life's pleasant dreams

… the first two lines are so good that they are reserved for the highlight “Not Dark Yet”, the lines after that survive up to and including “Marchin’ To The City #2”, and are discarded then. Beautiful lines, euphonious and beautifully poetically balanced with a not-too-bad imagery, lovingly stolen from William Blake’s famous “You Don’t Believe” from 1808;

You don't believe -- I won't attempt to make ye:
You are asleep -- I won't attempt to wake ye.
Sleep on! sleep on! while in your pleasant dreams
Of reason you may drink of Life's clear streams

… but nevertheless rejected by Dylan. Perhaps for stylistic reasons; they are the only lines of the whole song with a “we” perspective – although confusingly fiddling with personal pronouns is exactly what the poet Dylan usually integrates (cultivates, even) without any problem. In terms of content, there seems nothing wrong with it, nor with the subtext, with Blake’s conclusion That is the very thing that Jesus meant, / When He said `Only believe! believe and try! / Try, try, and never mind the reason why! – a message that must be close to Dylan’s heart.

Anyway, Blake is deleted again, but still inspires Dylan to an aphoristic interlude, to a sixth verse that opens with:

Well the weak get weaker and the strong stay strong
The train keeps rolling all night long
She looked at me with an irresistible glance
With a smile that could make all the planets dance

Ironically, the weakest verse of the song under construction, and it is rejected immediately, even before the #2. Understandable; the “aphorism” is a rather gratuitous variant on a worn-out cliché, the rolling train is admittedly dylanesque, but not much more than filler in which, with some good will, one might see a link to “life goes on” or something like that, and the closing lines, with the dancing planets are just awkward. Undylanesque anyway, though again lovingly stolen, as Larry Fyffe from Canada has found, from none other than Lord Byron;

'Bride of the Sun! and Sister of the Moon!'
('T was thus he spake) 'and Empress of the Earth!
Whose frown would put the spheres all out of tune,
Whose smile makes all the planets dance with mirth
(Don Juan, Canto V)

… but in this constellation still lousy poetry, like Dylan once reportedly said about Joan Baez’ writings.

It does not derail the train. The last stanza, the seventh, is clearly only a sketch, but it does give the persistent poet in The Zone words and images that will make it to the gallery of honour, to Time Out Of Mind:

My house is on fire, burning to the skies
I thought the rain clouds but the clouds passed by
When I'm gone you'll remember my name
I'm gonna win my way to wealth and fame

Okay, that second line comes out a bit clumsy. Corrected in #2 to, of course, I thought it would rain but the clouds passed by, as it will eventually appear in “’Til I Fell In Love With You”. And, although every word of this verse is deemed good enough for Time Out Of Mind, this combination of verse lines is not to the master’s liking – nor its position in the lyrics; it is just not a final couplet.

The first rudimentary steps to a ghost story in the third verse, the death’s dark cave couplet, leads the flow to When I’m gone, but otherwise, it’s not very coherent. The mother of “Marchin’ To The City”, the gospel “Wade In The Water”, pushes the associations with metaphors like My house is on fire, burning to the skies to religious connotations. “My soul is lost, I’m going to hell”, something like that. But is still quite underdeveloped – the words will find a better place in “’Til I Fell In Love With You”.

And it is suddenly no longer a melancholic spirit. “Just wait, soon I’ll be rich and famous and you’ll be sorry”… this is beginning to sound more like the childish, vindictive bleating of the aggrieved protagonist of The Police’s “Can’t Stand Losing You” (1978):

I guess this is our last goodbye
And you don't care, so I won't cry
But you'll be sorry when I'm dead
And all this guilt will be on your head

No, this is going the wrong way. Dylan puts the last two sentences aside. They don’t appear in #2. The burning house and the overhanging rain clouds are allowed to remain, but the wealth and fame are exchanged for the misery and regret from the first verse:

My house is burnin' up to the skies
I thought it would rain but the clouds passed by
Sorrow and pity through the earth and the skies
I'm not looking for nothing in anyone's eyes

… better, indeed. But still not good enough for “’Til I Fell In Love With You”.


To be continued. Next up Marchin’ To The City part 4:

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:



One comment

  1. In “Tell Old Bill”, Dylan varies a bit on :

    Theirs not to reason why
    Theirs but to do and die

    Whether it’s ‘lousy poetry’ or not, ‘Dylanesque’ or not, I’ll leave it up to Jochen to decide.

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