Marchin’ To The City part 4: I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself

Marchin’ To The City (1997) part 4 (final)

by Jochen Markhorst

IV         I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself

 The second version, the up-tempo and smoother version of “Marchin’ To The City”, distinguishes itself, apart from the changed key (from E♭ to the guitar-friendlier E) and the different arrangement, mainly by the radical text intervention. The chorus is maintained, but the verses are cut back considerably. Of the seven, only four remain; two and a half old ones, supplemented by one and a half new ones. The only one to emerge unscathed from the battle is the most beautiful verse, the one that Dylan evidently finds hard to say goodbye to and which is even promoted to the opening verse:

Loneliness got a mind of its own
The more people around, the more you feel alone
I've been chained to the earth like a silent slave
I’m trying to break free out of death's dark cave

… which was originally the third verse. The first two are ruthlessly deleted, though this one will not survive either in the end. The theme of “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” is “smaller”, more intimate love despair – perhaps the poet finds the “larger”, existential desolation of this loneliness couplet ultimately too dramatic.

From version #1, the gay Paree/follow the river lines are saved for “Not Dark Yet”, the first line of that former fifth verse is allowed into this second verse:

I was hoping to my soul that we'd never part
You took all the madness right out of my heart
I was hoping we could drink from Life's clear streams
I was hoping we could dream from Life's pleasant dreams

So for the time being, William Blake’s words from “You Don’t Believe” may remain, now introduced by a much more intimate confession of love. Poetically not really an improvement, by the way. The rhyming of we’d never part with broken heart, or with gave you my heart, or with other variants, we’ve known for a hundred years from inspirational quotes, the back of matchboxes and sentimental lyrics like “Hello Mary-Lou” and “Wayward Wind” and “Hurt”.

Nothing wrong with that of course, but here, in this revised version of “Marchin’ To The City”, it is an impoverishment. At most, the “I Walk The Line”-like motif of you took all the madness right out of my heart, of the revelation that love has changed the personality of the protagonist, is a merit, opening the gate to the theme of the forthcoming “’Til I Fell In Love With You”.

Which does not extend to the third verse, however. This third stanza seems to consist of rather haphazard cutting and pasting from #1;

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

… which in turn is merrily cut up, and pasted into “’Til I Fell In Love With You” (lines 1 and 2), “Not Dark Yet” (line 4), and consigned to the wastebasket (line 3). This verse ultimately has little more than a bridging function, all in all; it fills a minute to the main verse of #2, the most important part, the closing couplet.

Wind is blowin' all troubles and dirt
Time to get away 'fore someone gets hurt
I just don't know what I'm a-gonna do
I was all right ’til I fell in love with you

Not so much important because of the rather generic opening lines, obviously. Skilful and provided with a pinch of appropriate melancholy, but the clichéd rhyme dirt/hurt is undoubtedly too easy in Dylan’s ears as well. It’s been used in thousands of songs, from Loretta Lynn to Marty Robbins, from Tom Waits to Mick Jagger and from Motörhead to Public Enemy… and Dylan himself has chosen this easy way out plenty of times too (“Do Right To Me Baby”, “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away”, “Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie”). No, for this #2 Dylan does dash off these lines in a wink, including the trite rhyme, but after the recording they are discharged into the shredder just as easily.

The music-historical eternal value is, of course, in the closing lines. Again, presumably, a sample of the conclusion of Dylan’s songwriting class to Mike Campbell; the “twenty verses” you write while you’re out there in The Zone, hoping that “the last ones might be better than all the stuff you had.” Dylan, in this case, is not only merely content with these last lines; they even inspire a complete song – that’s how much better than “all the stuff he had” these new lines are, apparently.

It is a change of course. Where the song initially seemed to be going in an almost metaphysical, transcending misery direction, these last two lines suddenly take a turn towards universally recognisable, “small” heartbreak, small heartbreak at which that new line in verse 2 already hinted (“You took all the madness right out of my heart”). And once again, after the “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” echo in #1, Burt Bacharach seems a signpost. At least, the opening of the change of direction, “I just don’t know what I’m a-gonna do”, has the colour, tone and even word choice of the immortal “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”;

I just don't know what to do with myself
Don't know just what to do with myself
I'm so used to doing everything with you
Planning everything for two
And now that we're through

… the song we all know of course in Dusty Springfield’s unsurpassed 1964 version, but which, as we only discovered in the 1980s, was recorded much earlier by Chuck Jackson in 1962 (over the original track by Tommy Hunt) – with a similarly magical, thoroughly melancholic beauty as Dusty’s masterpiece.

Although the magic, to be honest, actually shines through in each and every version. Marcia Hines, Isaac Hayes, White Stripes, Dionne Warwick… Elvis Costello has had the song in his repertoire since 1977, when he still was an angry young man and therefore initially misunderstood, as he explains:

“It was a measure of how backwards things were in 1977 that some people actually thought I was making a joke when The Attractions and I began performing “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”. I was not being ironic. I was being extremely literal.”
(in his autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, 2015).

Costello has performed the song at least 50 times during his career, was even allowed to perform it with Bacharach himself on piano in 1998, and still performs the evergreen in 2020, when he has already become a Grand Old Man himself;


Anyway, “Marchin’ To The City”. Bacharach or not, Dylan is in The Zone and, via I just don’t know what I’m a-gonna do, eventually arrives at the key that will unlock an entire song; I was all right ’til I fell in love with you is the last line of the final version of the preliminary study of “’Til I Fell In Love With You”.

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. How much the re-arrangement of verses and the re-wording thereof actually changes the essence of song variants or another song that’s based thereon, is not clear-cut.

    The biblical template (not a haphazard placement):

    Our holy and beautiful house
    Where our fathers praised Thee
    Is burned up with fire
    All all our pleasant things are laid to waste
    (Isaiah 64:11)

    The pretty girl, Jerusalem personified, has taken up with those idol-worshipping Assyrians and Babylonians yet again, and the Almighty One doesn’t like it.

    Or at least Marching and Till I Fell can be so construed.

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