The Never Ending Tour: The Absolute Highlights. It ain’t me babe. Go lightly.

By Tony Attwood

This is a recording I particularly want to include in this series – and I am sorry the volume is so low – I’m just hoping you’ve got enough on your computer or audio system to be able to hear it.

It has always struck me that “It ain’t me babe” can be approached in many ways – the singer can be regretful, annoyed, patronising, tired, whistful, bored…  But best of all, for me, the singer and the musical accompaniment needs to be saying the same thing, and sometimes I feel that this is not the case.  Indeed although I know it is sacriledge to criticise Bob’s understanding of his own music, I do get the feeling that sometimes on tour he has said to the band, “OK let’s try it like this” with reference back to what his lyrics actually say.

Here I think the meaning is simple and clear: “I am so really, really sorry, but I just can’t help you.”  And that is what, for me, the music needs to reflect.

And here in this low volume hard-to-hear recording (sorry about that, but the fact that we have a recording at all, is down to those who smuggle in their recording devices, and Mike Johnson’s perseverance in collecting all these recordings), Dylan gets that absolutely.    He really comes over as so sorry for her, but just knows that there is nothing he can do.  Not because she is doing anything wrong (although she is), but to quote from “Tangled,” the two of them have started from a different point of view.

So there does seem to me to be a connection here between the two songs; the two people who really do have a lot going for them as a couple, but not quite the right thing, and not enough of a thing to make it work.

I guess most of us end up at some time saying “sorry but this isn’t right” and so ending the affair (although I seem to be one of those people who tends to be on the receiving end rather than on the sending end, so I’ve not got too much experience of saying “it’s over”).  But what is so different here is line two: “Leave at your own chosen speed.”   For that line to make sense, the song has to be sung like this, and I get the feeling – overwhelmingly getting the feeling in fact – that Dylan has fully grasped the essence of what he has written in these lyrics.  It’s just that sometimes in other performances he really wishes he had written “just get out will you?”

For although the opening line of “Go away from my window” is horribly harsh (while at one level sounding rather poetic and gentle), and the woman’s demands in the opening verse are enormous – a total definition of a personality in fact – the singer really is sympathetic.   “Go lightly on the ground” is a beautiful, simple sentiment that needs this sort of gentle approach to the song as a whole, for any of it to make any sense.

Thus for all the harshness of the lyrics such as “Everything inside is made of stone” there is a gentility here.   The singer will absolutely not be the man to “come every time you call” but he is sympathetic to what she is.  He’s not telling her that her attitudes are unacceptable (although we might reach that conclusion on reading the lyrics through).

More than anything he is saying he’s sorry.   And in this version with its delicate, gentle accompaniment he really is.

There is a complete index to the 100 plus episodes of the full Never Ending Tour series (without comments from me) on the website.

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