By Tony Attwood
The Gates of Eden is a song about desolation and chaos, which has a remarkable quality within it that means it can be performed in many different ways while still retaining that sense of everything being lost, simply because we are standing outside and not inside the gates.
“Gates” is also one of those Dylan songs in which performers and arrangers have worked together in order to explore the final limits to which the song can be taken – in this case focussing ultimately on the chaos rather than the feeling of personal desolation. If you are a regular follower of my ramblings on the subject you might recall the DM Sith version that I featured in an earlier article.
And then again there is the Totta Näslund version which is (in the UK at least) only available on Spotify, but is worth the subscription to that service on its own if you have no other way of hearing it.
Thus my point here is that “Gates” can take on many forms, and in this recording comes from 2000, Bob seeks out the bleakness within the song in a way that was never achieved on the original recording.
Bob is still performing in the same key as he did on the original LP version, but the whole feeling of the song is utterly different – a lower level, less strained, less urgent, more resigned… On the album he really is pushing himself to put the message across, pushing forward, urgently trying to get through the whole set of lyrics, perhaps worried that we might turn away from such a long track. But now in this live version he knows we will stay and listen, because he knows we are there with him. It is established, he doesn’t need to convince us any more.
Thus the vocal part can be much cooler, much calmer, and the second guitar playing behind the chords is only needed occasionally.
Now the song is a statement of what we know, a reminder of what is, not a first announcement of the doomsday we have all been part of creating. We’ve done it, it is here. We are standing, looking out at the results of our folly. As such the instrumental after the “Aladin and his lamp” verse, is quite different, reflecting in a meaningful way on the fact that no we will most certainly not hear any laughing. But still we await the next lines, even though we know them.
Bob takes it down totally to tell us of how powerless we have all become, and that image of the lonesome sparrow becomes far more potent than ever before.
And the ultimate contradiction of those final lines overwhelm us, for yes, we now know, “All and all can only fall with a crashing but meaningless blow”.
And so when we ge to hearing that
At times I think there are no words but these to tell what's trueAnd there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden
we know it is true, as it always was.
Yet what is even more miraculous is that the song just plods along through those chord changes and lyrics we know so well, but it delivers a completely new if still utterly incomprehensible meaning.
And on top of all that, the first instrumental break after “you will not hear a laugh” is stunning. So that when Bob sings, “And I try to harmonize with songs the lonesome sparrow sings,” the lonesome sparrow is there in the garden or at the door.
But here’s a further thought. Two verses from the original are missing. Why is that? Because of the instrumental verses? If so why those verses?
I have no answer, and in many ways there is no need for an answer, since the performance is, to my mind, one of the greatest moments in the history of Dylan on stage. But in case you are wanting to ponder this, the two missing verses are
The motorcycle black Madonna, two-wheeled gypsy queen And her silver-studded phantom cause the gray flannel dwarf to scream As he weeps to wicked birds of prey who pick upon his bread crumb sins And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden The kingdoms of experience, in a precious winds they rot While paupers change possessions Each one wishing for what the other has got And the princess and the prince discuss what's real and what is not It doesn't matter inside the Gates of Eden
This is not just a performance chosen for this series, this is, for me, one of the all time greatest moments of Bob Dylan on stage. This takes a song I know inside out and upside down, and gives it a totally new life in a performance that is utter perfection.
- Never Ending Tour – the absolute highlights. 1: John Brown 1987
- Never Ending Tour: the absolute highlights 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- Never Ending Tour: the absolute highlights 3: She Belongs to Me
- Never Ending tour: The Absolute Highlights. 4: Tangled up in Blue
- Never Ending Tour: The Absolute Highlights 5: I and I – power without meaning
- Never Ending Tour: The Absolute Highlights 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.