Bob Dylan’s favourite songs: He Went to Paris


There is an index of other articles from this series at the end of the article.

By Tony Attwood

I started this series with the Sam Stone song (“Death of an Unpopular Poet“) and if you want it, there is a little about Sam Stone in that article.  Now I come to the second Sam Stone song on the list of Dylan’s favourite songs.

The accompaniment is simple and delicate, the melody is beautiful, the lyrics evocative in every line and the story is heart-breaking.  I might wish for a different between-verses accompaniment on 1 minute 30 seconds, but then I’ve never been a fan of slide guitars, and besides I have no idea at all how I could possibly have introduced the following verse.  For at that point the entire song takes a course that you know it must take, if you know the work of Jimmy Buffett.

Like all Buffet songs, this one speaks for itself and his delivery is so clear and calm it is of course easy to follow it line by line.   But I’ll put the whole set of lyrics at the end just in case that is helpful…

My problem with this song is a totally personal one.  I can recognise brilliant writing and a wonderful musical performance when I hear it, but I don’t like songs of tragedy, and I’m unhappy with the notion (obviously true, but that doesn’t stop me being unhappy about it) that a lot of our lives are controlled by pure chance.   The good guys can be hurt; the bad guys can often come out on top; shit happens.

I only know of one cover of the song, and in a way that is not surprising, for the problem with doing a cover of a song like this is that the lyrics have such a clear meaning that nothing can be re-interpreted by developing a new accompaniment, changing the speed or otherwise exploring unseen elements within the song.

Thus in a very real way the song is the antithesis of Dylan songs; there is no chance of ambiguity.  Life is what it is, and there is nothing you can do about it.  And I suppose that is the message I don’t like.

But of course, as an artistic expression, the song is magnificent.

He went to Paris
Looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so

He was impressive,
Young and aggressive,
Saving the world on his own
Warm summer breezes
And french wines and cheeses
Put his ambitions at bay

Summers and winters
Scattered like splinters
And four or five years slipped away

He went to England
Played the piano
And married an actress named Kim
They had a fine life
She was a good wife
And bore him a young son named Jim

And all of the answers
To all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
He liked the quiet
Clean country living
And twenty more years slipped away

Well, the war took his baby
Bombs killed his lady
And left him with only one eye
His body was battered
His whole world was shattered
And all he could do was just cry

While the tears were a' fallin'
He was recallin'
The answers he never found
So he hopped on a freighter
Skidded the ocean
And left England without a sound

Now he lives in the islands
Fishes the pylons
And drinks his green label each day
He's writing his memoirs
And losing his hearing
But he don't care what most people say

"Through eighty six years
Of perpetual motion, "
If he likes you, he'll smile and he'll say,
"Some of it's magic,
And some of it's tragic,
But I had a good life all the way"

He went to Paris
Looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so

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