I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 9
by Jochen Markhorst
IX “Yes” is the answer to your question
I traveled from the mountains to the sea I hope that the gods go easy with me I knew you’d say yes, I’m saying it too I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you
“Yes” is the first word of the film, and is spoken off-screen. By an invisible something – even protagonist Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) cannot see the speaker. He can feel him, though: he wakes up in pain, grabs his upper arm, his face contorted with pain. The pain subsides, and Bill goes to the bathroom. There he hears, for the second time, “yes,” heavy, unearthly, somehow distant and yet – close. It is unmistakably a voice, not the wind or anything. Troubled and not understanding, he goes back to bed. He tries to sleep on, but is then startled anew a third time; again that unearthly “Yes”.
During the following day, “the voice” repeatedly revisits Parrish. In the lift. In the office. And the third time, the voice says:
VOICE: ‘Yes’ is the answer to your question.
PARRISH: I didn’t ask any question.
VOICE: I believe you did.
It is Death, who will manifest himself in human form (Brad Pitt) this evening, in Bill’s home library, in Meet Joe Black (1998). And then Bill is also ready to admit that he indeed has been asking the question: “Am I going to die?”
It has to be said, Hollywood tells it more dramatically and definitely more poetically than the format does: Alberto Casella’s 1923 play La morte in vacanza. In the play, Death presents himself to Duke Lambert as a shadow, and likewise takes a long run-up before putting an end to all doubts (“You see, I am… or I was until I crossed your threshold… Death”), a run-up that is similar to the way Death, or The Devil, or other supernatural entities usually present themselves in narratives: lots of cryptic hints and poetic obfuscations before the word finally is out:
“I am… how shall I describe it? A sort of… vagabond of space. Think, if you can, of infinity. That may help. Think of limitless reaches of light, and limitless reaches of darkness. Think of sound that goes whispering on forever. You see, if you are to grasp this you will have to discard your usual formulas. For instance, at one moment I am touching the evening star with my shadow and plucking some mortal on the earth by the sleeve… Do I make myself clear?”
The scriptwriters of Meet Joe Black cannot quite resist that temptation either: “Just think of millenniums multiplied by aeons compounded by infinity, I’ve been around that long, but it’s only recently that your affairs here have piqued my interest,” says Joe Black, just before he reveals himself. And then lets the dismayed host fill it in himself:
PARRISH: You are –?
VOICE: ‘…Yes –‘ (gently) Who am I?
PARRISH: …Death. You’re Death?
The plot is broadly, obviously, the same: for once, Death wants to experience what it is like to be alive, and gives himself, and his host, a few days to learn about life, emotions, being human. After those days, the party is over – then both Death and his host will have to say “yes”. It is time. The river has arrived at its endpoint.
It is like, for instance, “twilight” in “Not Dark Yet”, or “threshold” in “One Too Many Mornings” and “Standing In The Doorway” an image of imperishable, classic beauty and elegance: the way of the river, the way from the mountains to the sea. Usually a life road metaphor – from its origin to its endpoint, from birth to death, after all. Something like that in Johnny Hallyday’s überpathetic, but still poetic, “Poème sur la 7ème” from 1970, the chanson in which he recites a life path poem over the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th – looking back on his life, starting at the sea, following the river back to the mountains.
As in songs like “Sweet Memories”, “Year Of The Cat” and U2’s “One Tree Hill”; song lyrics using “like a river”, “from the mountains to the sea” and variants thereof as a life path metaphor we can find in every corner of the record shop. Or else as “anywhere”, as in Waylon Jennings’ chauvinistic hit “America” and in Dylan’s own “Boots Of Spanish Leather” (Either from the mountains of Madrid / Or from the coast of Barcelona). A third function of metaphor is even more philosophical. Hermann Hesse’s Siddharta demonstrates the other, but no less gripping quality;
“The river is everywhere at once, at its source and at its mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and only the present exists for it, and not the shadow of the future.”
… that time does not really exist, that is – another concept Dylan is receptive to. Especially here on Rough And Rowdy Ways: “Everything’s flowing all at the same time” says the narrator right away in the opening song “I Contain Multitudes”, after which denial of linear time remains a motif on the rest of the album.
Still, here in this “I’ve Made Up My Mind” the songwriter chugs closer to “Not Dark Yet” than to “I Contain Multitudes”, closer to I followed the river and got to the sea than to Today and tomorrow and yesterday too. And, moreover, closer to the great, mercurial songs of the Sixties, songs like “Desolation Row”, “Tombstone Blues” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”; songs in which the last verse tilts the previous ones.
It does seem to be Joe Black now, Death, at this point. After that classic life metaphor by which the narrator articulates that he has now gone all the way, from the source to the mouth, from birth to the end, he utters the wish I hope the gods go easy with me. In doing so, the poet does force the setting to the gates of heaven. Hank Williams’ “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me” (1950), Cole Porter’s Great American Songbook standard “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (1944), Jim Reeves’ “The Gods Were Angry With Me”: in the songs in Dylan’s inner jukebox in which “gods” are introduced, the narrator stands at heaven’s gate, the gods have taken away a loved one, the narrator ascends the golden stairs with his beloved… a life is, in short, brought to an end.
And apart from those deadly gods, the musician Dylan also takes to heart Cole Porter’s soundtrack directions:
There's no love song finer But how strange the change From major to minor Ev'ry time we say goodbye
… the excerpt where Porter does indeed have the key shifted neatly from major to minor. Dylan paid attention; at the bridge, on I’m giving myself to you, I am and on Take me on travelling, you’re a travelling man, the band, after the major of the verses, switches briefly to minor.
Fitting, following the newly acquired insight that we may understand the you from “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” as the vagabond of space who has been around millennia multiplied by aeons compounded by infinity, as the travelling man who was already there at the first fall of snow, who is a nothing here or there, a nothing near or far, who will lay down beside you when everyone’s gone, and to whom the narrator will now give himself.
And who is the answer “yes” to the question.
To be continued. Next up I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You part 10: A Neapolitan mandolin and a half-hidden marimba
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:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music