I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You, part 11 (final): Things aren’t what they were



by Jochen Markhorst

XI         Things aren’t what they were

From the plains and the prairies - 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

 On 8 December 2019, Dylan is in Washington for the final concert of the US Fall Tour. Thirty-nine concerts with, from the fourth concert (17 October, Denver), pretty much the same setlist every night, and the same encore every night: “Ballad Of A Thin Man” and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”.

In January and February 2020, Dylan is in Los Angeles, at Sunset Sound Recorders’ studio. On Sunset Boulevard, so about 45 minutes by car from home, from Malibu. No concert obligations March 2020, the whole month of April Dylan is expected to be in Japan (11 concerts in Tokyo, three in Osaka), May is me-time, and 4 June 2020 should then see the start of the US Summer Tour. But alas; in March 2020, the world goes on lockdown. The Covid pandemic wipes clean all agendas and all tour schedules.

In May 2021, the workless master then records the Corona surprise Shadow Kingdom, a sort of constructed concert film, unfortunately without any new songs. Mostly 60s songs. The most recent one is “What Was It You Wanted” from 1989 – so still 32 years young. For the live premieres of the Rough And Rowdy songs, we will have to wait until November, until the pandemic is over. But then we’ll get right down to business.

The first post-Corona concert will take place on 2 November 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For two songs, some fans may still fear that Dylan wants to serve up a Shadow Kingdom Revisited. The concert opens with “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way”; two songs we were also presented with on-line, last July.

But then relief follows; without further notice, the band launches into “I Contain Multitudes” – the first of eight Rough And Rowdy songs Dylan will play tonight, as he will for the rest of this tour. As was to be expected, of course: the tour is called “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour 2021-2024” and at the top of the concert posters is written “Things aren’t what they were….” – a quote from “I’ve Made Up My Mind”.

“Murder Most Foul” will not be performed for understandable reasons (the song is, after all, very long), and the premiere of the last unplayed song, “Crossing The Rubicon”, will be pushed forward to the next tour, to the 2022 US Spring Tour (3 March 2022, Phoenix).

So on 2 November ’21 in Milwaukee is also the premiere of “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”. Almost two years after Dylan recorded the song in Hollywood, about a year and a half after the world was introduced to it. At the end of the setlist. The first two nights at the fifteenth spot, then it moves to spot 13, and there “I’ve Made Up My Mind” will stay until the last gig in this year’s concert series, 2 December 2021 in Washington.

Musically, the live renditions are not much different from the studio version. Donnie Herron’s mandolin replaces the “marimba part” Blake Mills conjured from his guitar, Bob Britt plays a faithful copy of the short guitar solo, the understated background chorus has been dropped – for pragmatic reasons, presumably. The lyrics have been tinkered with a little. Not much, and not too drastic. It looks at nothing here or there, looks at nothing near or far, for example, has been reduced to It looks at nothing, neither near or far. Other interventions are even smaller. The only really noticeable one is in the last stanza: the first line.

At the premiere, Dylan is not yet completely text proof. He mixes up the second and fourth stanzas, forgets a word here and adds a word there. And the intended lyric adaptation of the last verse has apparently not yet fully crystallised. On the album, Dylan sings

I’ve traveled from the mountains to the sea,

at the Milwaukee premiere, it has been changed to

I’ve traveled from the plains and mountains to the sea,

and the next evening, 3 November in Chicago, Dylan finds the more or less final lyrics:

From the plains to the prairies, from the mountains to the sea

… more or less final; at the fourth performance (6 November, Columbus) he rehashes it once more to From the mountains to the prairies, from the plains to the seas, but hereafter, he will return to the words as they are also published officially, on the site:

From the plains and the prairies – from the mountains to the sea

It tells us two things. First, that the text change is not the result of lengthy and deliberate editing, writing and deleting – the three variations in the first four performances suggest that Dylan did not feel the need until these November days, probably still scribbling and erasing while in the tour bus. And secondly, that he attaches importance to it: Dylan has changed hundreds of fragments of lyrics in live performances of his oeuvre over the years, but only a very small minority of them lead to official publication in Lyrics or on the site.

It is a somewhat peculiar addition, though. The average listener’s association is forced almost naturally towards Irving Berlin’s patriotic “God Bless America”;

From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home

… the song that made Woody Guthrie puke so much so, that he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” as an answer song. Dylan has sung the song himself on occasion (awkwardly; at the Kennedy Center Award ceremony in 1997, Dylan doesn’t escape it either), but here, in “I’ve Made Up My Mind”, a reference to “God Bless America” really does seem out of place – neither a patriotic salute nor an ironic wink fits here.

No, perhaps then, it is meant as yet another salute to Warren Zevon, the admired colleague who has received compliments from Dylan for decades, even before his death in 2003. And on Rough And Rowdy Ways, we also can hear a reverence again. The line Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue in “Murder Most Foul” is the last line of Zevon’s “Desperados Under the Eaves”, the 1976 song with the Dylanesque line Don’t the sun look angry through the trees and Carl Wilson’s heavenly backing vocals. Incidentally, the last verse of Zevon’s song opens with

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was listening to the air conditioner hum

… which just might have been the template for

I’m sitting on my terrace lost in the stars
Listenin’ to the sounds of the sad guitars

… for the opening of “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, that is. And that late, seemingly hasty addition in the last verse of that From the plains and the prairies could then just be understood as a thank you or a salute to Warren Zevon, via a Zevon song at least as close to Dylan’s heart;

Frank and Jesse James
Keep on riding, riding, riding
'Til you clear your names
Keep on riding, riding, riding
Across the prairies and the plains
Keep on riding, riding, riding
Frank and Jesse James

… “Frank And Jesse James”, the opening song from the same Warren Zevon album (1976) on which “Desperados Under the Eaves” can be found (as a finale).

Zevon, to whom Dylan also devotes an honourable chapter in The Philosophy Of Modern Song (Chapter 39, “Dirty Life And Times”), as well as to the song “Jesse James” (Chapter 10); Zevon, who is also quoted again in the only interview Dylan gives in 2022 (“We’re in ‘Splendid Isolation,’ like in the Warren Zevon song; the world of self, like Georgia O’Keefe alone in the desert” – Wall Street Journal, 19 December 2022); like Dylan quotes just as reverently from that same “Dirty Life And Times” back in 2011, in the Elderfield interview:

“Sure, but everything in life, directly or indirectly, has a great degree of mystery. To paraphrase Warren Zevon, some days I feel like my shadow’s casting me. Persons, places, things … time itself is a mystery.”

… the song in which the narrator sighs: “She can’t seem to make up her mind.”

“This is a great record,” Dylan writes, continuing with effervescent praise of both this one song, one of the very last songs Zevon writes, and of Warren Zevon the artist at all.

“Being a writer is not something one chooses to do. It’s something you just do and sometimes people stop and notice. Warren was a writer till the very end.”

It’s almost as if Dylan is talking about himself; just before this, again admiringly, he describes the different sides of Zevon at different stages of his career, as well as “all the roles Zevon chose to play in his songs”.

Zevon dies of cancer, 7 September 2003. Just before his death, he manages to record one last record, The Wind, the album featuring “Dirty Life And Times”. And with a breathtaking, moving cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.

Let’s hope that the gods go easy with him.


Editor’s note: In case you want to discover more of Warren Zevon, our previous post on this site was: Dylans favourite songs: Warren Zevon: ‘Lawyers, Guns, and Money’


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:


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