By Tony Attwood
When I first heard the recording of Gates of Eden I felt it was a great, great song, and I fully appreciated the performance on the album. But I thereafter always had this feeling that it was, in reality, a much darker song than the one Dylan performed, lurking therein, held back, one day perhaps to be released. I felt it would contain more gloom, with trails of smoke and fog drifting across the wreckage of the civilised world.
Just in case you can’t immediately call that original version to mind, here it is… I am including it, not because I am suggesting that you should listen to it all (of course I can’t tell you what to do, any more than I know if you can conjure up a memory of what the original sounded like) but because I do feel it is helpful to hear it, at least in part, once again, before considering the presentation of a completely new “Gates of Eden”.
So here’s the one you’ll have heard a million times
And now I want to contrast this with “Gates of Eden” live, as performed in 2000. In his first of several articles covering the Never Ending Tour for that year Mike wrote,
“We find some extraordinary and unparalleled performances in 2000, and I’m prepared to stick my neck out and say that some of these performances are Dylan’s best ever, and I’ll do my best to prove it.
“Take that mysterious song, ‘Gates of Eden’ which we have been following since the angry, electric version of 1988. (As a comparison, readers might like to check it out at NET, 1988, part 1 ). But no subsequent performance is as exquisitely spooky as this one. Whenever I want to hear this song, I play this. It has a sense of spaciousness, and something very ancient…”
And yes I 100% agree with Mike. In fact when I first put forward to Mike the idea of trying to write this series on my personal highlights from the tour, I almost began with this. But then I thought, what on earth could I follow it with?
Gates of Eden
If there is one moment that symbolises the utter glory of this rendition it is the first instrumental break, followed by the return of Dylan’s voice in the “lonesome sparrow” verse. Please make sure you are not doing anything else. Turn off the lights, turn off the phone. Just listen.
For this is not just a brilliant performance; it is the total reconstruction of the song in a way that says, “things were pretty bad when I first recorded ‘Gates’, by just look outside now – they are 10,000 times worse.
And more, for although I don’t ever believe that Dylan was a revolutionary trying to change the world, I think he is now saying – “We thought it was bad in 1965. Well really, I had no idea how awful it could get. 23 years later, and really is now all over. There is nothing left. There is nowhere to go.”
Utterly brilliantly, Dylan resists any temptation to take the song anywhere else. When all is desolation beneath a seemingly uncaring God, or maybe other beings locked inside the Gates, there is nothing left to say.
On a more prosaic technical point, two verses are missing: the motorcycle black Madonna and the kingdoms of experience, replaced in effect by the extra harmonica solo. I don’t think it matters, although I would have liked to have heard the whole set of verses, simply because I want this performance to go on and on.
I am left knowing that all of us on this earth are outside a paradise in which the gods take their ease, caring nothing for us or our disintegrating world. And why should they – all we have is a life, and then a death. That is all; for the likes of me, there is no paradise hereafter. I live, I will die.
It is not a comforting vision, and not one that I particularly want to carry round with me – and fortunately for me I have activities I can get on with, that mean my mind goes elsewhere. Yesterday I walked for six miles with friends across the windblown Northamptonshire countryside. Tonight I shall be in Derbyshire dancing. I pass my days writing, walking, dancing, and being with my friends, and I need all of that, because if I thought too much about this song, and this particular performance of this song, there would be nothing more to live for.
It is probably the most terrifying artistic performance I have ever come across. Fortunately having now written this, I can move on, do some work, and welcome my pal who normally pops round on a Friday afternoon as we compare thoughts on what sort of a week it has been…. Hopefully by then I’ll have pulled myself back together.
Previously on “The Never Ending Tour, the absolute highlights…”
- 1: John Brown 1987
- 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- 3: She Belongs to Me
- 4: Tangled up in Blue
- 5: I and I – power without meaning
- 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.
- 7: Perfection in desolation – Gates of Eden
- 8: Girl from the North Country.
- 9: When He Returns
- 10: It’s alright Ma
- 11: Satisfied Mind
- 12: Visions of Johanna
- 13: Dark Eyes
- 14: Man in the long black coat
- 15: Don’t think twice (2000)
- 16: Silvio (1998)