Standing In The Doorway (1997) part 2 (final)
by Jochen Markhorst
II All these songs are connected
“I had to scramble around to find the right types of lyrics and basically moved lyrics around and put together the puzzle.” Dylan gives three interviews in the week of 21 September 1997, all in an ocean-view hotel suite in Santa Monica, to John Pareles, Edna Gundersen and David Gates respectively. The above quote is from the interview with Gundersen and relates to “Highlands” – but, as we have seen especially thanks to the outtakes on Tell-Tale Signs, is equally applicable to more songs from Time Out Of Mind.
Certainly to “Standing In The Doorway” too; of the 357 words, 83 were first in the outtake “Dreamin’ Of You”; about a quarter of them, therefore, fall into the category,“I basically moved lyrics around and put together the puzzle”. And most of them are the “right type of lyrics” anyway, lyrics that Dylan found elsewhere, “by scrambling around”. Without being too secretive about it by the way; like the insertion of a well-known line like I’ll eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry from the well-known “Moonshiner Blues”, for example. After all, most people who buy Time Out Of Mind have been singing those words for decades, at the latest since the success of The Bootleg Series 1, which features Dylan’s recording of it from the early 60s.
Not all borrowings are so well known, of course. A Rollins quote like The light in this place is so bad is only exposed by Scott Warmuth many years later. The heartbreaking outcry “Don’t know if I saw you, if I would kiss you or kill you / It probably wouldn’t matter to you anyhow” is suspiciously similar to the text of a lobby card from the 1940s film with Humphrey Bogart, Dead Reckoning; “To kiss her or kill her… he’s never quite sure!”. A film noir, by the way, which is of course mainly carried by Bogart, but even more so by his co-star, the irresistible Lizabeth Scott – who, for her performance of “Either It’s Love Or It Isn’t” alone, should at least have received an Oscar nomination.
A line like “The last rays of daylight” is of course not unique, but maybe Dylan just had R. L. Stevenson on his bedside table (“As the last rays of daylight dwindled and disappeared, absolute blackness settled down on Treasure Island”), and underlined this line. And a somewhat alienating interjection like “Buddy, you’ll roll no more” may have been picked up by Dylan from the deeper shelves of his inner jukebox, from Bill Monroe’s “Roll On Buddy, Roll On”;
Roll on, buddy, roll on Roll on, buddy, roll on Wouldn't roll so slow
… although it is more likely that he lovingly steals it from The Rambling Boys, the 1957 album by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Derroll Adams, the album Dylan mentions in his autobiography Chronicles. “Roll On, Buddy” is the last song on that album, and in their version the men sing the verse
Well I never liked no railroad man I never liked no railroad man Cause the railroad man will kill you if he can Drink up your blood like wine
… the words Dylan will sing in “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” (on a side note: in the verse before that, Elliott and Adams sing “I slept in the pen with the rough and rowdy men”). The rest of the track list does suggest that Dylan has played the album more than once: “Buffalo Skinners”, “Danville Girl”, “East Virginia Blues”… all songs whose echoes descend in Dylan’s work over the years.
Both Bill Monroe and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott sing I got a home in Tennessee, and Gillian Welch seems to notice that too.
In 2011, Gillian Welch releases her masterpiece The Harrow And The Harvest, an album that, very dylanesque, is bursting with borrowings, paraphrases and quotes. It becomes even more Dylan-like when Gillian steals most of her borrowings, paraphrases and quotes from Dylan. As in the moving “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”, in which verse fragments such as standing in the doorway crying and once you had a motorcycle but you couldn’t ride it right are explicit enough already, and the verse:
Momma's in the beauty parlor And Daddy's in the baseball pool Sister's in the drive-in movie Brother's in the old high school
… which is winking pleasantly, unobtrusively at both “Tombstone Blues” and “Desolation Row”. And just as charming Gillian incorporates a playful nod to “Sweetheart Like You” and to “Highway 61 Revisited”:
Now what's a little sweetheart like you Doing with a bloody nose?
But she hides the subtlest of “Standing In The Doorway” decompositions in the song that, in the spirit of “Standing In The Doorway” contributor “Roll On, Buddy”, she titles “Tennessee”:
Back to Tennessee It's beef steak when I'm working Whiskey when I'm dry Sweet heaven when I die
Now some will come confessing of transgressions Some will come confessing of their love You were there strumming on your gay guitar You were trying to tell me something with your thumb
… the unobtrusive nod “gay guitar” (a somewhat unfortunate brand name, but it just so happens that its maker is called Frank Gay), and the witty reworking of “I’ll eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry”, the quote Dylan in turn had stolen from “Moonshiner Blues”, to “It’s beef steak when I’m working, whiskey when I’m dry”.
“All these songs are connected,” Dylan says in one of his most beautiful and honest speeches, in the MusiCares speech, February 2015. He will have appreciated that Gillian Welch is incorporating his songs into the next link in the chain. Which is suggested by the tracklist of Tempest, which appears a year after Welch’s The Harrow And The Harvest. Dylan seems to return the compliment. Track 6 is called “Scarlet Town”… exactly the same title as the opening song of Gillian’s album. All these songs are connected.
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