By Tony Attwood, based on the research by Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet) for the Never Ending Tour series on this site. Links to previous articles in the “Absolute Highlights” series are given at the end.
Dylan was trying out this new arrangement of Baby Blue all through 1994, resulting in a series of different performances with differences of emphais. And before anyone asks, we don’t have the date or location of this particularly slow version, with its own different balance. Just the year.
This song is one that has always seemed to me much sadder than the music of the original recording portrayed, and here in this recording we can get a much deeper insight into what other emotions and feeling – and indeed background – lie within the song which are not revealed in the LP recording.
Because Dylan was changing the arrangements as he moved through the tour, we don’t (in my opinion) get a version in which Bob is fully certain where he is taking each and every line, but the overall effect most certainly tells us the direction he is going in and the type of feeling he wishes to portray.
And what we now have in bucketfuls is the desperate sense of loss – it is all over and there is a sense of total desperation here, which the two harmonica solos each just one verse apart deliver very clearly.
I very much get a sense that this version had only had one or two rehearsal run-throughs before they ventured into it on stage, so we are getting a raw re-working here with Bob interested in seeing just how far the sadness of the song could be pushed.
The quiet opening of Dylan playing the guitar is followed with the lines we all know but with a slightly different rhythm both in the guitar and the vocals. It is the sort of thing that we only notice now because we know the song so well. Different words are emphasised occasional lyrics are changed. “Now” the sky is folding over you. Previously in the published lyrics it was folding under you. One word, but it means everything.
As a result of these changes to the music, the lyrics take on a completely different meaning. Before
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
was just a hippy friend who had been dossing down in the room who has moved on. Now there is something far more desperate going on. Before everyone assumes you can just move on and everything will be ok. Now all that certainty has gone.
And as for the final verse – I am not sure I have heard Bob more desperate in his singing than we get here. Nor much more plaintive on the harmonica. “Strike another match, go start anew” is not a case of venturing out to find others to play with, others to be with, others to talk to, it is a case of leaving everything behind without any certainty that the next stop will actually be ok. And that final repeated and repeated and repeated single phrase on the harmonica is painful beyond belief.
This really is not a case of moving on, because that is what people do, this is a case of the entire world breaking up. So “it’s all over now”, now means everything is falling apart. Absolutely everything. The masters of war have, it turns out, won.
After listening to this recording three or four times as I write this, I found it almost impossible to listen to the original album version. It just seems so out of place. Far too jaunty, far too accepting. I’m almost thinking, “how can this be?” How can he sing this with all this pain going on around him?
But of course in the original there was no pain. It really was a case of just moving on, because that’s what we do.
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)
- 17: Gates of Eden (2000)
- 18: One Too Many Mornings 2001.