By Tony Attwood
1998: Restless Farewell
Now these selections of mine of what I consider the highlights from the never-ending tour are very much personal selections, and never has this fact been made clearer to me than in reading Mike Johnson’s comments when he presented this recording in his Never Ending Tour series.
“In 1995, at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash, Dylan presented a song I don’t think he’d ever performed live before, ‘Restless Farewell’. Apparently, Sinatra requested the song. This is the last track on The Times They are a Changing(1964), and despite being a self-justifying exercise, it has a weary beauty with Dylan in fine lyrical form.
“It is therefore a surprise to find it appearing in 1998, quite out of the blue. I don’t think this is a particularly wonderful performance, or recording, but its sheer rarity value compels its inclusion here. This is from the Los Angeles concert 21st May 1998″
I hesitate, hesitate and hesitate again to disagree with Mike. The research he does is just so far beyond anything I could contemplate, and when his articles turn up in my in-box for me to publish on this site, I just read his reviews and listen to the recordings in absolute awe.
But here for once I am disagreeing. I love this revised version of this song, and indeed I included the Sinatra performance on my mythical album Dylan Obscuranti and you can hear that performance through this link. Yet it is not just my love of the song that makes me put it in as an absolute highlight, nor its rarity, but I really do think this is a great performance.
However, Bob doesn’t seem to value the song too highly since apart from the exquisite Sinatra performance, Mike is absolutely right (of course) this is the only one that there seems to be from the tour.
To see what Bob has done here is the original recording in which Bob keeps it much closer to the “Parting Glass” the traditional Scottish folk song of farewell on which it is based.
My favourite modern version of The Parting Glass is by Face Vocal Band – and I do hope you have time to play the whole piece – it has a few surprises in it. Don’t play the opening and then move on, please.
So that is the tradition from which Dylan plucked this song, and then re-wrote it. But this live version is not just a re-write of a classic folk piece, it is elegant and sublime in its own right. But best of all, it conveys the message of the song with such delicate simplicity that I find it utterly overwhelming.
Obviously, I have no idea if Sinatra did specifically request the song, as the story goes, or why indeed Bob suddenly popped up with this version out of the blue for just one performance. But I am so glad he did. For me the re-write just works utterly perfectly. I can only wish he had felt the same and taken the song once more to his heart and kept it on the tour.
But then, as ever, that’s just me.
The Absolute Highlights series
- 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.
- 19: It’s all over now baby blue 1994
- 20: The Wicked Messenger
- 21: Positively 4th Street (1994)
- 22: I and I