Reintroduction by Tony Attwood
Back around 2020, The Bob Dylan Showcase was introduced on this site as a place where readers of Untold Dylan could either add their own music to lyrics for which Bob Dylan did not write any music, or reinterpret Dylan songs.
We haven’t had any new entries for several years, but recently Jemmy Joe offered us his version of “Dark Eyes”, and now has forwarded his version of “She Belongs To Me” which made me think it is time to bring the old series back.
So if you or your band, or your friend’s band has recorded a Dylan song and you’d like it to be featured here, please send a YouTube recording or as an MP3 or MP4 audio file, along with any commentary you wish to add, to Tony@schools.co.uk
An index to previously published songs in the series is given at the foot of this article.
For our re-launch the song selected is She Belongs to Me. It is on Spotify here. And here’s the Youtube version by Jemmy Joe with the Pine Hearts
Commentary from Jemmy Joe
Recently I came across a Spotify playlist of folk music love songs. On that list was Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “She Belongs To Me”. I thought “Anyone who thinks that this is a love song would benefit from a shrink!” I believe in modern therapy circles they’d say this is a classic avoidant personality attracting anxious attachment types. Good luck with that!
Taken at face value, “She Belongs To Me” is a character sketch. There is a woman. She is a transformative artist, turning the day into night. She’ll change you too! She is self-possessed and meticulous, if not out of nature than out of necessity. She is mysterious, and powerful and if she sees you at all, it’s from a vantage point of control. This is not a relationship between equals.
The title of the song seems to be in contrast of everything the singer says about her: she belongs to herself. Let us note that the singer does not seem to be in a relationship with her at all. There is a description of her for someone else’s benefit. Our narrator tells this person that they should come forth to her with deference and with gifts. Maybe that’s the poor sop who thinks this is a love song.
Whatever the singers think of her, they are keeping their cards close to their chest. But to have such a nuanced and subtle description of this woman infers some real interest and attention. We do not dig too deep into the hearts of people we have no reaction to. This is not one man moving his hands in the shape of the ideal woman’s body to amuse another man. There is no “hubba hubba” here. There is sympathy, understanding, caution, flattery and enough fascination to have been able to paint the picture at all. Our singer sees her, but for whatever reasons moves no closer and leaves her to be pursued by other.
When writing or talking about Bob Dylan, I am always quick to dismiss any explanation of his work that dips into his public personal life. I believe it devalues this song to suggest who it is “about”. Firstly, unless we know this particular person, declaring who the song’s subject isn’t a good use of art. Maybe you’re neighbors with, I don’t know, Joan Baez. This song could help you get along better with her. That’s useful! For the rest of us, it doesn’t matter.
Secondly, celebrities’ personal lives have always been a part of the draw in paying attention to them. I get that. Sure. Cheap fun attached to their work. Whatever. But for goodness sake: this is Bob Dylan! He’s supposed to be a sophisticated artist with a surprising, nuanced take on life and the world. We are not taking him at his best when they put him into gossip rags.
Lastly, one day Bob Dylan will die. Then the people who were alive when he was alive will die. It’s easy to imagine that Bob Dylan will be remembered a few hundred years from now, but Suze Rotolo won’t be. The future fans of the songs of Bob Dylan will have no idea who Edie Sedgwick was. If it is revealed the solo inspiration of this song was Bob Dylan’s middle school math teacher, the people in the days to come won’t care. All will matter is the song. If you know nothing of the 1960’s and all the characters who inhabited the social media of the time, if know nothing of Bob Dylan himself, will this song have something to say that will capture the interest of an audience?
I say yes. This song was always about the narrator and the audience. Can you see yourself or someone you know here? Is there something you want in the work? It is feasible to imagine some kin of mine, not yet born, hearing this song and saying “Yes, I want to meet someone like this woman! That sounds like who I’d fall I love with.” (The poor sop.) Or it could have been heard by someone a hundred years ago who’d have said, “Yes! That’s who I am! These niños who vie for my attention haven’t got a clue.” This is a story about fascination that could have been painted on the walls of the private bedrooms of ancient Babylonian royals and its a song that could be dreamt of a thousand years from now in the dorms of future art school students. Its a world view and character archetype all in one. Bob Dylan’s romantic life has no place in it. Since it is so good, Bob Dylan has no place in it. If this song were merely an obscured diary entry, it would not be sung today.
This song was written in a classic blues form. A line is sung under a dominant seventh chord twice and then the line is responded to with a chord change. The verses are related, but they could be rearranged in any order or could have different verses from similar songs popped in for equal effect. It’s not hard to imagine this character-sketch-song has a hundred different verses and has never stopped being sung in the hearts of the people who know our character, each imagining this untamed woman belongs to them. There is no conclusion to this song. The guy doesn’t get the girl, the tragic heroine doesn’t die at the end and no one learns a lesson that bookmarks the end of a tale. It’s a blues song: there is no end, no beginning, you can sing the phone book if it has the right rhythm and it’d work.
In a super nerdy, music theory geek side note, the chord change for the third line is major 2nd chord, not the standard 4th or 5th chord. Even the diatonic minor 2nd would have more precedent. Going from a C dominant 7 and then going to a D dominant 7 is not standard. It’s not completely without precedent, having been used a few times by a famous British group that Bob Dylan was a contemporary of. But rather than suggesting that there was influence, I prefer to think that the popular minds at the time simply wanted to hear something new and different. Why not go to an undiotonic chord, one just a step up for the one and only section change of a song? It’s the 1960’s, baby! Anything goes!
Cover Song Explanation:
My cover of this song was started as a ukulele strumming exercise. The Figure Eight. You start the strum going down at the bridge of the instrument, go up over the sound hole and back down up towards the neck. Go back the opposite way you came and then repeat. It’s a neat little strum rhythm that creates movement in a four-bar loop, but takes some practice to get it up to speed. The key of C has a lot of open strings on the ukulele and for this particular strumming technique, open strings work best.
Not having any songs of my own in the key of C, I just went to Bob Dylan’s catalog and found “She Belongs To Me” was in C. It didn’t have too many chord changes and the ones that happened had those same open strings. And that’s why I developed this song. This sort of explanation of how art is created should be more openly documented. A song can be created from the practice of a geeky new style on the ukulele. That’s how art can be made.
I am lucky to live in a small college town. In every small college town there are people who fled from their hometown because they were the weirdest people in their graduating class. They came to a new town and let their freak flag fly high. Good times are had by all. Some then graduate and move to the big city to make it big in the improv comedy scene. Some move back to their hometown and have a ton of kids. But some of these weirdoes stay in that small college town and eventually find themselves drawn into the local folk music scene.
It’s a story as old as time: punk artsy kid finds a banjo in their neighbors trash and ends up as a serious bluegrass musician in their adulthood. For Olympia Washington, one of these bands is The Pine Hearts, who contributed their skill to my recording. My connection to the band is personal. Watching my own video I filmed for the song with Joey Capoccia of the band, I saw quite visibly that I am good friends with this man. I knew that, obviously, but did not know it was so obvious.
It was a treat to have him and his fellow bandmates contribute to the song because honestly, their skill is what made it even worth releasing. I was just strumming on the uke. That’s fine around the yard, but not Spotify-worthy. Whenever I meet a young musician who wants to make good music, my only advice is to be friends with other musicians. Some of them will be better than you and take you along for the ride. Every member of The Pine Hearts is five times the musician I am.
There were a few takes needed in the recording of their parts. They listened to what I was doing, asked for a basic direction on what I wanted and then played perfectly. We recorded two or three takes, mostly just for me to have options in editing in post. There are leads and shiny parts, but more than anything there is the ability to hear what a song feels like and support that. If you like this song at all, you’ll love The Pine Hearts and I strongly recommend you listen to their music or see than at one of the many West Coast folk festivals they play at. Thanks again, guys.
And previously… Here are some of the entries for Showcase that we gathered when the series was running in 2020, first as “Help complete a Dylan song” and then “Readers’ covers”.
Help complete a Dylan song
- Bowling Alley Blues: another Dylan set of lyrics needing the music
- Don’t let anyone write your story – original renditions
- Don’t let anyone write your story, Paul Robert Thomas
- Don’t let anyone write your story, Rob Beretta
- Don’t let anyone write your story, fourth edition
- Don’t Let Anyone write your story: Claudio Diarni
- Dope Fiend Robber Nick Juno.
- Dope Fiend Robber: Paul Robert Thomas
- Listen Robert Moses: Chris Sheriden
- Song to Bonny Paul Robert Thomas
Readers’ versions of Dylan’s songs
- Dark Eyes: Jemmy Joe
- Bob Dylan Showcase: Señor, as never before. Listen, be amazed.
- Your chance to write the music to Dylan’s unfinished song
- Dylan PL – Arlekin and Blind Wille
- Make you feel my love – Denise Konkal
- Rev Kevin Waters, “Tomorrow is a long time”
- Property of Jesus, Ron Sexsmith
- Imaginary Future: Times they are a changing
- Untold Dylan showcase: Make you feel my love – Jüri Aidas
- Untold Dylan Showcase: the publisher’s turn