Goodbye Jimmy Reed (2020) part 10: Anything that sounds promising

“So much beauty, so little time,” my grandmother used to sigh, standing in front of her record cabinet. And mind you, she only had one single Dylan record (Greatest Hits) – Rough And Rowdy Ways she did not live to hear.

“Key West”, “My Own Version of You”, “Murder Most Foul”… the songs of Rough And Rowdy Ways are bulging treasure troves. A book on the album would become an even thicker paving stone than Mixing Up The Medicine, so I chose to just chop it up into manageable chunks. Following I Contain Multitudes and Crossing The Rubicon  is now published: Rough And Rowdy Ways – Side B. About the three songs on Side B; “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, “Black Rider” and “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”.

It’s an album that just keeps on giving.

Bob Dylan’s Rough And Rowdy Ways – Side B (The Songs Of Bob Dylan): Markhorst, Jochen: 9798865809890: Books

 Goodbye Jimmy Reed (2020) part 10

by Jochen Markhorst

X          Anything that sounds promising

Transparent woman in a transparent dress
It suits you well - I must confess
I’ll break open your grapes I’ll suck out the juice
I need you like my head needs a noose
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, goodbye and so long
I thought I could resist her but I was so wrong

 The prelude to the desperate bouncer I thought I could resist her but I was so wrong is an alienating, spiteful and cynical put-down: I need you like my head needs a noose. Confusing is the juggling of the personal pronouns “you” and “her”; it suggests a mini-drama around a love triangle. A male protagonist who, in the first four lines, seeks solace and oblivion from “you”, a fair, sensual lady in a see-through dress who has little to offer apart from sex – the man is left longing for “her”, for the woman he so desperately seeks to resist.

It is thus a melodramatic interlude in the song, which remarkably seems to be an echo, or rather a super-condensed distillate, of one of Dylan’s own untouchable masterpieces, of 1966’s “Visions Of Johanna”. At least we recognise the soul stirrings of the man who, despite the attentions of the present, sensual Louise, is plagued by his longing for the absent Johanna, whom he apparently can neither forget nor resist;

Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here

(Chris Smither)

… just as here too, more than half a century later, the present, thrillingly dressed transparent woman cannot neutralise the attraction of an absent fatal woman.

The word choice for that striking, slightly lurid comparison I need you like my head needs a noose seems a Dylan original. There are, of course, millions of songs in which an adored one is wooed with an I need you like…-message, but those are – of course – all sweet, cute comparisons. Even Kurt Cobain sings I need you like a desert needs rain, in the Nirvana cover of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz”. Like the river needs the shore, varies Bruce Cockburn, like the flowers need the dew croak the Stanley Brothers, and like the bees need the flowers says the lovestruck Etta James. Actually, only Sting seems to deviate from the beaten path when, seemingly somewhat like Dylan, he records I need you like this hole in my head, but alas: the I-person here is a dolphin. Sting wrote it for the short documentary Dolphins (2000) – and a dolphin does indeed really need a hole in his head; the blowhole, his nose, on top of his head. Cynical variants, in which the comparison expresses precisely how much the narrator does not need the you, are rare, and at best found in more aggressive metal songs and rap songs (incidentally, one of the wittier ones comes from rapper Nick Grant’s “Nick Bomaye”, 2018: We don’t need you like S in island)

It seems a one-off burst from this corner of the creative part of Dylan’s brain, this Dylan original. For the next, concluding lines of this fifth stanza of “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”, the song poet again resorts to the grab bag of half-familiar quotes and paraphrased one-liners.

Goodbye and so long, chosen for the varying part of the recurring refrain line, is a tried and tested variation on the formula. In Dylan’s jukebox, we find so long and farewell, goodnight and so long, auf wiedersehen and goodbye, and no doubt many more. This variant perhaps echoes in Dylan’s mind thanks to Nancy Sinatra’s “So Long Babe” (I know you’re leavin’ babe / Goodbye, so long), and otherwise maybe thanks to Mac Wiseman’s version of the 1953 bluegrass classic “It’s Goodbye And So Long To You” (infectiously re-recorded in 2017 by Alison Krauss) – all songs in any case with a strong “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” vibe, songs in which the narrator says goodbye or tries to say goodbye to a fatal, irresistible love. Although, of course, the phrase is so well established that attributing a source to it is lame. It is, after all, hardly anything more than some facile, unremarkable filler lyrics, needed to build a bridge to the final line.

That melodramatic closing line, apart from the substantive choice of an erotic interlude around a fatal woman, also seems to have been prompted by stylistic reasons: with it, the song poet adds yet another colour to the multicoloured palette of this strange fifth verse. After the elegance of the opening lines, the vulgarity of the fruit metaphors and the macabre noose continuation, we close with this tearful lament I thought I could resist her but I was so wrong. Sounding, admittedly, as an echo from a song on the successful debut album The Secret Life of… (2005) by Australian twins The Veronicas (“Speechless”; I thought I could resist you, I thought that I was strong), but that surely is a coincidence. A creative Dylan in The Zone has been making “new words out of old words” (“11 Outlined Epitaphs”, 1963) for sixty years, and no doubt constructs such a mushy bouncer effortlessly from fragments of three, four songs in his inner jukebox. From the tear-in-my-beer ballads in the country section, presumably. Patsy Cline’s hit with the Carl Perkins song “So Wrong” for instance (I’ve been so wrong, for so long, 1962) mounted on “Nancy With The Laughing Face” (I swear to goodness you can’t resist her).

A much more attractive option still is that Wanda Jackson’s 1967 country album You’ll Always Have My Love is still spinning around in Dylan’s mind; on it, apart from the erotic grapes Dylan serves up in the lines above, we hear another echo in track 3, in “Memory Maker”:

I never could resist your charms
You're just a memory maker,
An old heart breaker,
But memories can't fill my arms

Not too likely, but then again: “That’s exactly what I do,” Dylan says in the Wall Street Journal interview with Jeff Slate, December 2022. “I listen for fragments, riffs, chords, even lyrics. Anything that sounds promising.”


To be continued. Next up Goodbye Jimmy Reed part 11: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain


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:

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