The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour: When I paint my masterpiece


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

This is a very relaxed version of the song that was first performed in 1975 and which has continued until the end of 2023.   It’s half sung, half spoken piece (“declaimed” seems to be a better word than “sung”) which even includes a trick ending and which continues the laid back feel of the whole concert.

For me it is almost as if Bob has taken his own line, “Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody” and is trying through this declaimed approach to get to that feeling.   As a result it comes across to me as a sort of, “Hey let’s not get too excited about anything” style, which I guess fits the demeanor of a revered octogenarian.

And in pondering this, it suddenly interested me to think what the same piece sounded like when we first came across it on the Never Ending Tour in 1991.    Then Bob played a trick with us giving a two minute 30 seconds musical introduction – which is a bit odd given that musically the song is just two chords alternating with the real interest being in the lyrics.  This comes from 1991 Part 2 – Feet walking by themselves

By the end of the Never Ending Tour the song sounded a little different, although Bob’s vision of the song remains the same albeit with a sung introduction.   This time it takes over two and a half minutes before we get to it being a song in the conventional sense.

The violin and harmonica do gell together nicely however….

This version from a concert in 2019: The liberated republic – and I’ve added this to make my point that in many ways the “Rough and Rowdy Ways” tour is a continuation of the Never Ending Tour (although Bob himself has on occasion railed against the continuing use of the “Never Ending Tour” as a title.

So what I am suggesting is that Bob has a seemingly eternal fascination with this song which is musically limited, and which, for me (and of course as ever this is just me) is just a gentle reflection on being in Rome and the absolute feeling of history and art that it can bring.

I’ve not been to Italy that many times, but when I have, immediately this song springs to mind; yet for me that does not make it one of the almighty, great, wonderful, overwhelming Dylan compositions.  It’s just, well, nice, reflective, feel-good, relaxing, and with nothing really to do with Rome.

And I think that is the problem with the Rough and Rowdy Ways version.  Bob clearly feels a deep attraction to the piece, and he likes the notion of being in the home of such an historic extraordinary culture, and the notion that being there he too can produce a work comperable with Arellius … but this isn’t “Visions of Johanna” or “Not Dark Yet”… this is (for me, and of course my comments are always just about my perception) a rather pleasant two chord song.

I mean

Sailin’ round the world in a dirty gondola
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!

is fun in the original, and that surely is the point.  Dylan is saying he can feel that being in Rome might induce a sense of being able to create a master work because of the heritage, but the heritage has long ago been commercialised to such a degree that he wants to be back home.  And besides, as has been pointed out endlessly, there are no gondolas in Rome.  They are in Venice, a city which if one wants to relax, is surely much preferable to Rome.

In the end I don’t quite know what Bob meant – if he meant anything.  Thus for me, his fascination with this song is difficult to understand.  Of course I fully realise that is my problem: Bob knows why he wants to keep this piece in the repertoire and that of course is fine.  And he knows why he likes these rearrangements.  It’s just me that’s not on board.

One comment

  1. I think the opening line “Oh, the streets of Rome / are filled with rubble” foreshadows many of the songs on R&RW and this tour.

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