Once or twice: songs that Bob has performed, but only rarely… “Caribbean Wind”


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

Once or twice: A recently inaugurated review of songs that Bob has performed just once or twice on stage. Previously we looked at The girl on the Greenbriar Shore  and  Only a hobo.

Today it is Caribbean Wind which was (officially) only performed on 12 November 1980 in San Fransisco.   I have quoted before Dylan’s comment on the piece to Cameron Crowe, “I couldn’t quite grasp what [‘Caribbean Wind’] was about, after I finished it. Sometimes you write something to be very inspired, and you won’t quite finish it for one reason or another. Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone. Either you get it all, and you can leave a few little pieces to fill in, or you’re trying always to finish it off. Then it’s a struggle. The inspiration’s gone and you can’t remember why you started it in the first place. Frustration sets in.”

And of course we have the video from that gig

I have to admit I don’t really get Bob’s explanation, as it suggests two things that I don’t go with.  The first is that all his other songs that are played more than once are all clearly about something.  Of course he is the composer; I’m merely a fan.  But no, this song is no more obscure than “All along the watchtower” which last time I looked had been played over 2,200 times.

And the point can also be made that this song is as much about the overall sound – the music and the lyrics.  It is just so energetic and exciting, and indeed so full of possibilities.  My own view for what it is worth is that this live recording didn’t fully reach the heights that the song could be taken to – and in that regard it is not alone.  In many other songs Bob persevered with the work transforming it as it went.   Giving up after one performance is really not his style.

The version recorded in the Shot of Love sessions is less frantic, and to my mind a better version because of that.

And as I listen to that recording again today, I am, as so many times before, utterly bemused.  I am not concerned with what the lyrics actually mean, and indeed as Bob said once “Sometimes a song is about exactly what it sounds like it’s about.”
No the lyrics are not everything, but this is not to say this is a perfect song – if I were to be working on this and be asked my opinion (which of course I was not, and never would be) I would have said it is perfect apart from the musical interlude between the verses.   Everything else is great – even the way the organ is only to be heard through part of the recording.   And I am sure it hasn’t been mixed out, because if that were the case the ending would have been edited too.
Plus we have the fact that the lyrics are intriguing, the musicians know exactly where they are and what they are doing (which is not always the case!) and the contrast musically between the verse and the chorus is superb and sustains the song through its six plus minutes of performance.
So I think what we have here is a case of Bob knowing that there was more work to do, but just not having the energy or inclination or the time to do it, and then justifying that feeling.
But that is not all there is to say here.  Because that listing on the official site of just one performance is wrong.  And we know that as we also have evidence of the version performed live on 12 November 1980 – so before the studio recording was made.    I can’t make this open automatically but if you click on this link you should get it.  https://youtu.be/CmgvKgScXLU
Now this of course raises the horrible realisation (well, ok we knew a long time ago, but here’s the evidence) that the official Bob Dylan site makes mistakes.  Goodness me!  And of course you might be saying, well, since you have included this in the recently started “Once or twice” series, you are wrong too.”   Except no, that 1981 version is a studio recording.
Bob did say that “We left it off the album (as it was) quite different to anything I wrote….The way the story line changes from 3rd person to 1st person and that person becomes you, then these people are there and they’re not there. And then the time goes way back and then it’s brought up to the present. I thought it was really effective”.
So there we have it, two contradictory views from Bob, but we can include this song in the “only once or twice” category, because although there may have been other performances I’ve only got evidence of two.
And besides I love the song.
She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lostFrom the city of seven hills near the place of the crossI was playing a show in Miami in the theater of divine comedyTold about Jesus, told about the rainShe told me about the jungle where her brothers were slainBy the man who had been dyin', who disappeared so mysteriously

Was she a child or a woman, did we go too far?Were we sniper bait, did we follow a star?Through a hole in the wall 
        to where the long arm of the law cannot not reachCould I been used and played as a pawn?It certainly was possible as the gay night wore onWhere men bathed in perfume and practiced the hoax of free speech

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to MexicoFanning the flames in the furnace of desireAnd them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and freeBringing everything that's near to me nearer to the fire

Sea breeze blowin', there's a hellhound looseRedeemed men, who have escaped from the noosePreaching faith and salvation, waiting for the night to arriveHe was well connected, but her heart was a snareAnd she had left him to die in thereHe was goin' down slow, just barely staying alive

The cry of the peacock, flies buzz my headCeiling fan broken, there's a heat in my bedStreet band playing "Nearer My God to Thee"We met at the station where the mission bells ringShe said, "I know what you're thinking, but there ain't a thingYou can do about it, so let us just agree to agree"

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to MexicoFanning the flames in the furnace of desireAnd them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and freeBringing everything that's near to me nearer to the fire

Atlantic City by the cold grey seaHear a voice crying, "Daddy, " I always think it's for meBut it's only the silence in the buttermilk hills that callEvery new messenger brings evil report'Bout armies on the march and time that is shortAnd famines and earthquakes and train wrecks 
               and the tearin' down of the wall

Did you ever have a dream, that you couldn't explain?Ever meet your accusers, face to face in the rain?She had chrome brown eyes that I won't forget as long as she's goneI see the screws breakin' loose, see the devil pounding on tinI see a house in the country being torn apart from withinI can hear my ancestors calling from the land far beyond

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to MexicoFanning the flames in the furnace of desireAnd them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and freeBringing everything that's near to me nearer to the fire


One comment

  1. Good read.

    I’ve always loved this song. The line “I hear a voice crying Daddy, I always think it’s for me”
    just goes straight to my heart.

    What is the song about? Who knows. even Dylan doesn’t. And I say, “who cares?”

    Another great song left off of an album but thankfully shown the light of day in the Bootleg series.

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