The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour 17: Every grain of sand


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


Commentary by Tony Attwood, audio kindly provided by Mr Tambourine.

The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour 17: Every grain of sand

Every grain of sand begins on the video at 3 hours 17 minutes 18 seconds (approx).

This is a 1981 song with a new melody – although really most of the time Bob is just reciting or declaiming the lyrics rather than singing them.  He first performed the piece live in 1981 and the most recent playing of it is shown on the official site as 6 April 2024, making it 382 performances all told by that date.

The style and approach – and indeed most of the arrangement – is similar to that which was used at the end of the Never Ending Tour.  Here for example is the recording from 2013.

Clearly, in terms of live performances, I have seriously diverged from Bob in terms of what works for I really didn’t like the ceaseless repetition of musical phrases, and indeed individual notes in the Tour version, and Bob has kept almost every element of this arrangement.

Of course this is my failing, for in a real sense, this arrangement is a reflection of the lines from the song

There's a dying voice within me reaching out somewhereToiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

But does that need to have individual notes played over and over again, or indeed that same three-note descending pattern, likewise played repeatedly in order to express those lyrics in music?

Of course, Bob is the master, and I’m just a writer – worse I’m a songwriter whose songs never made much money – so I clearly have no right to criticise.  Which means I have to acknowledge that the failure to get any delight from the repeated notes and phrases, or indeed any insight, is entirely mine.

Yes of course there are moments here when the music and the lyrics are as one.  I think particularly of the lines that suggest there is no escape, which is something that I feel the music puts across totally…

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flameAnd every time I pass that way, I always hear my nameThen onward in my journey, I come to understandThat every hair is numbered like every grain of sand
So perhaps what I am feeling is that these are thoughts that I have had in the past but have left far behind and simply don’t want to be reminded of.  Thoughts that I have had in my life, and which I have found to uncomfortable to live with.  Thoughts such as
In the bitter dance of loneliness, fading into spaceIn the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

Sometimes of course with Dylan it is possible to ignore the music and just feel the lyrics – and indeed vice versa.  But here with that endless three note descending line and then the section where the same note is played over and over again, I find I can’t escape from those lines.  Not because I am lonely – fortunately for me that period of my life has long since gone.  It is just that the ceaseless repetition of three notes becomes irritating.

And I guess this is the point.  I love Dylan’s music and his lyrics, and I don’t think I have ever, since first hearing the Freewheelin’ album as a teenager, become irritated with an arrangement… until now.

Of course, it is just me, and I would love it if someone else were to write a review of this performance of this song on the tour, so I could learn from their appreciation of the song. But for now, no this is not for me.  I have however taken comfort in the original album version… and if you have time, do listen to the harmonica solo, just in case you have forgotten it from all those years ago.

Previously in this series

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