The Rough and Rowdy Way Tour 18: Watching the River Flow


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

Watching the River Flow

“Watching the River Flow” is another laid back half-sung half-recited song in which I get the impression Bob has really worked on the notion of being the outside observer looking at the rest of the world go by.  That feeling came across in the original 1971 recording and is still very much at the heart of this performance.

There is a constant four note descending effect that runs through most of the piece, emphasising the continuity of the “flow”,  although it stops for the middle 8 (until the last bar).   And, indeed, this seems to me to fit in with the overall concept of the the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour – it is Bob looking back on his own work, rather than commenting on his work by writing new arrangements of the songs.

In the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour we do have changes to the arrangements of these classic songs, and indeed sometimes to the vocals, but it is to a much lesser degree than within the Never Ending Tour.  The impression I get is of Bob looking at the rest of us looking at him.   He’s looking back at his life, but without the desire to re-write the past which was at the heart of the NET.

Now  I haven’t asked Mike Johnson (who created the 144 article, “Never Ending Tour” series on this site) for his view (Mike lives on the other side of the world from me, and I’ve only just thought of this) but considered this way, this Rough and Rowdy tour is the mirror image of the Never Ending Tour, in the sense of the musical arrangements, as well as the song selection night by night.

In short the Never Ending Tour was a continuous challenge to all of us to reconsider the past, and from there to rethink our future.   The Rough and Rowdy tour is a celebration of the past, and an invitation, it suddenly occurs to me, to sit back and watch the river flow.

“River” was written in 1971 in a year of what seems to have been an artistic struggle for Dylan, and suggests that the essence of life is that life just moves on, rather than life being an opportunity to change the world and leave a mark upon the world.  It was a return to the “Blowing in the Wind” vision of accepting reality as we are told it is, rather than “Masters of War” or “Tangled up in blue” each of which in a variety of ways, challenges our view of reality.

Each of these songs seem to suggest that the world happens to us, rather than any of us having an influence on the world.  Thus they are songs of the artist observing the world rather than the artist trying to change the world for the better.    And it is a thought that resonates with the fact that the shows also include “Most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine” and others with a similar vision.  

In short, we are invited to travel our own road, rather than make the world a better place.  And perhaps that comes about with age.  After all, sitting and watching is something that most of us tend to do as we get older, rather than continue the fight for something better.

Previously in this series

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *