The lyrics and the music: Cold Irons Bound


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

The lyrics and the music.   Looking at how Dylan’s music relates to his lyrics and vice versa.   By Tony Attwood

I’ve never checked in detail but it seems to me that the original release of Cold Irons Bound has one of the longest musical introductions of any Bob Dylan recording.   And indeed it is interesting that in the live performances, this notion of the longish and mysterious introduction is maintained – although the exact format changes.

Indeed on the originally released recording that we have on Time Out of Mind (above) the musical introduction lasts just a few seconds under a minute.   Now, I’ve not sat here measuring each song’s intro with a stop watch (even I am not that sad) but it does feel to me as if it is one of the longest introductions we have on an album track.

When the bass does come in with its repeated melody we are 20 seconds into the recording, but still half a minute away from Bob starting to sing.  And ultimately when we get there we find the whole verse up to the chorus lines, is one musical line repeated over and over, above that bass.

This then contrasts with a completely different much more laid-back chorus.

So in effect, the whole verse is on one chord except the last three lines which form a chorus (followed by an instrumental line of the same music) giving us the title line.

The impact of this arrangement is quite strange.  The song on this original is bouncy, both in the melody and the instrumentation.    and even the instrumental verse then makes no concession – it is the music as before, but without the voice.  There is no new guitar solo.

This constancy of the music, the form and the arrangement gives us an exact reflection of the meaning behind the lyrics.  Life in the sense of this journey towards prison goes on – it is not passive with a person sitting alone reflecting, but rather life out in the wild, and the realisation that things are like this and will go on being like this.  Until they get worse.

Well the winds in Chicago have turned me to shredsReality has always had too many headsSome things last longer than you think they willSome kind of things you can never killIt's you and you only I'm thinking aboutBut you can't see in, and it's hard looking out

I'm 20 miles out of town, Cold Irons bound

In this way we get the feeling through the music of being out of town just walking on, with the wind howling, and everything happening, but at the same time there is the remorseless walking on.  Not only does nothing change, nothing is expected to change.  Hence the entire song on one chord.

There is a bounce of course within the accompaniment, and indeed a vigour in the way Bob sings, because the character in the song is constantly “Cold Irons Bound”, but still nothing is changing, the journey continues on and on and there is no escape.

So we have the implication of movement (it is a bouncy lively beat with the lyrical lines alternating between high (Well the winds in Chicago) and low (have turned me to shreds).  And this movement is unchanging except for the final resigned line of each verse (“T’m 20 miles out of town…”).

Thus we have physical movement and mental decline – he’s given up on his life, but he is moving on and on physically, as he has to.

It is a remarkable concept to carry off within a song, without making it all to obvious, and in the seven plus minutes of the song it is extraordinary that such constancy can hold our attention.  And yet it does.  We are there with the singer making this long and painful journey which is most certainly not going to have a good ending.

A perfect match between the lyrics and the music.

The songs reviewed from the music plus lyrics viewpoint…

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