When I Paint My Masterpiece (1971) part 13:  I spent time with Bob. Got two words.


by Jochen Markhorst

XIII       I spent time with Bob. Got two words.

Every Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead rendition is at least highly enjoyable and usually hypnotic, yet the finest “Greatest Hits version” is made on the other side of the world in Australia: Jeff Lang and Chris Whitley’s 2005 collaborative project Dislocation Blues, a great album that also includes a breathtaking cover of Dylan’s “Changing Of The Guards”. Whitley distinguishes himself often enough with excellent Dylan covers (“Spanish Harlem Incident”, “Fourth Time Around”), if only because of his unique vocals: a husky falsetto and stunning phrasing. Here on “When I Paint My Masterpiece” entwined with the mean, swampy, ZZ Top-like licks of Jeff Lang’s guitar, and above all shining in full glory thanks to the sound, the very sound Dylan is always looking for in the twenty-first century:

“Jimmy Reed is about space. About air being moved around the room. You feel like you can see the light hitting the dust as it swirls under the sway of music.”
(The Philosophy Of Modern Song, 2022)

… the air, the space, “the sound of a guitar in a room where you can hear the air around it,” as Henry Rollins puts it. Like Dylan in, say, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” and especially in “Crossing The Rubicon”, a quality you achieve if you’re not afraid to leave voids between the notes, but with Whitley & Lang even more spacious thanks to the metallic sound of Whitley’s resonator guitar (Chris was an avid collector of antique Dobros, numerous Nationals and eccentric Regals), and by the placement of the drums with an extremely tightly stretched snare – which by the sound of it are allowed to leak into Whitley’s vocal microphone.

Chris Whitley himself did not live to see the success of Dislocation Blues, unfortunately; he died of lung cancer on 20 November 2005, nine months before the album’s release.

Jeff Lang and Chris Whitley – When I Paint My Masterpiece:

A third and final category of cover variants is the “Lyrics version”, as we may call it for convenience: artists following the official publication of the lyrics, as first published in Writings & Drawings, and later in Lyrics and on the site – but never put on tape like this, neither by Dylan nor by The Band.

Notable in that category is Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, who always does sing the Coca-Cola bridge when Garcia is not around. To this day, by the way. Take late January 2024, when Weir contributes to a benefit concert in The Masonic in San Francisco for his now 92-year-old, still spry friend Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and chooses “When I Paint My Masterpiece” for unclear reasons. Wonderful rendition, but at least as much fun is the seven-minute introduction over the opening chords of Masterpiece, with the grey-haired Weir, barefoot, relaxed and funny, recounting the story of his first encounter with Ramblin’ Jack (according to Dylan the “king of folk singers”).

Weir has been playing the song for 50 years now, has performed it perhaps more often than Dylan himself, and – like Dylan – keeps getting better. Opting for a similar set-up as well: upright bass, violin, steel guitar and two guitars. He does however seem to surprise the band with his decision to do the Coca-Cola bridge – breaking the flow, the guitarist and violinist losing it, the steel guitarist hesitating and only the drummer and the bassist pump along unconcernedly. Of course, it cannot spoil the fun, nor take away the admiration for the now 76-year-old Bob Weir, whose voice – bizarrely – seems to age like fine wine.


Still, he must leave the honour for the finest “Lyrics version” to his English colleague Steve Harley. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” is the closing track from 2020’s Uncovered, Harley’s last studio album, recorded five years before his death in 2024. The album is an extraordinary, dignified and unusual swansong: the album contains almost exclusively covers. Charmingly motivated:

“I play guitar for hours most days I’m at home. And I play songs I respect deeply and wish I had written. Some of those songs are included here. Lyrics full of imagery, philosophy and wit abound amongst them.”

Many highlights. A surprising, beautiful rendition of Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” for example, and an equally surprising, heart-breaking interpretation of Hot Chocolate’s “Emma”. But Masterpiece still stands out above them all. Largely acoustic, folky violin, particularly attractive percussion and – again – an irresistible sound;

“I wanted it to sound like I’m in your living room when you play it through your speakers. The voice is up front and everything around me is as if we were playing in your house. No effects. It’s as organic and natural as a recording could possibly be, I’m really proud of that. My engineer Matt Butler is the man who made it sound so fabulous.”

One cheeky artistic liberty Steve permits himself, at the very end: “Someday, everything is gonna be different – when I write my masterpiece.” But Steve is allowed to do so, as he delighted us with one of the most amusing Dylan anecdotes. After Harley has already mentioned a few times in interviews and stage talk that he once met Dylan, he finally tells the whole story in October 2017, from the stage at Nell’s Jazz and Blues in London:

“I’ve had time with Dylan, I met him. He was very very sweet to me. It’s a long story, I won’t bother you with it. He was very sweet to me. He didn’t say anything for ten minutes. I had to say everything. For ten minutes. And my lips dried up. You know, I ran out of energy. And words. You know, when you meet a hero after 45, 50 years, you’ve got all these things, you accumulated thoughts, words, questions, that you’ve got to have to put to this idol of yours, and you meet this person, and you haven’t got a word to say. It just all goes, it just disappears, through a sieve. And that kind of happened to me, but it was quite good with him. But he didn’t talk back. It’s hard work. It’s like hard work. And when it was over, when he wanted to go, he stood up and shook my hand, and he said four words to me. No wait, it was two words. But he repeated. He stood up, and he took my hand to say goodbye, he said: [growling imitation of Dylan’s voice] ‘The weather, the weather.’ [audience laughter]
[Smiling proudly]: I spent time with Bob. Got two words. It’s good enough for me.”

What Dylan meant by “the weather, the weather” will probably always remain a mystery. That it was a cold dark night on the Spanish Stairs, perhaps.


To be continued. Next up When I Paint My Masterpiece part 14: Un appuntamento con la nipote di Botticelli


Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:



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