Time to end this Masquerade: Dylan prepares to open the door on a new era

By Tony Attwood

The collaboration with Gerry Goffin in 1995 which resulted in two songs (at least one of which uses a track recorded in 1985 – see below), is, to my mind incredibly important in tracking the history of Bob Dylan’s writing.

1990 produced the last of the Traveling Wilbury recordings, in a series of sessions that included “Where were you last night” – an absolutely terrific song which I feel certain was primarily a Dylan composition.

And then Dylan stopped writing.  Although of course I might have got this wrong, as far as I can tell Dylan wrote nothing between the Wilbury collaborations and the four pieces I have down as being produced in 1995:

  • Well, well, well
  • Howlin at your window
  • Tragedy of the trade
  • Time to end this Masquerade

the last two of which were written with Gerry Goffin.

That must be the longest period in Dylan’s writing career with no original compositions, and if that were all there was to say, it would be a rather bleak story.

But by 1996 he was composing

Now if that wasn’t a kick start of a lapsed song writing career, what was it?      A great collaborative album, four years of nothing, four little experiments looking back to old times, a reworking of an old blues and then kerpow….  An extraordinary re-birth.

So to Masquerade, and to Gerry Goffin.  Where to start?  Come to that where to end?

Gerry Goffin certainly deserves, and probably has, a web site akin to this which works through all his songs and contemplates what he was up to, where he was going and above all his magnificent, incredible contribution to popular music.

I grew up with a lot of these songs – here is just a tiny, tiny, tiny fragment of his genius from the early days…

  • Will you love me tomorrow?
  • Take good care of my baby
  • Some kind of wonderful
  • Half way to paradise
  • When my little girl is smiling
  • Chains
  • It might as well rain until September

And I have cut out from that tiny fragment of his life the songs of his I don’t particularly care for like from that era, like “Locomotion” and “Hey Girl” – and guess what, because I am not writing a web site of Goffin reviews, for once I don’t have to explain why I don’t like them!

Gerry Goffin wrote, of course, with Carole King – she wrote the music he wrote the lyrics.  And it was a perfect combination – well at least for a while (they were married in 1959 and divorced in 1969).  Hell, they even wrote “Going Back” which I know caused a split in the Byrds, but still remains one of my all time favourites as a youngster.

Anyway, later in life, several more divorces down the road, Gerry Goffin issued a couple of albums of his own of which the second was Back Room Blood, which apparently he said was inspired by his anger at conservative gains in the congressional elections of 1994.

The album was mostly co-written with Barry Goldberg, but included two songs co-written with Bob, the other being “Tragedy of the Trade”.

But some of the music dates back to 1985 according to Heylin and who are we to argue?  He might not know his 3/4 from his 4/4 time, but on this sort of thing he usually gets it right.    However Masquerade was copyrighted in 1995 – so assuming Heylin is right, we can see the level of inability of Dylan at this moment to come up with anything new, just a year before he could write Mississippi.

I don’t particularly recommend anyone listening to this particular song, because I think the rendition on the album murders what is actually an interesting piece of writing complete with multiple meanings.  But for completeness, and if you really want it, here it is

I am not sure exactly where the dividing line is between the two men in terms of the writing of lyrics and music in this piece but take the line

I’m at a loss to entertain you, see the cells are paralyzed inside my brain
I bid adieu, to all of you
I think it’s time to end this masquerade.

And I wonder if that were not necessarily Goffin talking to the American people about its politics, but rather Dylan talking to his fans at this moment in his life.

Maybe the final verse is a reflection of where both of these great songwriters who had worked through such different traditions, had each got to…

I forgot to milk the cow, but I don’t wanna do it now
Like to sleep for a hundred years, till’ this old world just disappears

It really does sound like two old timers giving up, and reading these strange lines it is hard to reconcile it all with the younger Goffin, of whom Carole King said, upon hearing of this passing, “His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say… Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come.”  Indeed, indeed.

In many regards Masquerade would hardly be worth a mention, and if there were no more Dylan creations afterwards then it would be a barely mention postscript.   But the fact that it was the preliminary awakening which led to Mississippi is one of the most extraordinary compositional re-births in the history of music.

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  1. Well that was interesting! Had no idea that Dylan ever collaborated with Goffin. Goffin was part of the Tin Pan Alley establishment that Dylan once boasted he single handedly eliminated back in the ’60’s. Strange bedfellows indeed. IMO, the lyrics contain a heavy dose of Bob. I learn something new about the guy on a daily basis–thanks for sharing.

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