by Tony Attwood
If Property of Jesus represented in 1980 fair and square Bob Dylan’s view of “life, the universe and everything” to quote Douglas Adams, then “Trust Yourself” represents Dylan’s version of the same thing, five years on.
Five years, and this is not just a transformation of a world view across that time but a total and absolute reversal from a complete handing over of one’s self to the Lord, to a complete vision of and belief in man’s ability to work out his own destiny. This is self-sufficiency in a box.
If you have seen any of my reviews of the songs that were written in the period leading up to “Trust Yourself” you’ll know that my view is that Dylan was experimenting like me, working hard to discover a new form, a new vision and a new approach to music through songs as varied as Brownsville Girl, Something’s Burning Baby, Maybe Someday, Seeing the year you at last, and I’ll remember you.
If we just listen to Dylan’s albums this transformation makes less sense, because these songs didn’t get released in the sequence they were written, but seeing them in chronological order in 1984 and 1985 really does show how the experimentation gradually came to an end and Dylan eventually had a new certainty about what he could do musically and what his lyrics were going to say.
And it was a certainty combined with an absolute setting aside of his Christian message which had so much to do with obedience to the Lord, and giving up all one’s own personal whims, feelings and wishes. “Trust yourself” could hardly be a clearer message.
This is why the song has such a clear and simple musical and lyrical structure, allowing it to be played as a great rock and roll blast with Tom Petty and his pals. Indeed it was the old friends getting back together one more time to announce that the New Way was now dead, long live the next New Way.
As a live performance the song just got 25 outings between its composition in 1985 and October 1987 when it was played for the last time – but that was enough to let everyone know exactly what had happened. Dylan had asked himself, answered himself, and now trusted himself – and from our viewpoint seeking to see the evolution of his genius across the years, he had rediscovered his trust in his music.
To make this journey in a very real sense Dylan had taken himself back to his original love – the blues – starting 1984 with “I once knew a man.” Then he went experimenting hither and yon, before he seems to have thought himself back to 1967 with the lonesome hobo…
Kind ladies and kind gentlemen
Soon I will be gone
But let me just warn you all
Before I do pass on:
Stay free from petty jealousies
Live by no man’s code
And hold your judgement for yourself
Lest you wind up on his road.
Live by no man’s code and hold your judgement for yourself. The antithesis to being a servant of the Lord and telling the world of the message you have discovered.
OK we might argue that Dylan hadn’t lived by another man’s code – but he had most certainly told us we all ought to live by God’s code. But the next line of Lonesome Hobo had indeed been a warning (which Dylan had most certainly set aside when he started telling the world about God from his position on stage) and which he had now returned to.
Hold you judgement for yourself.
Or, to put it another way, trust yourself.
Dylan had explored this theme metaphorically in Drifter’s Escape, with his final thought that when all else fails, chance can come along and help you.
Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while everybody knelt to pray
The drifter did escape
Dylan had then moved from chance to the belief in the Christian message and then by the 1980s had come back to self belief. It had been quite a journey but he had got there.
And by the time of Trust yourself there was no messing with the message.
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself to do what’s right and not be second-guessed
Don’t trust me to show you beauty
When beauty may only turn to rust
If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself
If ever we had a song renouncing his literal Christian belief in the Bible we have it here – don’t trust in the Lord, trust yourself. As the drifter found years before you might need a bit of luck (the old bolt of lightning for example) but you can be sure you’ll get there.
And just in case the message “Trust yourself” is a bit too complicated the middle eight spells it out.
Well, you’re on your own, you always were
In a land of wolves and thieves
Don’t put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes
And this is not just a case of not being misled by the wrong answer, for now we hear there are no answers.
And look not for answers where no answers can be found
There is a bouncy jolly fun live version here – although there are a couple of adverts before we get into it.
As for the music, it is as simple as the message. A long simple melody on the A chord, a quick spot of E and then back to the A. The middle 8 gives us a bit of D, but really that’s it. This is good old fashioned rock and roll. No messing with the music, no messing with the message. Just go out there and trust yourself.
- “I’ll remember you”: how Dylan’s experiments brought him to this song
- Are You Ready?” The Christian side of Positively Fourth Street.
- Let Me Die in My Footsteps: was this Dylan’s first masterpiece?
- “What can I do for you?” Bob Dylan’s journey into pre-ordained certainty
- Cat’s in the well: Dylan’s games with nursery rhymes
- Handy Dandy: Bob Dylan playing at contradictions.
- If you have never heard Dylan sing “Dirty Lie”, try it now. Fun, but maybe not original.
- Exploding the myths about Bob Dylan, awards, prizes and speeches.