By Tony Attwood
Much has been made of the extract from what would be, in a full performance, a 7 minutes 30 seconds epic. But there seems little certainty as to what was exactly going on here.
Take for example the notion that “Younger Comes Sin” is related to Ma Rainey’s “Yonder Comes the Blues”. I don’t really see that the “blues” in her song is “sin”. To me it seems like sadness and desperation. And certainly aside from the title there is little to relate the two songs.
I worry all day, I worry all night
Every time my man comes home, he wants to fuss and fight
When I pick up the paper to read about the news,
just as I’m satisfied, yonder comes the blues
and so on.
Dylan however goes somewhere quite different.
Eyolf Østrem (for whom I have to thank, for the lyrics) called this “the born-again equivalent of “You might think he loves you for your money, but I know what he really loves you for: It’s your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat” . . .
And as every commentary on this song says, the only recording of the song ends after verse four. The rest of the verses exist only in copyright documents. But again as Eyolf Østrem helpfully points out, the copyrighted version also has different punchlines in each of the verses (“can’t you take it on the chin”, “Pour me another glass of gin”, “Ain’t no room tonight at the inn”, “Sounding like a sweet violin”).
Here’s the opening
There is no denying this is a terrific piece of music with the unexpected intercedings of the female singers. But there is one delicious kick in the end of the verse with the way that Dylan takes down the vocalisation of “Yonder comes sin”. The temptation for any lesser artist would be to belt that last line out, but the reduction of the level of intensity, as if to say, “it’s always there, there’s no mistake” is a masterpiece. It’s almost too tiresome for words. We try and we try but sin always comes back.
So why did Dylan abandon the song? To answer this we have to look (as we so often have to do) at what he was writing around this time.
As far as I can read the era the songs before Yonder came out in this order
Property of Jesus is a song of religious certainty which as I said in the review “appears to have been worked and re-worked, but then having been recorded was not used on the tours, so maybe Dylan never really felt it was finished. Or maybe he had worked it out of his system.”
And then suddenly Dylan delivbered the mystical, beautiful “Every Grain” Now Dylan has said in a couple of interviews that the songs of these period tended to come out fully rounded and ready to record, and indeed he specifically mentioned “Every grain” in this regard. If so, it was a magical day indeed.
However the imagery of “Every grain” is obscure, and the master’s hand could as much be a Taoist philosophical concept as anything Christian.
Then again, in a matter of a quarter of an hour or so along comes Caribbean Wind which seemingly has no overtly Christian intent, and is one of Dylan’s most puzzling abandonments – at least to me. I love that song, but Dylan felt it wasn’t finished and couldn’t be finished.
Next we get
Prayed in the ghetto with my face in the cement,
Heard the last moan of a boxer, seen the massacre of the innocent
Felt around for the light switch, became nauseated.
She was walking down the hallway while the walls deteriorated.
Certainly the Groom was in the land of bad dreams.
Perhaps to confuse us more than we might otherwise be confused Dylan also said “The purpose of music is to elevate and inspire the spirit. To those who care where Bob Dylan is at, they should listen to Shot of Love. It’s my most perfect song. It defines where I am spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else. It shows where my sympathies lie. It’s all there in that one song.”
So where does that leave these other songs? Seemingly in a land where we can hear them and enjoy them, and to a certain degree marvel over the inventiveness and dexterity of the writing, and yet know that Dylan didn’t fully rate them. Caribbean Wind got one outing, “the Alter” got five before being abandoned, and Yonder didn’t even get a single complete recording, and Bob refused to allow it onto the original bootleg album. Only “Every Grain” really made it, at least as far as Bob is concerned.
Yet for me these songs (except “Shot of Love”) are masterpieces. Am I saying that I know more than Bob? No of course not, it is just that I can’t find any way into his analysis of his work at this point.
What we clearly do have here is the world gone wrong, and a world where the righteous man can’t do anything about it The Devil is everywhere so you can’t just say “look there he is”. Our world is infested. Temptation is always there…
In a real sense the message of such an energised and exciting piece of music is actually rather simple. The Devil “wants to kill you, it wants to own you” and that’s about it.
What really comes out of this song is that despite its gloom-laden message it really is such amazing fun, so buoyant, so exciting, so powerful, so enjoyable. And for once it is not some unusual chord structure that gives the song its power but rather some very clever and unexpected musical writing.
It just is a great buzz. I wish I could work out why Dylan didn’t like it.
The Discussion Group
We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/
The Chronology Files
There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.
- Dylan songs of the 1960s
- Dylan songs of the 1970s
- Dylan songs of the 1980s
- Dylan songs of the 1990s
- Dylan songs of the 21st century
All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there.