“Time Out Of Mind”: Bob Dylan Paints His Masterpiece

“Time Out Of Mind”:
Bob Dylan Paints His Masterpiece

By Larry Fyffe

Some music critics claim that the title ‘Time Out Of Mind’ is given to Bob Dylan by a play-writing ghost he encountered in a Mobile, Alabama, alleyway:

“Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coach-makers
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they
dream of love”
(William Shakespeare: Romeo And Juliet, Act 1, sc.4)

But the ghost of poet George Dillon, who’s always hanging around Greenwich Village with a feminist ghostess, has a different story – It’s he who hands Bob the following leaflet:

“So I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind”
(Edna St. Vincent  Millay: Dirge Without Music)

Bob Dylan’s lyrics and music within  ‘Time Out Of Mind’ support the contention of the latter above-mentioned ghost.

Neither in Millay’s poem nor Dylan’s song lyrics does the bard’s Queen Mab scatter fairie dust to transport  Millay and Dylan upward into a future dream world.

Instead, Edna writes of “loving hearts in the hard ground”, and Bob Dylan of  “my heart’s in the highlands” where the rest of his body doesn’t get to go:

“Well my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day
Over the hills and far away
There’s a way to get there, and I’ll figure it out somehow
Well I’m already there in my mind, and that ‘s good enough for now”
(Bob Dylan: Highlands)

Only at “Untold” will Bob Dylan’s true inspirational source get to be known  because musicologists, even at ‘Rolling Stone’, aren’t that well-grounded in the history of literature.

The smudged finger-prints of a howling ghostess are all over the ‘Time Out Of Mine’ recording disc.

Dylan is not resigned, as Edna St. Vincent Mallay is not resigned, to the shutting out of the past. In ‘Time Out Of Mind’, Dylan mentions many songs he loves from times that are more or less  out of mind; he’s not letting them rest, and forgotten, buried deep in the vaults of the music industry.

Tossing in pieces of this and that song,
Bob Dylan cooks up a delicious witches’ brew: ‘Time Out Of Mind”:

“I can’t wait
Wait for you to change your mind
It’s late
I’m tryin’ to walk the line”
(Bob Dylan: Can’t Wait)

A dash of Cash he’s thrown in:

“Yes, I’ll admit I’m a fool for you
Because you’e mine, I walk the line”
(Johnny Cash: I Walk The Line)

With a fillet of Dylan:

“I wish I knew what it was that keeps me loving you so
I’m breathin’ hard standin’ at the gate
Oh, but I don’t know how much longer I can wait”
(Dylan: Can’t Wait)

A reference to:

“My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I put them by your gate
Or sad-eyed lady, should I wait?”
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

The chef mixes in more ingredients:

“I’m doomed  to love you
I been rollin’ through stormy weather
I’m thinkin’ of you”
(Dylan: Can’t Wait)

Into the broth, he pinches just a hint of Hoilday:

“Life is bare, gloomy, and misery everywhere
Stormy weather
And I just can’t get my poor self together”
(Billie Holiday: Stormy Weather)

Dylan pours in a few drops  of burgandy before he hits the harder stuff:

“I eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry
And live my life on the square”
(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

It has the whiff of Canadian Carter, and the bitter of American Ritter:

“I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry
If hard times don’t kill me
I’ll lay down and die”
(Wilf Carter/Tex Ritter: Rye Whiskey)

So the cook tosses in some blue grass:

“Pacing round the room, hoping maybe she’d come back
Well, I been praying for salvation
Laying round in a one-room shack”
(Bob Dylan: Dirt Road Blues)

And the fingers of Flatt:

“Lay around the shack
Till the mail train comes back
And roll in my sweet baby’s arms”
(Lester Flatt: Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms)

Bob laughs and heaves in a couple of locomotives:

“Some trains don’t pull no gamblers
No midlife ramblers like they did before”
(Bob Dylan: Trying To Get To Heaven)

But he gets tears in his eyes, when he throws Guthrie’s guts into the pot:

“This train don’t carry no gamblers
Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers
This train is bound for glory, this train”
(Woody Guthrie: This Train Is Bound For Glory)

And chucks in broken  pieces of a wooden door:

“I’ve been walking that lonesome valley
Trying to get to Heaven before they close the door”
(Bob Dylan: Trying To Get To Heaven)

A reference to:

“It’s gettin’ dark , too dark to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on Heaven’s door”
(Bob Dylan: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door)

And to:

“You gotta walk that lonesome valley
You gotta walk it by yourself
Nobody here can walk it for you
You gotta walk it by yourself”
(Woody Guthrie: Lonesome Valley)

Takes a taste of the smoldering soup:

“God, I’m waist deep, waist deep in the mist
It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist”
(Cold Irons Bound)

Sprinkling into the hell-broth some scales of Seeger:

“Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says push on”
(Pete Seeger: Waist Deep In The Big Muddy)

Basement cook Dylan gives a final stir to the medicinal broth, and those bits and pieces of folk and blues songs all mix together into a single potent, word-painted musical masterpiece that goes down as smooth as a jug of moonshine whiskey.


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  1. The reviews of Richard Thomas’ recent book on why Dylan matters, though he’s relatively a latecomer, indicates that he gives support to my views on Dylan’s song writing, especially as to the importance of “Time Out Of Mind’.

  2. Likewise, Christopher Ricks ‘Visions Of Sin’ in regard to the ‘Romantic’ poets, though he’s no latecomer for sure.

  3. History and literature are not American schools strong suits it seems:

    “(H)ow did robert burns escape Hitler
    is what I want to know”, say the smarter ones
    (Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

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