Bye and bye: Dylan quotes Shakespeare, finds Billie Holliday and has a new chord to play with.

by Tony Attwood

It seems to me there are two explanations here.  Either I don’t quite see the point of Bye and Bye beyond it being a chance to quote some Shakespeare, sing a bit of a Billie Holliday song, and play diminished chords, or there is no point.  I’m not sure which.

But this it Bob, so I am it is just me being a bit stupid.   Anyway, let’s take the points in order.  First off, the Shakespeare comes from As You Like It,

Bob sings

Well, I’m scufflin’ and I’m shufflin’ and I’m walkin’ on briars
I’m not even acquainted with my own desires

and some 400 years before that Shakespeare in As You Like It had Rosalind say

No, some of it is for my child’s father. O, how
full of briers is this working-day world!

and elsewhere in the same scene

I do beseech your grace,
Let me the knowledge of my fault bear with me:
If with myself I hold intelligence
Or have acquaintance with mine own desires,
If that I do not dream or be not frantic,–
As I do trust I am not–then, dear uncle,
Never so much as in a thought unborn
Did I offend your highness.

The scene is the one in which the Duke reveals he is jealous of how people look at Rosalind so is going to send her into exile – the sort of crazy thing that seemed to happen in these stories.   But Bob’s song doesn’t really have anything much to do with Shakespeare or those images, so I am not quite sure if there was any point here.

As for the diminished chord this is a particular type of four note chord found in swing, but not normally used in pop, and never used in blues.  And I think rarely if ever used in Dylan – but I’d have to go through every song to say exactly where he might have used it before.

Finally, the original song on which Bob seems to have based the whole idea, here it is

What Dylan does however is remove much of the melody to no really good effect so we do have long sections where the tune seems to vanish totally to give us singing on one note.

Besides this Bob is being fairly dark compared with both the Shakespeare and the Holliday.   One review suggested that it has “the sentiments of a scary stalker”.

That might be a bit harsh as an understanding of lines like

“The future for me is already past / You were my first love, you will be my last.”

but then it could also just be a melancholic reflection on his feelings.

But on the other hand … I hear a love song in the first two verses

Bye and bye, I’m breathin’ a lover’s sigh
I’m sittin’ on my watch so I can be on time
I’m singin’ love’s praises with sugar-coated rhyme
Bye and bye, on you I’m casting my eye

I’m paintin’ the town—swinging my partner around
I know who I can depend on, I know who to trust
I’m watchin’ the roads, I’m studying the dust
I’m paintin’ the town making my last go-round

However  then we get the Shakespearean couplet

Well, I’m scufflin’ and I’m shufflin’ and I’m walkin’ on briars
I’m not even acquainted with my own desires

Then an intermediate section which seems to suggest that he knows he is fooling himself

I’m rollin’ slow—I’m doing all I know
I’m tellin’ myself I found true happiness
That I’ve still got a dream that hasn’t been repossessed
I’m rollin’ slow, goin’ where the wild roses grow

Well the future for me is already a thing of the past
You were my first love and you will be my last

After which it all goes a little crazy…

Papa gone mad, mamma, she’s feeling sad
I’m gonna baptize you in fire so you can sin no more
I’m gonna establish my rule through civil war
Gonna make you see just how loyal and true a man can be

And I have to admit I don’t really get this at all unless this is an attempt to put the whole of As You Like It, into a song.  Quite an amazing idea if it is.   Would someone like to explain this to me because your reviewer has finally found himself beaten.

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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10 Responses to Bye and bye: Dylan quotes Shakespeare, finds Billie Holliday and has a new chord to play with.

  1. Babette says:

    I know, that you know, that I know exactly what point of view you are making. 🙂
    but OK I will give you a childish explanation:
    The best artistic expression for those dreams of living a free life is the paintings of Gaugain or Rosseau. (fauvism) Here on this page you are also very fond of poets as Rimbaud and Verlaine ( symbolism). They liberated themselves from their families, the religion and other authorities.
    But oh oh oh suddenly it was not so very funny anymore for the liberated man, because in the meantime the women liberation fight had succeded. The woman asked for the same freedom, before man could even think of it.

    Lets go back to the good old times man concluded. – but it was too late.

    “Papa gone mad, mamma, she’s feeling sad
    I’m gonna baptize you in fire so you can sin no more
    I’m gonna establish my rule through civil war
    Gonna make you see just how loyal and true a man can be”

    Maybe the laws of Moses was not so stupid. Who knows. You have the freedom to decide.

  2. Babette says:

    No matter what you call it – you can never get rid of the snake in paradise – the fall of man – or in modern language: the temptation.

    All is well descibed/expressed in the poets/music of Bob Dylans journey.
    It is great – great art.
    Thats is why he got the Nobel price.

  3. Babette says:

    sorry: not poets – – – poems/music
    I promise in my next life I will learn language.

  4. Babette says:

    Now you think I am very religious. I am not. I am an ateist.

    But the very strange thing is: I feel that God believes in me, but I am not so very sure, that I can believe in him.

  5. TonyAttwood says:

    Babette, thanks for the commentary. I particularly like the last one above.

  6. Babette says:

    I feel you are a good guy Tony Attwood, so I am sure God believes in you too. Can´t you feel it.?

  7. Hello there Tony, Thank you for posting this analysis of a song from Bob Dylan’s Music Box Come and join us inside and listen to every song composed, recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, plus all the great covers streaming on YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and SoundCloud plus so much more… including this link.

  8. Henry Lee says:

    I see Bye & Bye as the narrator trying to convince himself to settle down and lead a quite type family life with a new love interest although it goes against his natural self. .. He’s saying bye to his future and his past self to make his new love happy.
    The music which comes from Holiday’s Having Myself A Time represents a certain madness stemming from tricking one’s self while in a state of bliss.
    … He believes in the moment that what he’s doing is the key to sustainable happiness. .. Makes me think of the state of mind Mr. Dylan was in during his time in Woodstock NY.
    Is what I see in it anyways.

  9. Larry fyffe says:

    Oh I hate see that evening sun go down
    For I know I’m on my last go round
    (Shirky and Harper: Steamboat Man)

  10. Larry fyffe says:

    The allusion is to “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” and it’s expanded to include the likes of the ‘Mamas And Papas’; Rosalind falls in love at first sight in ‘As You Like It’: remains steadfast in her love.

    Usurpers beware of the music-loving god (Dylan Apollo’s) anger…he’s the son of the God of Thunder- he’ll baptize you in fire!

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