Is your love in vain?

Do you love me, or are you just extending goodwill?

What a stunning opening – perhaps one of the most extraordinary openings of all of Dylan’s songs – and as we quickly see this is actually a song about Dylan, about the man himself, and thus is quite unusual.

It is also a song with a very singable melody, and it deserves the excellent production it gets on Street Legal – and it deserves to open side two of the original LP.

The critics hated it of course, saying how poor the production was, how trite it all was, and how sexist this song was.  Which raises all sorts of questions, such as “does the songwriter have to produce visions that are always right-on?”   If so why?  Such a politically correct vision never existed in the past, why should it now?  Is Dylan less of an artist if he has sexist views (although to be clear I don’t think there is sexism here)?  I can’t see that.  Yes there are limits, but profound art remains profound art no matter what the political or social base.

Musically Dylan is very much on home ground here with his descending bass lines that almost all of his great songs have.  And here the descent of the bass gets a fulsome outing.

It is in line one, line two, line three, line four, line five… yes five of the six lines of the song.  The only problem is that the bassist must get rather bored.

Dylan is doubting the lady not because of herself, but because of himself, his crazy life, what he is, what he has become through endless touring.  He’s difficult, and he’s not going to change just because a woman wants him.

Are you so fast that you cannot see that I must have solitude?
When I am in the darkness, why do you intrude?
Do you know my world, do you know my kind
Or must I explain?
Will you let me be myself
Or is your love in vain?

He’s done it all, he doesn’t need to be shown all the tricks…

Well I’ve been to the mountain and I’ve been in the wind
I’ve been in and out of happiness
I have dined with kings, I’ve been offered wings
And I’ve never been too impressed

So when he says, “All right, I’ll take a chance, I will fall in love with you” he is doing so as a world weary man who has had it all.  And so it is back to basics – real basics.

Can you cook and sew, make flowers grow
Do you understand my pain?
Are you willing to risk it all
Or is your love in vain?

There is no need for criticism here, this is a beautiful melody, an inventive chord structure, a rehearsed band – even the organist gets his lines right – and overall it just sounds good.   It may not be the message that some critics wanted to here, but why shouldn’t Dylan reflect on his own condition, as much as mythical Egyptian creatures like Isis?

Here’s an interesting extra point.  Robert Johnson (him of Highway 61 crossroads fame) wrote a song called “Love in Vain”.   Just thought you’d like to know (in case you didn’t already).

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3 Responses to Is your love in vain?

  1. Ronnie Somerville says:

    Agree, wonderful song.

    Dylan was panned for his attitudes to women in this song and the years have shown that he was a thoroughgoing bastard. Maybe he was just being brutally honest and fans and critics did not want to hear that their hero had feet of clay.

    However, I think there is another interpretation here. At this time he was romantically involved with a backing singer who was a Christian evangelical. He would have been exposed to proselytising.

    What if he was referring not just to a woman but to the God she was espousing?

    “Are you so fast that you cannot see that I must have solitude?
    When I am in the darkness, why do you intrude?
    Do you know my world, do you know my kind
    Or must I explain?
    Will you let me be myself
    Or is your love in vain?”

    It wasn’t long after this that he converted to Christianity. Maybe this song was him flirting with the idea.

  2. terry says:

    I agree…….. I’ve always imagined this song being parts of a bargaining conversation between me and my higher power…. 🙂

  3. fjodor says:

    Great song – agree to the comments!

    The speaker could be the voice from within, the jewel in the lotus flower of the buddhists, the divine spark, the rose of the heart of the rosicrucians. She asks the person who carries her around in this physical world: Are you the one who helps me return to my true home?

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