by Joost Nillissen
When the deal goes down (Modern Times) is a pretty sombre, but straightforward song, except for the last line of each verse:
I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.
And it is that line that has so many people scrambling for their copy of the Old and New Testament. What deal? In this context I should mention something that Tony Attwood referred to in his commentary on this song. In the famous CBS 60 Minutes interview, which is on YouTube, although you might have to subscribe to CBS’ service to see it.
Dylan is asked why he is still touring so much.
Dylan: ‘it’s a destiny thing, I made a bargain with it, a long time ago. I’m holding up my end.
The interviewer: ‘With whom?’
Dylan: (half smiling, evasively, maybe a little embarrassed): ‘the chief commander.’
The interviewer: ‘In this world?’
Dylan: ‘In this world and the world we cannot see.’
So who is the ‘you’? His wife, lover, friend, child? The chief commander? God? Jesus?
Most of the lines in this song are thoughts we ourselves could have thought at one time or another, especially if you have passed middle age and, scarred and all, you realize it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
There is nothing new here, it is just incredibly well put and sung. He is weary, but wise.
The singer, still weary, still wise, is trying to define a deeper meaning to all this aggravation. For now all he can do is keep on keeping on, because… that’s the deal.
The singer needs a vision in the sky, a sign from above, to remind him of the deal.
It’s the deal we’re practically born with, you have to keep on keeping on, no matter how hard it might get sometimes, because if you don’t, you’re dead. Some people may sometimes think they’re better off dead and some people may feel the need to reaffirm the deal, solemnly, even religiously or poetically in order to survive. No matter with whom you make the deal – God, Jesus, the commander in chief – you are really only making a deal with yourself.
Those that can’t abide by the deal can go hang themselves, like merry little elves.
And that brings us to Huck’s Tune. (The bootleg series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs)
While in When the deal goes down Dylan is hanging on to this deal by his fingernails, in Huck’s Tune he is tired of his faith. I have to put you down for a while. It’s the same ‘you’ that he promised to be with when the deal goes down. The deal has become a (temporary) burden.
He is wandering through a cold world, where life is a version of death, alone, dreaming of his future wife. He is master of his own fate, but only as second in command. The Commander in Chief – a woman, no doubt, his Muse maybe – commands all, but at this particular moment it’s a heavy load.
Everything is fine, really, her kisses cause honey to drip, children hand out roses, even though they might poke through his clothes. They meet everyday and everyday there is a ball they can go to.
Life is full of surprises. Would could possibly be wrong?
Well… the problem is, he tried her twice and she’s not nice. That’s what’s wrong. It’s too hard, he’s gonna have to put her down for a while. He wants to get away from it all, lay in the sand, get himself a sunshine tan, and then he’ll be moving along, riding in style, while she tries to knock him dead.
He’s counting the years now, not shedding any tears. She has blinded him with what he could have been, but now he’d rather rejoice in Nature’s voice and listen to the wild song of the wind.
He remembers they sometimes had hopeless love in the room above and when he tells her she was fine as wine he’ wasn’t handing her some line. It was true.
But not anymore, not now. All her merry little elves can go hang themselves, his faith is as cold as can be. He did all he could, there’s proof he can show her, ‘if you don’t believe me, come see.’
And yes, he agrees with her, maybe he’s blue, maybe it’s a temporary thing, maybe he’ll get over it, but, let’s be candid with each other now, the game’s gotten old, the stack is gone cold. I’m gonna have to put you down for a while.
The deal is a great burden, poetically speaking.
What is on the site
1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home 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. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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.