Bob Dylan “Going back to Rome”, again, and again, and again

By Tony Attwood

Oh how Bob Dylan loves Italy.  From his reworking of “House Carpenter” (a traditional English balled known this side of the pond as “The Daemon Lover”)…

Forsake, forsake your house carpenter
And come away with me
I’ll take you where the green grass grows
On the shores of sunny Italy

all the way on to the blues and in to Down the Highway

Yes, the ocean took my baby
My baby took my heart from me
She packed it all up in a suitcase
Lord, she took it away to Italy, Italy

And of course there is that mention in Idiot Wind

They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me
I can’t help it if I’m lucky

So we have the image of Italy; the sunshine, the place of escape, the art, even if

the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere

But still those ancient footprints tell us a thing or two about the world, as in Tangled Up

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century

Indeed as the writer of Haiku 61 put it

You can have New York.
I’ll take the Coliseum
As I’ll be in Rome.

This song was played at The Basement of Gerde’s Folk City in New York on 8 February 1963, and that was it, and yet somehow a recording of the event survived.  However although we had it listed here for a while, it has now vanished into the wilderness, and I can’t find another.

But I can tell you it’s a straightforward 12 bar blues with an unbelievably variable changeable chord sequence, at time, which at a couple of points takes on the exact form of “She Belongs to Me”.  Here are the lyrics…

Well you know I’m lying 
But don’t look at me with scorn.
Well you know I’m lying 
But don’t look at me with scorn.
I’m going back to Rome
That’s where I was born.

Buy me a ?? I can carry
Keep it for my friends.
Buy me a ?? I can carry
Keep it for my friends.
Don’t go to Italy
All around the bend.

You can keep Madison Square Garden
Give me the Coliseum.
You can keep Madison Square Garden
Give me the Coliseum.
So I want to see the gladiators,
Man I can always see ’em.

And that was all we had until in 1971 “When I paint my masterpiece” came along when a little trace of this song returned…

Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb

And I suppose it was a long hard climb from larking about in 1963 to being a full-on world famous superstar up on the stage  (the 20th century Coliseum) facing the critics (I could hardly stand to see em).

Yes it sure was a long hard climb, but as always Bob, thank you for taking the time to do it, and to record what happened.  Every step of the way.

What else is on the site

1: Over 460 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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



  1. As we know in recent years, Dylan has been mostly sticking to a constant set-list on stage. I’d think this habit started about five years ago. Even so, check out his autumn tour of 2013, and you’ll find a startling break of tunes performed in Atlantico, Rome !! ( November 6 and 7 ). Wonder if anyone has a complete video recording. Anyway, I’m going back to Rome again, come April.

  2. Missing words/correction for Going back to Rome

    Buy me a cot and carry
    Keep it for my friend.

  3. The 63 Banjo Tape is still on U-Tube on this side of the pond …. and a couple of the ?words? as sung are still difficult to discern

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