Bob Dylan sees The Real You At Last.

 

By Larry Fyffe

Detected in his song lyrics is Bob Dylan’s keen interest in American history from the first settlements to the Western Frontier, the Civil War, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the Nuclear Age of modern times. Dylan’s clever use of double-edged words leaves his lyrics open to varying levels of interpretation.

The motion picture ‘Bend Of The River’ strongly impacts some of Dylan’s songs. That western film features James Stewart as Glyn McLyntock, and Arthur Kennedy as Emerson Cole. They are both ‘border raiders’ who flee down the Snake River to escape their past. The Missouri border raiders, including the Jesse James gang, fight the abolutionist ‘Jayhawkers’ who are inspired by John Brown.

Glyn wants to change his life; Emerson, not so much. McLyntock decides to become a farmer, to make a new Eden in the Northwest Territory. He leads a wagon train of settlers along the Oregon Trail to Portland. On the way, he meets up with Emerson Cole who’s more interested in the gold rush, and the fast life of a city. Their love interest Laura (Julie Adams) opts for Emerson – she believes that she can change him. Emerson steals the settlers’ supplies, aiming to sell them to the gold miners; Laura realizes she’s made a big mistake. In a fight, Glyn drowns Emerson.

‘Seeing The Real You At Last’ is a song written and sung by Bob Dylan. It’s in the form of a dramatic monologue. Laura from the western movie becomes Dylan’s persona; s/he imagines talking to Emerson’s corpse.

Dylan constructs the monologue by using a Post Modernist technique. He takes lines from various motion pictures, and pastes them together to reveal flaws in Laura’s character. She’s blind to the fact that there are some men who just can’t be reformed, neither by themselves nor with the help of a good woman. Water is one of the primary elements of proto-science – it’s associated with the personality of the female:

Well, I thought the rain would cool things down
But it looks like it don’t
I’d like to get you to change your mind
But it looks like you won’t

Dylan takes a line from another movie that stars James Stewart; featured is Thelma Ritter:

I thought the rain would cool things down – all it did was make the heat wet
(Rear Window)

Speaker Laura Dylan plants a clue as to what movie is the song’s central reference:

From now on I’ll be busy
Ain’t goin’ nowhere fast
I’m just glad it’s over
And I’m seeing the real you at last

That clue be Julie Adams’ voice – she’s talking to Arthur Kennedy. Laura finally wakes up, and realizes that living on James Stewart’s farm doesn’t sound that boring anymore – compared to living with Emerson Cole:

It gave me a chance to see you – for the first time
(Bend Of The River)

Dylan as Laura continues to talk to Emerson’s body that lies a-moulding in the river. She says for him she turned down a sure thing; took a chance, and lost:

Well, didn’t I risk my neck for you
Didn’t I take chances?
Didn’t I rise above it all for you
The most unfortunate circumstances?

Bob Dylan draws a card from a Humprey Bogart gangster movie that features Edward G. Robinson:

Didn’t I take chances?
(Key Largo)

After suffering an arrow wound, Hell, not Eden, is where Laura chooses to stay – Portland, Oregon, during the days of the gold rush:

Well, I have had some rotten nights
Didn’t think that they would pass
I’m just thankful and grateful
To be seeing the real you at last

An allusion to a detective film that features Mary Astor, and stars Humprey Bogart:

I’ll have some rotten nights, after I’ve sent you over, but that’ll pass
(The Maltese Falcon)

Laura tells Emerson, who loves only gold, that she made a mistake by staying with him:

I’m hungry and I’m irritable
And I’m tired of this bag of tricks
At one time there was nothing wrong with me
That you couldn’t fix

Words borrowed from a Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall movie:

“What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing you can’t fix”
(The Big Sleep)

Laura tells the lifeless body of Emerson Cole that she is as strong as Ulysses, capable of resisting the lure of glittering gold because she knows that Glyn McLyntock is still waiting for her:

Well, I sailed through the storm
Strapped to the mast
But the time has come
And I’m seeing the real you at last

She continues her speech:

When I met you baby
You didn’t show no visible scars
You could ride like Annie Oakley
And could shoot like Belle Starr

She at first sees Emerson as having both a good side and a bad side. Oakley, a horse-riding sharpshooter, is associated with ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. Cody, who once lived in Toronto, Canada, joins the Union Army. Starr, a sharpshooter, is associated with the James gang, its members sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

Dylan refers above to a rodeo movie that stars Clint Eastwood:

I’m looking for a woman who can ride like Annie Oakley, and shoot
like Belle Starr
(Bronco Billy)

Laura comes to see Emerson for what he is – a ‘bushwhacker’ -after he steals the supplies needed by the settlers:

Well, I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble
Trouble always come to pass
But all I care about now
Is that I’m seeing the real you at last

Alluded to is the classic film noir that stars Humphrey Bogart:

I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble
(The Maltese Falcon)

Says Laurie to her now Annabel Lee-like boyfriend:

Well, I’m gonna quit this baby talk
I guess I should have known
I got troubles, I think maybe you got troubles
I think maybe we’d better leave each other alone

With words borrowed from a movie that stars Paul Newman as ‘Fast Eddie’, and features Piper Laurie:

Eddie, look I’ve got troubles, and I think maybe you got troubles. Maybe it’d be better if we just leave each other alone
(The Hustler)

The monologue concludes:

Whatever you gonna do
Please do it fast
I’m still trying to get used to
Seeing the real you at last

With words taken from a movie featuring Marta Toren, and starring Humphrey Bogart:

I’ve got to move fast
(Sirocco)

Laura warns the corpse that it better show some signs of life very soon because she’s tired of waiting for Emerson to change. But he dead.

BOB DYLAN AT THE MOVIES

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan sees The Real You At Last.

  1. kiwipoet says:

    Great post. Until now, I never really understood this song, I mean got behind its sentiment. It sounds falsely triumphant in the delivery, a jeering tone, like another Just like a Rolling Stone without the redeeming existential edge. Now I get the song, and why the narrator should feel so exultant, but that doesn’t make me like it more. Other songs on Empire Burlesque suffer from similiar problems – a producers attempt, maybe, to create a slick 1980s sound that doesn’t quite fit Dylan.

  2. Nancy says:

    I enjoyed your analysis. In my simple view I thought it was about Dylan’s relationship with Britta Shain in the 1980’s that she wrote about in a memoir of the same name as the song. Bettye LaVette does a nice interpretation also, but I like your tack of Bob doing a male/female version. Bettye also does another Empire Burlesque song, “Emotionally Yours” that I believe is the best in-love song Bob has written.

  3. Nancy Cobb says:

    I enjoyed your analysis. In my simple view I thought it was about Dylan’s relationship with Britta Shain in the 1980’s that she wrote about in a memoir of the same name as the song. Bettye LaVette does a nice interpretation also, but I like your tack of Bob doing a male/female version. Bettye also does another Empire Burlesque song, “Emotionally Yours” that I believe is the best in-love song Bob has written.

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