Florida Key: Bob Dylan throws a curved ball in sad lost love

By Tony Attwood

Florida Key takes the lyrics of Bob Dylan and adds the music of Tayylor Goldsmith to give us a ballad.  A beautiful ballad.  A ballad very much worth listening to.  But still a ballad that gives me a problem, because it has a line I don’t get.

Now normally something I don’t get in terms of Dylan is either because I have misunderstood (but this time the lyrics have been released so that is not the problem) or else it is an American expression that has never passed to my part of England and so I don’t understand the phraseology.

Except I have been trawling the internet and I can’t find this phrase anywhere.  So now, dear reader, I have to ask you.

What are big silver goats in the lines that read…

Just standing on the curb watching for boats
While them boys and girls pass by on their big silver goats
I’m getting out while the getting is good
In my ship of steel or in my ship of wood

I have seen one suggestion that it is something to do with surfing.  I even found a website called sufinggoats.com but I’m rather thinking I have been chasing a wild goose rather than finding capra aegagrus hircus of the silver persuasion.

Leaving that aside, and I am sure you will put me right, this is a song that has been described as “natural” and “effortless” in performance and yes that’s right.   For me it is not one that stands out among the New Basement Tapes, in that it is not a song I want to play over and over again like Duncan and Jimmy for example, but it is beautifully realised.

Does it sound like a Dylan song?  Well, no.  But there was no requirement in the brief that the songs should sound like Dylan – indeed as we have seen on some occasions the lyrics themselves have been moved around.  Nothing is precious in this project.

But it actually doesn’t read to me like Dylan lyrics.  I’m not suggesting they are not the words of Bob, but rather that on the day he noted these down, he was perhaps trying  to do something different, trying out a different style or approach.  In which case maybe the goats was just a word to make the whole thing rhyme.

And that is something we have to remember – we have no notion as to whether in other circumstances Bob would have said, “right here’s a song I’m ready to run with” or said “no, that didn’t work, forget it” or “hmmm could be something here, let’s start adding some music and see what lyrics work and which ones have to go.”

It could be any of those, or any variation on any of those.

From what I am told Collins Avenue etc are actual streets at Miami Beach, and the situation in the second verse is a very clear statement of a break up argument situation.  And that is the story – it is a lost love song, and he’s really really lost.  In Miami Beach.

It really is moving, a lovely piece of music, but I wish I hadn’t started thinking about the goats.  If someone would like to put me out of my misery I would be grateful.

Miami woman so fine and fair
I try and try but I can’t get anywhere
I sail out under the sun
Looking for my darling, my only one
I sail all day, and when the day is done
She’s still the one I want to see
I must find that Florida Key

Collins Avenue, Fifth Street and Main
I walk up and down but it’s all in vain
My only darling is gone
Took everything and put it out on the lawn
And Jim came and got it and he gave it to John
It’s getting harder and harder to be me
I must find that Florida Key

Just standing on the curb watching for boats
While them boys and girls pass by on their big silver goats
I’m getting out while the getting is good
In my ship of steel or in my ship of wood
One more time I’m gonna do just like I should
See, this could only happen to me
I must find that Florida Key

Need a little sunshine in my beer
Thinking ’bout eloping
Nothing’s locked, never will be
Everything is open

There’s only one thing that lurks in my mind
It’s nothing here, nothing I’ve left behind
There’s something up front, something I hope to find
I’m gonna set sail again tonight
Round the horn and in the clear moonlight
Or at least I’m sure it’s going to be
Soon as I find my Florida Key

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6 Responses to Florida Key: Bob Dylan throws a curved ball in sad lost love

  1. Aaron G says:

    I’m grasping at straws here but there is a Party Fishing Boat Charter company in the Florida Keys called The Salty Goat and it’s been running for over 50 years. Maybe bob saw one of these boats passing by and saw “boys and girls pass by” on a boat with Goat written on the side??

    Have to agree with you though… not one of my favourite tracks on the album but still pretty decent…

  2. Mike A says:

    When did Dylan write these lyrics? Was he trying for a Jimmy Buffet song?

  3. Morten Jonsson says:

    It’s not an American expression. Not from my part of America, anyway. A few possibilities, which don’t really explain anything:

    Bob’s notebook had a word that looked like “goats” but probably wasn’t, and no one could figure out what it actually was.

    It’s meant to be a description of a motorcycle. A chopper could look a bit like a goat, if you want to see it that way.

    It’s a play on “golden calf.” That seems quite likely, I think, but it still doesn’t make much sense.

  4. Shelley says:

    I’ve no idea either, but this song and “Diamond Ring” are my two favourites on The New Basement Tapes. It’s almost as if a bit of the funny nonsensical side of the Basement period crept into this otherwise sad and serious lyric.

  5. Jochen Markhorst says:

    In Belgian and Dutch folklore, in the 18th century ‘Buckriders’ rode through the sky on the back of flying goats. Goat Riders In The Sky, so to speak. According to the myth, they had performed an oath of heresy, made a pact with Satan and raided farms and communities.
    In line with this: goat riding is believed to be a masonic initiation.

    It seems unlikely that Dylan is referring to any of this, but still.

    According to http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/goat.html “riding the goat” enters American mainstream culture by the early twentieth century:

    American artist Cassius Coolidge (1844-1934) is remembered today for his early twentieth century “Dogs Playing Poker” series of illustrations, one of which was titled “Riding The Goat”. Charles Francis Bourke’s short story Riding the Goat was published in The Cavalier for 15 June 1912 and Frank Gee Patchin’s 1910 novel for boys, The Pony Rider Boys in Montana included the chapter, “Chunky Rides the Goat”

    And Dylan’s enigmatic metaphor in Chronicles jumps to mind: “even spontaneity had become a blind goat.”

    The mystery deepens.

  6. TonyAttwood says:

    We think they were 1967.

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