Lost on the River: the different meanings that emerge from one Bob Dylan song

By Tony Attwood

“Lost on the River” is both the subtitle of The New Basement Tapes series, it is also one of the songs that exists in two forms – each utterly different from the other.  Number 12 is Elvis Costello’s version, Number 20 is by Rhiannon Giddens and Marcus Mumford, and although both work to the same set of lyrics they are two utterly different songs.

Here are the lyrics

The tears of a woman are hidden within
As she moves from one to the next, her spirit grows thin
And when she falls in love with one, it’s hard but it’s true
But it’s oh so much harder when that man is you

I got lost on the river, but I got found
I got lost on the river, but I didn’t drown

One stormy day I was out at sea
The waves they rolled and tumbled over me
I spied dry land and a tall pale tree
I knew that soon that’s where I’d like to be

My sweetheart left me for another one
And now I wait for the next rising sunI got lost on the river, but I got found
I got lost on the river, but I didn’t drown
I got lost on the river, but I didn’t go down
I got lost on the river, but I got found

What I found after listening to that track a couple of times was that although I was initially taken by surprise over the way the melody worked (I expected the second musical line to be a repeat of the first – how right they were not to give that) by the time the song finished it felt utterly natural.

Also I find the phrase “I got lost on the river” really poignant and meaningful – the symbolism rings true, and that is one of the things Dylan has always done so well; finding the phrase that has the whole variety of meanings that can take you anywhere.

 

This is a live version, with a long introductory section – it lasts one minute 40 seconds if you want to bypass it.  The instrumentation is particularly interesting because of the use of an electric cello – something I’ve not come across before.  I am not too sure about the effect – it seems to me to distract from the beauty of the song, but it certainly has an impact.

 

When I first came to Elvis Costello’s version (called #12) I surprised having heard the Giddens and  Mumford version, but I then found myself playing the Costello version far more than Giddens version.

But they have both evened out – and I’ve ended up very happy indeed that we have both versions to contemplate.  One day one, another day the other.  Somehow Costello seems to give a message of hope which isn’t in the Giddens version at all – at least as I hear it.  Same lyrics of course, different message.

The acoustics on the Costello live version are not so good but it’s still worth hearing.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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.

 

 

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3 Responses to Lost on the River: the different meanings that emerge from one Bob Dylan song

  1. Aaron G says:

    The Costello version changes the first verse to

    “The tears of one man are hidden within…” and then changed to be from the point of view of the singer..

    I don’t think he uses the “ one stormy verse “ at all…

    Here are the lyrics he uses

    The tears of a lonely man are hidden within
    As he moves from one woman to the next, his spirit grows thin
    When he falls in love with one, it’s hard but it’s true
    But it’s oh so much harder when that woman is you

    The leaves on the trees shake when the storm clouds appear
    Just as I shake up inside when I follow you here
    At your invitation to come to you, dear

    I got lost on the river, but I got found
    I got lost on the river, but I didn’t drown
    I got lost on the river, but I didn’t go down
    I got lost on the river, but I got found

    I looked at the graze of blue where the light begins
    Through the glass where the rays shot through caressing your skin
    Like your invitation to follow you in

    I got lost on the river, but I got found
    I got lost on the river, but I didn’t drown
    I got lost on the river, but I didn’t go down
    I got lost on the river, but I got found

  2. Aaron G says:

    He actually has two completely different verses to #20…wonder how many Dylan wrote for this…would love to see the handwritten notes for this one to see how they both pasted their versions together…

    I love the line in Costello’s version

    “I looked at the graze of blue where the light begins…”

    might be my favourite line in the whole album…although there is a line in Stanger that’s amazing too..

    genius at work there…

  3. Aaron G says:

    Here is the studio version of Elvis’ #12 version

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fDwx_tFfSGw

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