Santa Cruz: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello unusual song not on the NBT series.

By Tony Attwood

Aaron Galbraith tipped me off about this song, and has with enormous dedication given us the opportunity to read the lyrics

This is one of the New Basement Tapes songs with of course lyrics by Bob Dylan and music by Elvis Costello.  But it is not on the NBT album.  Elvis Costello has performed it three times, according to his website, listing Munich and Gateshead (England) as two of the venues.

The reason for the fact that it didn’t make the album is, I think, quite easy to hear – this is an incredibly idiosyncratic musical arrangement song by Costello – which is very much in keeping with the lyrics left by Dylan.   And this is why the work of Aaron is so helpful because it is very hard to pick up the lyrics from the recordings – and no one else seems to have tried as yet.

In each recording that there is of the song, Costello changes the lyrics slightly but more to the point between different versions of the song he changes the melody a lot.  I’ve chosen one version below which makes the most sense to my ear, but you might prefer to go hunting for the others.

And the lyrics…

SANTA CRUZ

was spending my pay in Monterey
And I left my beast back east
The weather really wasn’t on my mind
But it was hot to say the least
Upon every rattled street I stamped
feeling so sharp and snide
who but a young man driving by
said “Hello” to me and asked if I wanted a ride.

“Oh, where would you be going to
my dear loveless one?”
And with whom will you be gone
“I was just driving up to Santa Cruz,” she said
And then commenced to yawn
“Shut your mouth,” a gentleman across the street did squeal
just as she turned back to look at him
swerved right in behind the wheel

Oh, Santa Cruz please don’t make me choose
I’ve painted in reds and whites and blues
I’ve got smokeless powder and a splintered board
all the way, all the way, all the way 
down that crooked road to Santa Cruz

Now I’m not one to brag upon
but when I did hit the gas
I tore right out of there so quick
her [????] blast
everything was in front of me that day
but there was nothing that I didn’t pass
oh but when we pulled into Santa Cruz
she said “Oh boy, you sure got class.”

Oh, Santa Cruz please don’t make me choose
I’ve painted in reds and whites and blues
I’ve got smokeless powder and a splintered board
all the way, all the way, all the way 
down that crooked road to Santa Cruz

Oh, Santa Cruz please don’t make me choose
I’ve painted in reds and whites and blues
I’ve got smokeless powder and a splintered board
all the way, all the way, all the way 
down that crooked road to Santa Cruz

In one sense this is akin to the tales of the lost and dissolute that Dylan’s songs around this time sometimes had.  It reads to me like an abandoned sketch trying to create another “Tom Thumb’s blues” with, in the early sections, different characters just popping up without any context or relationship with each other.

Aaron has also pointed out to me that Sid Griffin’s “Million  Dollar Bash” book mentions a song with the name “Santa Cruz” as a rumoured Basement Tape recording – although nothing turned up on the complete version – and all those songs including even the unnamed song have been reviewed here.  (See Dylan songs of the 60s and scroll down to 1967 to see the full list).

Now I must admit I haven’t got a clue how to interpret these lyrics apart from the obvious bits.  There seems to me to be no linkage of people, but maybe that really is the point. 

And for non-American’s like me who haven’t been there, Santa Cruz is on the edige of Monterey Bay, south of San Fransisco.  It is home to people living what I think is now called “altnerative lifestyles”, and to the University of California.

I’m hopeful that readers familiar with the area might be able to help further with understanding the meaning of the lyrics – if there is a meaning to be understood.

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.

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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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4 Responses to Santa Cruz: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello unusual song not on the NBT series.

  1. Aaron G says:

    I do love Elvis but he does have a tendency to garble his words when he sings so if you don’t know the lyrics it can be really difficult to follow!! Case in point as I was reading your review and listening along I noticed one more error (all mine!) in the first verse…

    who but a young man driving by
    *Signaled to me and asked if I wanted a ride.

    It might make more sense if he said “who but a woman driving by”… that might make the rest of the lyrics make more logical sense… but I’m pretty certain it’s “Young man” he sings…

    Anyway, I had to listen to the track many many times to get these lyrics and it did eventually start to grow on me…the melody is all over the place but somehow after all those listens it all starts to work…

    Doesn’t Sid Griffin also do the sleeve notes to the Basement tapes box and to the New Basement tapes album? I’ll have to check later. Would be interesting to hear his take on this track…

    What I get from it is that it is one of those “great American driving songs” as the great Dan Bern once put it in his amazing track “Lithuania”…“an elegy to the automobile”. Although in this case I’d say it was a motorcycle not a car…everything flashing past, snatches of images, people, places too fast to see the whole picture…carefree, with a girl riding on the back, on the road again.

    Oh and here is Lithuania if you care to listen…Dylan actually gets a name check…but be aware you will cry after this

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JVwV3IM3HHk

  2. LarryFyffe says:

    I tore out of there so quick her head nearly hit the glass

  3. Aaron G says:

    Geez!!! So it is!! Larry that is magic! I could not get that line for love nor money!!

    Amazing work!! 🙂

  4. Aaron G says:

    everything was in front of me that day
    but there was nothing that I didn’t pass

    That’s a great line…

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