By Tony Attwood
A song that I have missed while working through all the Dylan tracks, and (wrongly as it turns out) claiming that we have reviewed them all. Apologies, this one should have been included long ago It turns up on the No Direction Home soundtrack, and on a limited edition version of Love and Theft.
As many others have pointed out, the theme of the lyrics is the classic Ramblin Jack Elliott song “900 miles” – if you don’t know the piece the opening lines tell you everything you need to get the feeling…
I’ve got tears in my eyes,
Trying to read a letter from my home.
If this train runs me right
I’ll be home tomorrow night.
I’m nine hundred miles from my home.
And I hate to hear that lonesome whistle blow.
Dylan takes the same story but gets directly to the central theme…
I was young when I left home But I been out a-ramblin’ ‘round And I never wrote a letter to my home To my home, Lord, to my home And I never wrote a letter to my home It was just the other day I was bringing home my pay When I met an old friend I used to know Said your mother’s dead and gone Baby sister’s all gone wrong And your daddy needs you home right away
Then looking forward, although the theme is different the feel is the same as the absolutely magical Ballad for a Friend. From the data available it looks like “I was young when I left home” was written in December 1961 and Ballad for a Friend in January 1962 – or at least those are the dates of the recordings – and I suspect Dylan was recording all the new material as it was written, not storing it up for later.
There is a very interesting and enjoyable version by Marcus Mumford available
I would not try and argue that this song can be considered to be at the same transformative level as Ballad for a Friend, but it gives us a sense of where that soon to be composed masterpiece came from.
This is then, for me, very much a scene setting song, a song that prepares the ground for what was to come next month.
But it is also interesting to consider just what Dylan was writing around this time. Here is the list through 1961 and the early part of 1962
although not original music is a profound way to start your career as a lyricist.
- Man on the street
- Hard times in New York Town
- On Wisconsin (lyrics only, date within the year not certain)
- I was young when I left home
- Ballad for a friend
- Poor Boy Blues
- Rambling Gambling Willie
- Standing on the highway
In many ways Dylan was at this time, preparing his own image, re-writing his past to fit in with the histories of his heroes, saying “these tragedies have happened to me too, I am part of the blues”, and certainly it worked for the young composer.
Although the songs around this time do often contain some sort of storyline, it is not the storyline that is the key part of the song. It is the focus on the images around the story. Thus it is the images that are the key, and the storyline is the background, and I think that notion remained central to much of Dylan’s work for decades to come.
Indeed if we zoom forward to Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, we have this taken to its highest level – all we have is the images, the story doesn’t really fit together at all.
So, a fundamental part of Dylan’s preparation, and really worth a listen as well.
What else is here?
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.
There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here. There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan. The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.
We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today. 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.