by Larry Fyffe
Some of our Untold readers might be a little confused concerning the lyrics of the song by Bob Dylan entitled ‘Lay Lady Lay’. The old Dylan notebook lying in the vault of the Archives Department of the ‘Untold Dylan’ offices will clear matters up. Tony Attwood laid it there many years ago.
Below is the final version of a verse recorded by Bob Dylan, but the notebook reveals that Dylan crosses out the word “yourself” after the last “lay” merely to make the music and lyrics fit together:
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Whatever colours you have in your mind I'll show them to you, and you'll see them shine
(Bob Dylan: Lay Lady, Lay)
In the margins of the notebook the source-song is given; it refers to a gal as a ‘bedspring’, the object of the verb ‘lay’):
I take it to my room, and lay it 'cross my big brass bed I take it to my room, and lay it 'cross my big brass bed I guess I'll be my own singer, neighbours turn cherry red
(Blind Willie McTell: Rough Alley Blues – there doesn’t seem to be a recording of the song freely available on the internet, but it is on Spotify).
Dylan knows the present tense of ‘lay’ goes with the past tense ‘laid’, and that the present tense of ‘lie’ goes with the past tense ‘lay’. In the verse below, ‘lay him low’ would be grammatically incorrect because there’s an object:
"Not me", says the man whose fists Laid him low in a cloud of mist Who came here from Cubans door Where boxing ain't allowed no more
(Bob Dylan: Who Killed Davey Moore)
One might even imagine that Dylan is being spoofed in the following song:
Lie la lie, lie la, la la lie lie Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie .... In the clearing stands are boxer And a fighter by his trade And he carries a reminder Of every glove that laid him down
(Simon And Garfunklel: The Boxer)
To confuse matters further, the notebook contains other lyrics that indicate Dylan initially intended to write a gospel song:
Lie, lady, lie, lie across my big brass bed Fly, lady, fly, fly with your man a while Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
(Bob Dylan: Ladybird Fly Away Home)
The source of “Whatever colours you have on your mind/I’ll show them to you” ~ In the margins of the notebook, mentioned is a Christian tale of yore that has the Virgin Mary looking like a ladybird beetle – she’s dressed in a scarlet cloak with seven spots that represent her seven sorrows and seven joys. And noted too is another tale that has Mary dropping her golden girdle (belt) to ‘doubting’ Thomas as she flies off to heaven.
On the overleaf, another song is printed in pencil:
Mile by mile, I paddled my old canoe I'll be in heaven when my journey's over For the one I admire Is watching the shore God's River
(Emmett Miller: God’s River)
In the lyrics below, ‘lay’ is correctly used as the past tense of ‘lie’:
But the frozen smile upon my face Fits me like a glove But I can't escape from the memory Of the one I'll always adore All those nights when I lay in the arms Of the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)
Dylan makes reference to the Jordon and/or Mississippi River in the song lyrics below:
Standing by God's River, my soul's beginning to shake Standing by God's River, my soul's beginning to shake I'm counting on you to give me a break
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)
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