Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Journey Is The Destination

Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love...

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

This week Sony unfurled the latest in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Volume 8 contains unreleased and little-known tracks from 1989 to the present. In Dylan's sprawling archive of songs, this constitutes the later period, even though some of these tracks are nearly twenty years old. The highlights of the release are the alternate and unused tracks from 1997's Time Out Of Mind, a bitter, dark, and ultimately beautiful record that reflects on loss and alienation. Time Out Of Mind is not a light record. It starts with the following lines:

I'm walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping

Did I hear someone tell a lie?
Did I hear someone's distant cry?
I spoke like a child; you destroyed me with a smile
While I was sleeping

I'm sick of love but I'm in the thick of it
This kind of love I'm so sick of it...

For the next hour or so the singer walks us down dirt roads, paces around rooms, lays around one-room country shacks, rides midnight trains, drifts in and out of dreamless sleep, walks through the middle of nowhere, rolls through stormy weather, is lost somewhere and has made a few bad turns. This is a picture of a man shot out of a cannon, alone and drifting though time and space, wandering a bleak landscape. In the one slightly "lighter" track, the sixteen-minute talking blues "Highlands," based around a repeating Charlie Patton guitar riff, Dylan has a playful conversation with a waitress, yet still he explains:

Insanity is smashin' up against my soul
You could say I was on anything but a roll

It's grim out there. I listened to this record on a road trip - start to finish - last summer for the first time in a few years. I made a conscious decision to leave my iPod (which usually operates only in shuffle) at home and to bring only CDs in my rented vehicle. For whatever reason, this is the one Dylan record I brought and I played it multiple times as I whizzed through the landscape.

In "Not Dark Yet" he gets a letter written "so kind," which got me thinking about another song, "Tryin' To Get to You," best known from Elvis Presley's Sun Sessions, which contains my favorite Scotty Moore guitar part. Sam Phillips erased Elvis's piano track which leaves Scotty playing an alternating lead and rhythm part, start to finish. In "Tryin To Get To You," featured here below in multiple versions, including the original by vocal group The Eagles - no, not those Eagles - the singer also gets a loving letter, and sets out on a journey to find his baby. We never really find out if he gets there. He travels over mountains, through valleys, night and day, trying to get there.

So, allow me to go out a limb here, and consider that maybe these songs from Time Out Of Mind, offer the view of the aftermath and the unraveling of the mind and the soul of a man following a fruitless search - that maybe the letter was just a cruel hoax - and the singer has readjusted his expectations from trying to get to her, to "trying to get to heaven, before they close the door".


"Tryin' To Get To You" mp3
by The Eagles, 1954.
available on We're Gonna Rock - We're Gonna Roll

"Tryin' To Get To You" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1955.
available on The Sun Sessions

"Tryin' To Get To You"
(alternate version) mp3
by Roy Orbison, 1956.
available on Rocker


"Tryin' To Get To Heaven" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Time Out of Mind

"Million Miles" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Time Out of Mind

"Standing In The Doorway" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Time Out of Mind

"Not Dark Yet" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Time Out of Mind

"Red River Shore" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8

"Can't Wait" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8

"Marching To The City" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1997.
available on Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8

top photograph © Mark Seliger



I think I;ve posted to your blog before, but why not reach out again. Besides I have a shameless plug to make.

This is a great collection of songs. Mysterious, elusive, enigmatic...just like the man himself. Songs with color and character.

And if you love the characters Bob's created here, you should take look at my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, a murder mystery set in the rock world in which all the suspects are characters in Bob's songs.

An entire book built around Bob's creations? That's just the kind of depth this man has. Intrigued? You can get a copy on or go "behind the tracks" at to learn more about the book.

Timmy said...

I have always been a Dylan appreciater. I have seen him in performance several times since the 80's. He is STILL as vibrato as a moose in the wilds, & his ricking has only increased. Don't listen to what others may say, go & listen for yourself, & then do what he does: ROCK.

dennis said...

Dennis did hear one of these Dylan songs on the radio and liked it--Dennis loves TOOM, so will buy this new CD too, and listen to it as you did. thanks for posting about it.

Lyn said...

This blog is excellent. I wish I'd found it earlier: great history, thinking and files.

The theme of "Trying to get to heaven before they close the door" goes way back in gospel music in songs with titles such as "Wake Me Shake Me", "Don't Let Me Sleep Too Long" and "Tryin' To Get To Heaven In Due Time". In 1925 the Pace Jubilee Singers recorded "Heaven's Door's Gonna Be Closed".

In rock, it turned up in "Wake Me Shake Me" by Al Kooper's Blues Project, and it pops up in Lou Reed's "Wagon Wheel". The Staples worked it into "Let Me Ride", and The Drifters parodied it in their "Wake Me Shake Me".

My history of the song is here. I mention many variations, but I missed Dylan's reference to it, which I'll now have to add:

Thanks for a fascinating post.

paul said...

if you like this you should definetely also check out

Fatboy is from Sweden and became one of my favorite bands. They have a lot of Roy Orbison, Jonny Cash and Stray Cats in their music.