Bob Dylan Countdown #191: “As I Went Out One Morning”

“As I Went Out One Morning” is one of those rare Dylan songs that has been performed by him just a single time in concert. That lends an air of mystery and myth to a song already pretty lousy with those qualities to start. Many of those one-shot performances came shortly after the song’s recording; with this one, seven years passed before Bob took at a shot at it with The Band, only to stuff it deep down into the bag of tricks.

Before we get to the lyrics, a comment on the recording. The rhythm section of bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenny Buttrey are having a blast here, laying down a groove that can almost be called funky. That’s quite a contrast to the difficult lyrics, but such incongruity is typical of a number off John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s most inscrutable album.

Dylan’s bizarre loveless triangle of the narrator, the damsel, and Tom Paine is dark and open-ended. You’re never really sure just what this girl has done or why she deserves the scorn of these two men. Nor can you even be sure that she is at fault, unless you take the word of the hot-headed Tom Paine or Dylan’s narrator, who seems open to the girl’s seduction until Paine interferes.

And Tom Paine? A reference to the Common Sense author? An allusion to Dylan’s infamous 1963 award speech that had him empathizing with Lee Harvey Oswald? (Probably too soon, Bob.) A red herring to throw us off the path? I’m sure every Dylanologist has his or her own interpretation, but any answer just leads to more questions. Add it all up and you’ve got the most danceable impenetrable parable in the Dylan catalog.

 

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4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #191: “As I Went Out One Morning””

  1. Liam says:

    I’ve always assumed the girl was a slave – “the fairest damsel that ‘er did walk in chains” – pleading with the narrator to take her away from her cruel master Tom Paine.

  2. Brian says:

    How many times have “common sense” and cold logic pushed you to leave behind some kind of passion you couldn’t explain (a love affair, an artistic interest…) and did it ever leave you a little haunted by what could have been?


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