Bob Dylan Countdown #160: “I Was Young When I Left Home”Posted: February 5, 2012
Bob Dylan was 20 years old when he made this demo recording in 1961. If you didn’t know it, you’d swear he was three times that old based on his vocal performance. He was already conducting master classes in interpretive singing at this young age, convincingly playing the part of a man who had put many miles between himself and his roots only to find that retracing the route back home was figuratively impossible.
Hidden quietly on the No Direction Home soundtrack among oodles of outtakes and live versions, “I Was Young When I Left Home” emits oodles of world-weary wisdom. Considering that he had already embarked upon a peripatetic lifestyle even though he was barely out of his teens, it’s interesting to hear Dylan inhabit the role of someone who found out than wanderlust only gets you lost sometimes.
In the song, the main character bemoans the death of his mother. He makes a half-hearted case that he can’t return because of his penniless state, but as the song progresses, his memories of Mom flood him. He comes to the realization that “I don’t like it in the wind/Wanna go back home again.” Yet the sadness in his voice makes it clear that his home has been altered forever by the loss he has suffered.
Bob appropriates some phrases both lyrical and melodic from old folk songs for “I Was Young When I Left Home,” but the end result is a wholly unique creation. The skill with which he arranges these borrowed parts is what gives the story its power. He was already miles ahead of other folk singers, not to mention light years ahead of his own tender age.