Bob Dylan Countdown #155: “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven”

The title of this song may sound like it’s a leftover from Bob’s Christian period, but his concerns are of a secular nature here. Indeed, the heaven of which he sings seems not to be some Edenic resting place for the soul but rather some place on Earth where he can have some peace of mind, a respite from the wanderings of his body and mind.

Producer Daniel Lanois said that he tried to base this track off Time Out Of Mind on “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands,” but the only echoes of that classic show up in Jim Keltner’s sauntering beat. Otherwise, it’s all moaning guitars interrupted on occasion by Dylan’s minimalist harmonica solos, which are mesmerizing in the way they express so much while exploring a small range of notes.

There is a sense that the narrator in this song has resigned himself to his restless place in the world. The longings and aches that permeate the lyrics are muted somewhat; they don’t seem to cut this guy that deep anymore (“Every day you memory grows/it doesn’t haunt me like it did before.”) Yet the numbness is sad in its own way. You get the feeling throughout that this guy would like to experience true feelings again, even if they might turn out to be unpleasant.

The protagonist seems to have acquired enough world-weary wisdom to not only peg the people with whom he crosses paths but also to understand his own calamity. I’m a fan of Fitzgerald’s This Side Of Paradise, and this song reminds me of the protagonist’s closing lines:  “‘I know myself,’ he cried, “but that is all.” Dylan’s character in “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” also experiences the hollow victory that comes with unlocking the mysteries of life when it’s far too late to make good use of this knowledge.

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2 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #155: “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven””

  1. I haven’t had time to check, but I think Lanois was after a Sad-eyed Lady vibe on Standing In The Doorway and not this song. I like the way many of the Time Out songs take place in this opressively hot landscapes and circumstances. “heat risin’ in my eyes”, “walking through the summer night” “it’s too hot to sleep” … and yet most were written when he was snowed in at the farm in St. Paul. Numbness is also another theme… and restless walking.


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