Bob Dylan Countdown #156: “Shelter From The Storm”

Although I prefer “Up To Me,” the song that is strikingly similar and also came from the Blood On The Tracks sessions, “Shelter From The Storm” probably was the right choice to include on the album. After all, almost forty years of people absolutely obsessing with that landmark LP proves that Dylan got just the right mix of songs on there, right?

That’s not to say that “Shelter From The Storm” is any slouch when judged on its own. It’s become one of the more popular Dylan songs from that era, getting decent radio airplay and a lot of action in TV and movies. I think that people latch on to the refrain quickly when they hear the song, so it has the ability to make instant impact based on that.

Yet a closer listen reveals that the refrain is used by Dylan as much more than a good hook. He sets the stage for the proceedings with the very first line, “‘Twas in another lifetime,” which immediately lets you know that much of the action will take place in the narrator’s past. What follows are five verses highlighting all the ways in which this guy’s ragged life had been saved by the mercy of the kind woman on whom he is still fixated.

The song sets you up with that beginning to believe that the overall mood will stay upbeat and grateful. That’s when the sixth verse hits you like a needle scratching the record:  “Now there’s a wall between us, somethin’s that’s been lost.”

The sudden change begins the second half of the song (another five verses, to hammer home the fearful symmetry,) told mostly in the present tense. This character’s world is now a bitter place, filled with phrases (“It’s doom alone that counts”) and adjectives (“futile,” “lethal,” “hopeless,” “forlorn”) that speak volumes between the lines.

In that context, the refrain of “‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm” becomes the narrator’s mantra, a spasm of memory which he uses to try to shield himself from the bleak surroundings he now inhabits. The last line he says before repeating the refrain one last time lays bare his regret:  “If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born.”

These are all subtleties that turn up with repeated listens, so, in that sense, “Shelter From The Storm” is a grower. In fact, the laid-back singer-songwriter tone of the recording actually masks the complexity a little too well, which is why the ranking isn’t higher. Even Dylan’s deadpan delivery makes you work a bit. Dig deep into this one, though, and I guarantee you’ll be rewarded.


4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #156: “Shelter From The Storm””

  1. Joe says:

    Just stumbled onto the site. This is an audacious task you have taken on, but I look forward to it. A friend of mine and I swapped Top 100 Dylan song lists a couple of years ago. It’s a tough thing to do. E-mail me if you like and I’ll send you my top 100, if nothing else so you can laugh at it!

    FWIW, I had Shelter From the Storm at #16 overall, so obviously, I like this one a little more than you!

  2. rw says:

    this is a giant song only made smaller by its more giant neighbor: Tangled Up in Blue

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