Bob Dylan Countdown #145: “Bob Dylan’s Dream”

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Those are the last lines of the film Stand By Me, and they sum up the sentiment of this track found on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Although he was only 22 when he wrote it, he was already looking past to an innocent time gone past that would likely never return.

The fact that the song is entitled “Bob Dylan’s Dream” means that most analysis of the song pegs it as autobiographical. But Dylan’s ability to separate his inspiration from the finished product makes the tale much more universal. While varying accounts pinpoint music-playing friends from Bob’s recent past (in 1963, that is) in Minnesota and New York as the friends on which the song was based, the lyrics stray from any definite places or times. As a matter of fact, he sings, “Many a year has come and gone,” which puts the narrator in a middle-aged category, certainly much older than Bob at the time.

All of that is ultimately less important than the quality of the song itself, which is top-notch early Dylan. Borrowing the melody and the frame of “Bob Dylan’s Dream” from a Scottish folk song, he paints the picture of a man wistfully recalling times with friends now no longer in contact. Part of the folly of youth is its lack of respect for the brevity of life, which leads to deep regret down the road:  “We thought we could sit forever in fun/But our chances really was a million to one.”

As the narrator looks back with “half-damp eyes,” the warmth of the nostalgia is constantly tempered by the sorrow of the knowledge that the nostalgia is all he has. Life has become much more complicated, and there is no going back, except in these empty reveries. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” stares down the reality that our first friends are often our best friends, a reality that we don’t often recognize until those friends are no longer a part of our lives.


4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #145: “Bob Dylan’s Dream””

  1. capstan says:

    I absolutely love this song. It’s based on an old melody, and the words derive from Lord Franklin’s Lament, about the explorer who perished trying to find the NorthWest Passage, said to have been written by his wife. Dylan transposes the words to his own time beautifully. It never fails to move me when I hear it.

  2. wardo says:

    The first couplet of the song nearly sinks the rest of the song, and once I learned to ignore that, I was able to appreciate this gorgeously sad song.

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