Bob Dylan Countdown #133: “I’ll Keep It With Mine”

It’s one of those Dylan compositions that he could never figure out how to wrangle. You can hear the struggle in the Biograph version, just Bob on piano and harmonica, and you can hear it on the Bootleg Series version, with the singer being prodded along by producer Bob Johnston as The Hawks find their way through the song’s vast open spaces. In both of those efforts, Dylan’s wheels are spinning so loud they’re practically audible as the sound in his head eludes him.

He eventually gave up. Instead of committing the song to posterity on one of his LP’s, Dylan gave to off to Judy Collins and Nico and walked away from it. You can’t save them all, I guess, but the outtakes left behind are pretty fantastic.

Those open spaces that I mentioned before are actually what make the song so unique. Coming from a man who tended to cram a whole lot of syllables into his songs, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” is somewhat of a preview, about four or five years before the fact, of the brevity that Dylan would display on Nashville Skyline.

Yet this song differs from those on the country album in that the lyrics here are far more opaque, as Dylan gets very deep in a conversation with a girl who seems to be at sea about which direction to take. He asks her Confucius-like questions (“But how long, babe/Will you search for what is not lost?”) and gives her off-kilter compliments (“if I say that I’m not loving you for what you are/But for what you’re not.”)

Ultimately, his best offer to her is as confounding as it is comforting:  “Come on, give it to me/I’ll keep it with mine.”) It doesn’t matter what “it” is, really. The promise itself is what’s important. He’ll carry the burden and take the load off this Fanny, providing a bastion of reliability as uncertainty swirls all around her. It’s a pretty powerful moment that the listener feels more than understands.

Bob was way too hard on himself with this song. So what if “I’ll Keep It With Mine” was never meant to be wrangled? Unwieldiness this affecting is just fine by me.

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2 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #133: “I’ll Keep It With Mine””

  1. wardo says:

    I like the Biograph piano version best, probably because it was the first version I’d heard. Others swear by the one on the Bootleg Series, but that seems even more a sketch. The cover versions always seemed forced.

  2. I think Bob never felt this song was finished and he didn’t altogether like it, is my opinion. I think the problem is that the protagonist is saying ‘stay where you are, don’t go out along the line, don’t take that train, what’s the point of that, just give me what you’ve got and we’ll stay here and it’ll be fine, just stay here and give it to me.’ The trouble is that Bob would have wanted to take the train and go and see where it took him. It isn’t in his nature to want to sing songs about not taking risks and he was always, and is always, getting up and going.


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