Bob Dylan Countdown #131: “Cold Irons Bound”

Critics were extremely fond of the term “death rattle” when describing Time Out Of Mind. It was likely this song they had in mind, although a few others fit as well. It’s a fantastic recording that producer Daniel Lanois assembled, all quirks and contrasts. For example, Tony Garnier’s upright bass strolls through the wild soundscape as if it were Disneyland, yet Augie Meyers’ organ sounds like it has emphysema.

Dylan holds the center of “Cold Irons Bound” down with his drawled vocal, elongating some words past their breaking point and snapping off others as if he can taste the bile inside of them. His character here is chained to a doomed love, destroying any semblance of joy or comfort. The 20 miles he mentions in the chorus seems like a distance he will never surmount.

Yet the herky-jerky beat keeps this guy inching forward in fits and starts, bloody clouds above him and a jagged road ahead, surveying the detritus of his life and making wry observations about it all. At times, you can feel his pain through the speakers:  “It’s such a sad thing to see beauty decay/It’s sadder still to feel your heart torn away.” His betrayals pile up in his path:  “There’s too many people. too many to recall/I thought some of ‘m were friends of mine, I was wrong about ‘m all.”

Even still, his heart still flickers with the old feelings:  “I’m gonna remember forever the joy we shared.” Then again, “Cold Irons Bound” makes it clear that he couldn’t forget this woman even if he wanted to do so, for no amount of amnesia could alleviate the anguish on display here.

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6 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #131: “Cold Irons Bound””

  1. Jim says:

    the outtake version off of Tell Tale Signs is uber scary compared to the official version you speak of. Great song in concert too.

  2. rw says:

    20 miles out of town. leaving? or on his way in? on his way to her where she will imprison him in cold irons. or on his way out away from her where he will imprison himself. One of the many ways he is a genius is that it could be either way and it doesn’t matter which one it is and you still can understand the feeling of the song without ever knowing the answer to the question….

  3. Steve says:

    In reply to rw, the term cold irons bound is actual railroad jargon for a freight train coming in empty to the railroad yard. They have already made their journey and dropped off their load, and are coming back empty


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