Bob Dylan Countdown #130: “Restless Farewell”Posted: February 13, 2012
I based this countdown only on official releases from Dylan, usually with the original album versions taking precedence and the occasional alternate take weighing into my judgment as well. Since this is the case, “Restless Farewell” fits snugly in at #130. As sung by Dylan to close out The Times They Are-A Changin’, Dylan’s near-perfect third LP, it makes eloquent, qualified apologies for past misdeeds while staying focused on the future instead of the past. It’s not as monumental as some of the tracks on that album, but it is well-placed as an unassuming closer.
Had I allowed live performances to factor into my list-making, Bob’s amazing performance of this song on live TV in honor of Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday in 1996 would warrant a much better placing. It is eerie how much the song sums up Sinatra’s own life and career, and Dylan’s reverent reading that night was a touching tribute from one icon to another, even if they couldn’t be more dissimilar. (Frank’s bemused clapping at song’s end betrays his likely confusion at understanding the lyrics; it also douses the moment somewhat when the camera switches to David Hassselhoff giving earnest applause. Wonder if Dylan was a Baywatch fan?)
I believe that Francis Albert might have performed this song in his repertoire had someone brought it to his attention. After all, the similarities to “My Way” are pretty striking. Just the first few lines give it away: In “My Way”, the “end is near/And so I face the final curtain.” In “Restless Farewell,” “it ain’t quite the end,” and “the curtain is drawn.”
The specific coincidences keep coming, but it’s the similarity in overall tone that is striking. Both songs spend most of their time cataloging a life gone by, its commingling of triumphs and regrets. They both snap out of the reveries just in time to display the defiance that all survivors must develop. In “My Way,” it’ comes in the refrains, as Sinatra’s voice rises to meet his challengers: “I faced it all, and I stood tall/And did it my way.”
In “Restless Farewell,” the final verse sets up in much the same way. Dylan’s narrator is frustrated by the “dirt of gossip” and “the dust of rumor.” The final verdict: “But I’ll make my stand/And remain as I am/And say farewell and not give a damn.” It almost makes you wonder if Paul Anka, who wrote “My Way,” wasn’t groovin’ to Bob back in the day. And when he sings that last verse in that memorable performance, Dylan even sneers and swaggers ever so slightly, as if imitating Ol’ Blue Eyes.
What’s most amazing about these coincidences is that Bob did not write “Restless Farewell” in 1996 specifically to honor Sinatra. He wrote it as a 22-year-old kid who was peeved at a condescending article that had just been written about him. It goes to show you that the greats always have it in them, both the sensitivity to perceive slights and the talent to answer them. These two legends of American music probably had these qualities in their respective cradles. Hell, the recod shows they took the blows.
Dylan performed the song again two years later when Sinatra died. I haven’t seen footage of that one, but I’m sure that the sneer and swagger were evident that night as well.