Bob Dylan Countdown #113: “Huck’s Tune”Posted: February 16, 2012
So Dylan gets a call from Curtis Hanson: “Hey, Bob, it’s me, Curt. Hey listen, I’ve been on quite a roll with the films, lately, and I got this new one coming out called Lucky You. It’s about no-limit hold ’em poker, which is all the rage these days. It’s on every station. Anyway, it’s got Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana, you know, the guy who gets offed by Brad Pitt in Troy, and it can’t miss. And I know you’re loving that Oscar you scored when you wrote that song for my last flick. What you say you do your old buddy a solid and write a song for this one as well? Maybe throw in a couple lines about poker, and we can book our ticket to the Governor’s Ball. Sounds good, right?”
It didn’t quite turn out that way. I didn’t see Lucky You; how I dodged that bullet I’ll never know, because the Better Half has a thing for quirky Barrymore movies, which is why I’ve been subjected to more showings of Never Been Kissed and Ever After than any person with two working testicles should have to endure. Anyway, the reviews were rough, the movie disappeared, and “Huck’s Tune,” Bob’s coulda-been-an-Oscar-contender, largely went unheard ’til it was rescued by Tell Tale Signs.
“Huck’s Tune” has an indefinable quality to it that renders it pretty irresistible. I’d call it grace, not the religious kind, but the kind that nimble waltzers have. The musical backing is pitched just right, smooth and creamy, and Dylan’s vocals are expressive without being hammy. You feel every one of his years when he sings, and yet somehow you can sense the twinkle in this character’s eyes that even a failed romance can’t extinguish.
I’m also a sucker for the late-period Dylan tunes which pile great lines on top of one another without forming any linear direction when they’re taken together. Those songs somehow feel like life, opinions changing from day to day, emotions burbling to the surface for a moment before being replaced by others in a heartbeat.
Dylan grabs us quick: “I wandered alone through a desert of stone/I dreamt of my future wife.” This character is already well-defined in 14 words, but the next two lines are even more evocative: “My sword’s in my hand and I’m next in command/In this version of death called life.” We’re now hooked by this guy, and we want to follow him. Even if his journey leads nowhere, we can still rest assured he’ll yield some wisdom along the way.
Twisting bits of nursery rhymes and well-worn sayings for his own purpose, Dylan paints a picture of a man whose gamble for love hasn’t been repaid. He uses the poker metaphor to drive home the point that fate, acting as the dealer, always comes out on top: “You push it all in and you’ve no chance to win.”
So what’s a gambler to do? Eventually, each one has to know when to walk away from the table. Despite heaping praise upon the object of his affections, Dylan spurns his “hopeless love,” content to face the unknown future alone. “The game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold/I’m gonna have to put you down for a while,” he sings at the end, repeating it once as if it tamp down the doubts rising in his head. It’s a graceful exit from a graceful song. Lucky You might have faltered, but “Huck’s Tune” is an award-winner in my book.