Bob Dylan Countdown #107: “Mama, You Been On My Mind”

The residue of a doomed affair has a way of lingering long after the goodbyes have been said and the tears have been cried. It’s that residue that serves as the impetus for songs such as this one, in which Dylan plays the role of a wistful guy ruminating on the whereabouts and well-being of a former flame.

One thing this guy makes sure to do is to assure the girl that he’s not trying to get back into her life. Maybe it’s himself that he needs to convince of this. Or maybe he doesn’t want the girl to be freaked out by his admittance that he still thinks of her. He’s just being honest about the memories, and anybody who’s been there knows that the memories sneak up at the darndest occasions without any provocation, sometimes spurred on even by something as innocent as an optical illusion (“Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat.”)

The narrator also hints at the personal turmoil he’s endured since her departure (“the crossroads I’m standin’ at.”) Yet he doesn’t mean to press her for answers (“I’m not askin’ you to say words like ‘yes’ or ‘no’,”) perhaps because he’s afraid at what the answer might be.

In the final verse, Dylan turns it around and puts the onus on the girl, asking her to “look inside your mirror.” His parting shot is a doozy:  “I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear/As someone who has had you on his mind.” In other words, lying to others is bad, sweetheart, but lying to yourself is even worse.

It’s a surprisingly moving little song, one that catches you unaware much like those fleeting thoughts that cross the narrator’s mind. Why Dylan felt that “Mama, You Been On My Mind” didn’t deserve an official release before popping up on various Bootleg Series incarnations is beyond me. The bottom line is we got it eventually, a truthful treatise on the beautiful ache of love’s aftermath.

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)

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