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.


Bob Dylan Countdown #147: “If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night)”

The attempted studio recording of this song was a big swing and a miss. Featuring some totally uncharacteristic female backing vocals, an electric piano part that sounds like a less-cool Ray Manzarek, and an arrangement so dated that you can’t listen without envisioning stock footage of girls on platforms doing the Frug, the song, drained of all its humor in this version, was shelved save for a one-off release in Holland in 1967, before eventually turning up in all its spastic glory on The Bootleg Series.

No, for a true sense of this song, you have to go to the Live 1964 disc, when Dylan performs with a wise-guy cool that has the audience hanging on every word. Note the song’s placement in the concert:  Right between “Gates Of Eden” and “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding.”) It’s as if Bob is saying to the audience, “Yep, I can do anything.”

With “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” it’s mischievous wit that he has down pat. I suppose now it would be politically incorrect for Dylan to so brazenly state his desire for a one-night stand. But he douses all of those concerns with the good nature of his humor, even if he does imply that this girl shouldn’t be surprised by his request:  “It ain’t that I’m wantin’/Anything you never gave before.” That double-negative tells you all you need to know about this girl’s reputation.

Dylan is quite the player in the song, using his disarming one-liners to get a little cozier. We never find out how the evening turns out. Judging by the way he mesmerized that live audience though, I’m guessing that girl stuck around.

Bob Dylan Countdown #152: “All Over You”

It seems like the general consensus within the Dylan community is that The Witmark Demos release did not have the same impact on his fans as did the other Bootleg Series albums. I was a tad underwhelmed myself. I had a chance to review it and it was pleasant, but I heard it as more of  an important historical document than something that I would want on repeat play. It’s a lot of similar-sounding songs because of the nature of the demos, and, after a while, one sort of blends into another. Even the songs that graced his albums and became classics are a bit muted and not different enough from the famous versions to make them all that essential.

That said, “All Over You” is so vigorous that it practically leaps out in contrast to the rest of the Witmark songs. Of course, that pep may come from the fact that Dylan is singing about the imminent prospect of getting lucky. The song turns a shade darker when Bob seems to be hinting at possible revenge against the girl in the song, but the rollicking tone of the music wins out.

This is a family blog, so I’m not going to elaborate on the innuendo suggested by “I’ll do it all over you.” I will say that it’s a subversive ploy for Dylan to compare himself anticipating sex to the nobler exploits of Biblical figures. He even twists fairy tales to his liking:  “And I grab me a pint, you know that I’m a giant/When you hear me yellin’, ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum.'”

It’s a ribald little tale, flashing the sense of humor that is perennially underrated when discussing Dylan’s many gifts. As anyone who’s anticipating a big night that is taking forever to arrive can tell you, “All Over You” is so funny it hurts.

Bob Dylan Countdown #194: “Series Of Dreams”

I’ll be honest:  When I first heard this fascinating outtake from the Oh Mercy sessions, I assumed that U2 was the backing band. Take a good listen. It’s a dead ringer for one of those arching constructs by Bono and the boys like “Where The Streets Have No Name”, with the ringing guitars and thunderous drumming.

In the end, this production by Daniel Lanois, who, of course, also collaborated with U2, is to the song’s detriment. Dylan’s lyrics, which are wondrous without ever being too showy here, get a little bit lost in the shuffle underneath drummer Alton Rubin Jr.’s impression of Larry Mullen Jr.

I think that Dylan sensed the disconnect there, which is one of the reasons that he left it off the album. He also talks in Chronicles about he and Lanois jousting over the structure of the song, with the producer wanting to build the song out of the bridge. You can’t blame him for that, because the bridge is fantastic, but it was too much of a struggle for Bob to reimagine the song in that way.

All of this craziness caused the song to trickle out on several different Greatest Hits collections and the first Bootleg Series release, and it works best in that context. It’s truly a stand-alone kind of thing, and likely would have seemed like a non-sequitur no matter the album it inhabited.

Ah, but those lyrics are truly something, aren’t they? My take is that Dylan seems to be willing to give himself over to the power of these apparitions and shades that visit his slumber without questioning their significance. Take the bridge for example:

Dreams where the umbrella is folding                                                                                                                                                                  Into the path you are hurled                                                                                                                                                                                    And the cards are no good that you’re holding                                                                                                                                           Unless they’re from another world 

The corporeal stuff won’t help you in this world that Dylan has conjured. Only the nonsensical truly makes sense here.

I also find it intriguing how Dylan says that he’s “thinking about a series of dreams.” He’s not actually inside the dreams as he sings, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any guarantee that he’ll get back there again. It lends an air of wistfulness to the proceedings, just another element to this beguiling oddball of a track. The song may ultimately be something of a missed opportunity, but all missed opportunities should be this good.

Bob Dylan Countdown #195: “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

I wasn’t alive when Davey Moore was killed in a boxing match in 1963 to inspire Dylan’s song, never released until the Bootleg Series arrived. I was, however, 10 years old and watched the Boom Boom Mancini and Duk Koo Kim fight in 1982, which resulted in Kim’s death as a result of a brutal 14-round TKO at the hands of Mancini.

Mancini was a big deal where we grew up because he was Italian. I remember that, after the fight, my neighbor would teasingly call his little brother “Duk Koo” whenever he would throw him around the back yard. At the time we thought it was hilarious. Stupid kids, I guess.

Anyway, there was outrage after that fight that helped get boxing matches reduced from their typical 15 rounds to the 10 or 12 round standard used today. But the controversy over the Moore fight was much greater, as it came on the heels of several boxing-related fatalities. Everyone from politicians to the Vatican called for the abolishment of the sport. Dylan, in his topical phase, quickly dashed off this effective testament to the scramble by all involved to avoid blame.

I do find it interesting that Dylan played Warren Zevon’s “Boom Boom Mancini” in concert in 2002 as a kind of tribute to Zevon when he was nearing death. The two songs are quite different:  “Boom Boom” is unapologetic and a tribute of sorts, somewhat typical of Zevon’s ballsy outlook. “Davey Moore” isn’t afraid to delegate blame to everyone involved, and I wonder if Dylan’s outlook would have changed had he written the song later in life. (He has been a spectator at several boxing matches since the writing of this song, so his objection to the sport can’t be that vehement.)

I have long since lost interest in the Sweet Science, not so much because of any objections to its alleged brutality, but more so because there are so many competing boxing organizations, each with their respective champions, that it’s simply impossible to follow. As for brutality, mixed martial arts pretty much leaves boxing in the dust these days. With what we know about the dangers of concussions now, it’s pretty difficult to defend either sport. 

Give Dylan credit for nailing the hypocrisy of it all, and even if he was shooting fish in a barrel, he certainly didn’t miss.

Bob Dylan Countdown #198: “Nobody ‘Cept You”

I can understand why this song was left off Planet Waves, Dylan’s 1974 collaboration with The Band. It’s a solid song, better than a few others on the album. But the album is already pretty weighed down with love songs, and this one might have got lost in the shuffle next to more overtly powerful stuff like “Dirge” and “Going, Going, Gone.”

It’s also doubtful that the version released on Bootleg Series would have been left as is had it made the album. There likely would have been tinkering and polishing before that point. As it stands, the song sounds at times like The Band is just warming up and feeling their way through it, and the recording suffers for that casualness.

Still, there’s an undercurrent of desperation running between the lines here that makes this more than just an ordinary song of praise for a beloved. Much of Dylan’s material around this point had uncertainty on the margins even as love inhabited the center. “Nobody Cept You” is ostensibly a love song, and yet there is a trip to the graveyard included, where the “bones of life are piled.”

It’s pretty clear the depth of emotion that the singer feels for the titular “You” in this song. What isn’t clear is if those powerful feelings of love are enough to stave off the encroaching darkness. Nothing less than the narrator’s possibilities for a happy life are at stake in this battle, and it’s that unexpected import to the proceedings that makes “Nobody ‘Cept You” a little more than just what it seems to be on the surface.