(Continuing from Part 1)
'Dirt Road Blues' is an upbeat blues in the classic style, first line and second the same, again the theme is a woman he's longing for, chasing, trying to connect-reconnect with, but the mood is energized here, he's determined, he got his head, as Kerouac said, bent to it again, walking down the dirt road until someone lets him ride, until a break happens, until love's fortune turns his way.
'Standing in the Doorway' raises the stakes to an unimaginable level. Here was when I knew I was listening to stone cold classic Dylan, immortal in a way he'd never been, unlike anything from before, not because of the production, but because of the bare, unvarnished vulnerability of the lyrics. There's no tricky word play here or metaphor to hide behind, no pose, no attitude. It's a weary, love torn heart baring itself for anyone/everyone to see. Soul crushing, devastating lines come in couplets in every verse -
Don’t know if I saw you, if I would kiss you or kill you
It probably wouldn’t matter to you anyhow
The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don’t look like it will anytime soon
I would be crazy if I took you back
It would go up against every rule
Last night I danced with a stranger
But she just reminded me you were the one
I see nothing to be gained by any explanation
There are no words that need to be said
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Blues wrapped around my head
This song alone could be written about for pages upon pages. (Click for Dylan, Buddy Holly connection) The ache is so deep, evoking the fated acceptance of Greek tragedy. He's singing because it's the only thing he can do to keep himself standing up. Singing naked and exposed to the bone, himself (and us) as he is, as we are at our most yearning, bruised and defeated, yet still not out for the count. Still in the ring, standing, surviving still.
(For me, this song prefigured a brutally abrupt break-up happening years later, and endless plays of 'Standing in the Doorway' - along with time - helped heal the scars that nothing else would heal.)
I had a fantasy that Dylan was singing this song on the Grammy's instead of "Love Sick," and when the Soy Bomb guy jumps out dancing, Dylan's singing, "May they'll get me, and maybe they won't, but not tonight and it won't be here." It would have been the most perfect television moment of all time.
'Million Miles' would be a standout track if not for the company that it's in. As it is, it's a great transitional track to the next masterpiece, 'Trying to Get to Heaven'. Here, Dylan/the singer/the narrator of the/in the song (take your pick) tries to put this whole sick love business behind him, unsuccessfully, protesting that he's conquered it and only cares about transcending it, heading for heaven now.
Every day your memory grows dimmer
It doesn’t haunt me like it did before
I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door
But the more he protests, the more we know he's protesting too much. (They're all protest songs...)
The proof of his confusion is in the next lines...
I’m going down the river
Down to New Orleans
They tell me everything is gonna be all right
But I don’t know what “all right” even means
He's obviously a little early and unprepared for heaven.
Gonna sleep down in the parlor
And relive my dreams
I’ll close my eyes and I wonder
If everything is as hollow as it seems
As he casts his memory back there, lord, he's not overcome, thinking about it, he's distancing himself, but the result is that all that was once so dear now is only hollow, yet still the nag of his memories question the hollowness - 'Could it have really been as hollow as it feels now? Was I really so fooled? How could it have been?'
'Till I Fell in Love with You,' is another great Lanois production, capturing Dylan's voice up front in all it's gravelly glory, the spare, weird musical accompaniment is disjointed, guitar accents popping up in the near distance and disappearing, Tony Garnier's loping bass carrying the rhythm, going from high to low notes like some kind of surreal carnival music, the overall effect is unsettling, which works perfectly with the main theme of the lyrics, "I just don't know what to do, I was all right till I fell in love with you..."
Part 3/conclusion coming next....