Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bob Dylan>Red River Shore part 2

The Red River Shore post generated a little bit of interest amongst some Bobcats. Most intriguing perhaps was an email from 'Daddio' that I thought was worth a post of its own. Here it is:

'When I was talking to my son recently about 'Red River Shore', I didn't admit that it brought tears to my eyes - because I didn't want to look like too much of a Bobbyphile. Glad you young guys shed a tear too. The feeling of alienation and loss is unbearable. Has any song ever caught better the helpless, claustrophobic sense that the past is another country to which you can never really return to put things right - especially the poignant penultimate verse? RRS echoes Bob's great early song, 'Bob Dylan's Dream' in this respect, but is even greater. The words may no longer pour out of him like water out of a tap, as they did in the '60s, as he himself admits in a guarded 2004 interview, but I think his later, tortured, carefully crafted work is even more memorable.

Whether or not Nick's right about RRS being a parable of Bob's relationship with God, the last verse certainly reveals Bob's belief that only Jesus can raise him from the living death in which he's entombed (and the girl?), and even his relationship with Jesus is in the irrecoverable past. This, of course, parallels the last verse of 'Not Dark Yet'.

I'm glad, though, that, as Bob himself said in that interview, he's made a contract with the 'commander-in-chief' of earth and heaven. Glad, too, that he's stated that, if he was in the corner in Time Out of Mind, he was coming out of the corner in Love and Theft and the corner's out of sight in Modern Times. Nick's right that there are hints in MT that Bob's relationship with God has been resurrected after all - because 'Someone there always cared' and 'Someone prayed for your soul' - there's always a reason why someone's life has been spared (Beyond the Horizon). Glad, again, that Bob's gospel era is being re-evaluated by the (white} critics and that they're talking about his 'almost supernatural' mastery of the Black Gospel genre.

I agree with Nick that Bob's mad. But even Bob recognises that in the title, Time Out of Mind! How else can you explain this majestic version of 'Born in Time' (TTS) being left off Oh Mercy, along with other great songs? Or why the stately driving version of 'Someday Baby' was rejected for the jaunty, unmemorable version on MT? Shot of Love, Oh Mercy and Infidels could have been so great, if the best songs had been included, and kept Bob at the forefront of music in the 'lost decade'.

As a contemporary of Dylan, I'm thankful to have sailed near the greatest modern bard for so long, and I have nothing but affection for him (in spite of that rip-off third disc).

Keep up the good blog, Nick, and 'God bless Bob' indeed! Daddio.'

For another great view of 'Red River Shore' take a look at Right Wing Bob's post. (Thanks to Scott Ralston for the 'heads up').

And finally, the better version of Red River Shore:


RJ said...

This is sooo sweet and true. The mad prophet of love and truth keeps on singing and traveling and bringing blessing and a little righteous judgment from time to time, too. Thanks for posting the whole note, Nick. Love you.

Nick Coke said...

Thanks for this Scott - great stuff! Also a similar post to mine turned up on 'The Best American Poetry' by Lawrence Epstein:

'This is a post interpreting "Red River Shore."

Dylan has written many love songs. They include desire songs filled with urges, anguish songs marked by the sadness of the loss of a romantic partner, revenge songs that turn the anguish into fury, and love songs expressing mature feelings that mix desire, mutuality of attraction, and responsibility. The allegorical love song is another of Dylan's types. On the literal level, these songs are about Dylan's love for a woman. On the allegorical level, they are about Dylan's relationship with some aspect of God, represented by the woman. Such a metaphor goes back at least as far as the Biblical "Song of Songs" in which the male and female characters represent God and the Jewish people.

"Visions of Johanna" (1966) was the first of Dylan's allegorical love songs. In that song Dylan is with the earthly Louise while yearning for the spiritual Johanna. The exact nature of Johanna's Godliness is not clear in the song. She could be God as represented by a female, or a metaphor as in the "Song of Songs" tradition, or one aspect of God, or a private way that Dylan experiences God. There are also Christian interpretations of this relationship that I'm not qualified to offer. "Shelter From the Storm" (1974) is another extraordinary example of such an allegorical love song.

And now, joining this illustrious group, comes "Red River Shore," another song about the power of love. Dylan sings that the only woman he ever wanted was "the girl from the Red River shore." He couldn't convince her to be his wife, to stay with him permanently. The "girl" is not simply a romantic partner. Her spiritual nature is hinted at because others can't see her; when the singer asks about her, people "didn't know who I was talking about."

The memory of this hidden goddess sustains him. The rest of life feels strange. Her memory gives him songs but also sadness because he know he is now distant from her. One possible interpretation of this distance is that Dylan no longer feels as close to the aspect of God she represents as he once did.

Indeed, Dylan feels like he's dead. He invokes the hope that somebody can bring him back to life the way Jesus could resuscitate people. Dylan is very precise in his words. He alludes to Jesus using the words "guy" and "man," deliberately avoiding a Godly reference, an avoidance that indicates his separation from his born-again experience. Dylan is left believing only the "girl from the Red River shore" understood him and now she--his love on an earthly and spiritual plane--is gone. We are left only with the sad, haunting sounds of his longing for the life-giving love that is gone and will never return.'

Scott Ralston said...

Thanks for the response...I just read the Epstein piece from Expectingrain post - and he had an interesting take on the last verse. Coming from a Jewish writer, his opinion is understandable; however, as a believer in Christ, I would like to think that Dylan IS alluding to Jesus and not turning away from his Christian conversion.
As Curnyn states, " his greatest songs, Bob Dylan is not deliberately writing about anything at all. When things are happening at that level, the song is always in some way expressing itself..".
We need to let Bob be Bob and simply sit back and admire the art that he creates.
Please forward your email address so we can correspond.
Peace & Grace,

Nick Coke said...

I'm with you on that last point Scott - for me there's no turning away from his conversion. Dylan has never renounced his Christian faith and if anything appears to be becoming more explicit with it again... certainly Modern Times would bear that out as Daddio puts so eruditely in his post.

Email: - would be great to hear from you.

Nick Coke said...

Scott Ralston left a comment to highlight the brilliant post about 'Red River Shore' on Right Wing Bob by Sean Curnyn. Here's a taster - link to the whole article below.

'A few days ago I wrote a little about the newly released song Red River Shore from Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs collection. (It’s gratifying in a surprising way that the little slideshow I put on YouTube utilizing the audio from the NPR stream has been picked up quite a bit around the internets.

Perhaps I was going a tad nuts implying that it might be the greatest thing Bob Dylan has ever done. After all, you could certainly argue that there’s nothing radical about the record. It’s not going to set the world upside down, or spark revolution in the streets, or spawn hundreds of imitators in the music biz trying to copy the Red River Shore sound. You could hardly imagine a simpler melody, and some might say that Bob Dylan can write a song like this in between rolling out of bed and brushing his teeth. And maybe he can, if the mood is right. Yet, the song and the performance moved me and shook me up in a way that is very rare; all the rarer, in fact, as I get older and bend a little from the weight of believing that I’ve heard it all already. And isn’t it nice to be able to get that excited about something again?

Please read the full article here: Right Wing Bob