― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
"Love Sick" is the opening cut on Dylan's Grammy Award-winning 30th studio album. Since he had not recorded any new material in seven years, critics hailed it as a comeback album that in retrospect marked a turning point in Dylan's career. At this point in time he's performed the song nearly 600 times in concert.
Dylan sings in a manner indicative of deep anguish. The stark chord-beat scrapes against the walls of a hollowed out heart before he begins the explication of his internal affliction.
This is a very different tone from the leather-hearted drifter who sang "Don't think twice, it's alright." In that song the narrator is obviously someone who moves in and moves on. He is in a relationship with a woman but it's all physical. ("It ain't no use in turning on your light, babe, that light I never knowed.") Perhaps she is in love with him deeply, wants to please him, but is not comfortable with words. She tries to love him as best she knows how, but he's a complicated young man and he has parts of himself he also wants to share. He realizes their incompatibility and a need to bail.
But he's not nice about it. "You're the reason I'm travelling on," is pretty pointed.
In verse three he says, "I once loved a woman, a child I'm told. I give her my heart but she wanted my soul..." She was needy. He took advantage of her neediness and then moved on. She was desperate, but didn't know what to do.
Then there's the last verse, which must have hit her like a punch in the gut.
I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
The song is sung in a manner that is just too casual for the kind of thing that was going on. And in "Love Sick" there is nothing casual about Dylan's lament whatsoever. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, now that he's on the receiving end of having a heart broken, he sings a different tune.
I’m walking through streets that are dead
Walking, walking with you in my head
My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping
Not only is the pain within himself, it's as if the whole of creation is suffering with him. But it's complicated and confusing. He's uncertain about things.
Did I hear someone tell a lie?
Did I hear someone’s distant cry?
I spoke like a child; you destroyed me with a smile
While I was sleeping
When he reaches the chorus he laments,
I’m sick of love but I’m in the thick of it
This kind of love I’m so sick of it
Verse two is a classic description of what it's like to be hurting. Why is it that when we are most miserable we become so aware of others' contentment?
I see, I see lovers in the meadow
I see, I see silhouettes in the window
I watch them ’til they’re gone and they leave me hanging on
To a shadow
* * * *
Going back to "Don't Think Twice" it should be noted that not all of Dylan's songs of that era were of that ilk. Even in "Don't Think Twice" he's not the bullydog that Mick Jagger was in "Under My Thumb" or "M
idnight Rambler" where he screams, "I'll stick my knife right down your throat, and baby, it hurts."
In contrast, the many-times covered "Girl From The North Country" shows that tender side of Dylan's heart, as do many other such as "Tomorrow Is A Long Time."
As the film I'm Not There attempted to creatively depict, Dylan has many personas. The manner in which he sings "Love Sick" and others of this ilk suggest that he's familiar with the terrain of heartbreak.
* * * *
Verse after verse Dylan lays down layers of pain, each chorus beginning with "I'm sick of love." And finally the last verse concludes thus:
I'm sick of love; I wish I'd never met you.
I'm sick of love; I'm trying to forget you.
You can see him wrestling with himself, like he's trying to talk himself out of caring so badly. He's sick of love. He's sick of the pain it causes to care. He wishes he didn't care, wishes he could forget. But in the end he confesses how it really is.
Just don't know what to do
I'd do anything to be with you.
* * * *
Here are two versions of the song on video. The first, on YouTube, is Dylan performing the song in what appears to be a staged setting. He successfully achieves the emotional torment that he captured in the original recording.
Meantime... life goes on all around you.