Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One Too Many Many Mornings

"To love another human being is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The most refreshing aspect of Bootleg Series, Volume 9: The Witmark Demos was its reminder of the simple beauty of Dylan's early songwriting, unencumbered by layers of production. It brought me back to those early albums and made me appreciate again the rich wealth of material that preceded Highway 61 Revisited.

"One Too Many Mornings" was not part of this particular bootleg, but is of a similar species. Three verses, another lamentation.

When you look at the Dylan catalog the number of songs about relationships is a large one, perhaps in part because relationships play such a central role in our lives. Relationships are also one of the most challenging facets of our lives. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, which very few people plan for when proclaiming their vows.

Perhaps it's because there are so many situations that involve negotiations, as well as the difficulties of being objective in those many situations we're immersed in: money, family, time, expectations...

For this reason "One Too Many Mornings" touches a nerve. It's a song about movement... away from a painful present toward an uncertain future. Most people have experienced painful breakups even if not the married kind. Marriage only adds additional complications to the equation.

So the song begins with an evocative description of darkness setting in. Dogs are barking out there somewhere, but even that's going to fade. Nothing happening out there, but there's plenty happening inside his head.

Christopher Ricks, who devotes fifteen pages to this song in Dylan's Visions of Sin, points out that the song begins when it's not dark yet but getting there. Silence doesn't mean absence of sound, as Paul Simon pointed out. Words are formed even when no one listens or hears.

The second verse opens with the narrator gazing out toward a desolate street scene, but he doesn't see it so much as he is only looking in that direction. There's nothing really there, and when he turns to stare back into the room, there's emptiness here as well. So he turns again, looking back to the street, sidewalks, signs, a scene devoid of people, warmth or life.

John Hinchey feels the last two verses fail to live up to the first stanza, but I think it works because once you know the song you can't shake its melancholy effect. The second verse haunts, weighted with emptiness. The third verse plays out the root of it.

The couple had shared a space in time. Now that time was past. The narrator is alone, though it's possible his love is right there in the room when he looks back to the bed where they had lain. Except even if she is present, he is alone. Perhaps that is an even greater aloneness.

This is a very different story from "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" or "It Ain't Me, Babe." It's not all right.

To my surprise I'd already written about this song in 2012. Guess I'd forgotten that. Maybe I will write about it again sometime. Who knows? Tomorrow is such a long time...

Dylan performed the song 240 times in concert from 1966 to 2005.

One Too Many Mornings

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

Copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; 
renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music

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