Saturday, April 16, 2016

Most of the Time -- Another Heartbreaker from the Dylan Catalog

There are so many layers to grief. Especially in a break up that breaks you as well.

Loss leaves a hole in your heart. And no one who enters a relationship does it with the aim of ending in failure. Loss and failure are two of life's hardest pills to swallow.

The song "Most of the Time" is the opening track on side two of Dylan's 26th album Oh Mercy. The 1989 album itself was critically acclaimed and sent a signal that Dylan was not a has been, could still pull together some great songs and record great music. Produced by Daniel Lanois, who produced award-winning albums for U2 and Robbie Robertson, the album was striking for the the moody ambience it created. One of the great songs produced during the Oh Mercy recording sessions was "Series of Dreams," a personal favorite for many Dylan fans that did not get included on the album when it was released. It found a home later in his great collection Greatest Hits: Volume 3.

The album quickly became one of my favorite Dylan albums when it came out, with nearly every song a favorite at one time or another during many listens. Much of the time it's "Most of the Time." In part it's the mood, in part, it's the word play. And in part it's simply the laconic, masterful way he delivers the lyrics.

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path, I can read the signs
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

Who hasn't been there? Is the singer trying to convince others or is he trying to convince himself? "I can handle it. I'm not distracted. "I don't even notice she's gone." But the truth is au contraire. And as the song moves forward there are a whole string of these statements of denial. "I wouldn't change it if I could." "I can deal with the situation." "I can endure." And most poignantly, "I don't even think about her." Most of the time.

Most of the time
It’s well understood
Most of the time
I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up, I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive, I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

It's typical of Dylan to find the nerve and follow it along, working it through all its permutations, extracting its juice. In his autobiography Chronicles he writes at length about this album, indicative of its importance to him personally and for his career. I was struck by how many verses he would write for many of his songs, sometimes as many as twenty or more. We only hear that which has been distilled and boiled down.

Most of the time
My head is on straight
Most of the time
I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ’til it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time

The song's bridge continues the theme but with an altered tune that almost seems to promise something new, but then falls back into the stream of its resignation to the way things are. It's hard to let go.

Most of the time
She ain’t even in my mind
I wouldn’t know her if I saw her
She’s that far behind
Most of the time
I can’t even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was with her

Most of the time
I’m halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it went
I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

It's been said that one of Dylan's great achievements is how knowledgeable he is about music history, especially Americana. But another of his gifts has to be his ability to inwardly dredge those painful places in the soul and put into words what he finds there in a way that connects to universal truths about being human.

Though the somber mood on the album is generated through Lanois's layered production (compare to another Lanois produced song, "Not Dark Yet" on Time Out Of Mind), even live versions of the song can convey that same raw wound feel. Here's the original version of the song as it appeared on the album, accompanied by a photo montage of images familiar to most longtime fans.

* * * *

Each May the city of Duluth celebrates the birthday of their native son with a weeklong festival of Dylan-themed events. Several of these in the past have included a tribute concert called Salute to the Music of Bob  Dylan. The past two years Gene Lafond performed "Most of the Time" with a touching heartfelt power, and if it were possible I would share it here. Dylan himself performed the song 36 times in concert between 1989 and 1992.

For what it's worth, this year's Duluth Dylan Fest is ramping up to be richer and more rewarding than ever. Several additional events have been added to the schedule and you will want to make sure you follow it here.  Tickets are available at Eventbrite. You can find the link to tickets here on the BobDylanWay home page.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.


Marc Percansky said...

Hi Ed, great review of this song! This version was directed by Jesse Dylan in 1990 and used as the promo video for the song. It was recorded live and has David Lindley on guitar. It goes hand in hand nicely with the studio version that you posted. Happy Record Store Day to you and your readers. Enjoy!

Ed Newman said...

Thanks, Marc, for sharing that insight about the promo video. I actually intended to share THAT version of the song (YouTube) but at the last minute switched to the album version because I had been talking about Daniel Lanois here. Yes, that is a great version...
Best to you

Simon Freeman said...

The literary greatness of this song is the unmentioned subject. The song is of course about some of the time not most of the time. How better to describe some of the time by simply referring to the sensibilities evident in most of the time. A great song

dan puillips said...

Easy song to sing! Why couldn't do it in concert once in a while!?!