Sunday, March 12, 2017

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue: From Whence Comes the Power of This Song?

Don't Look Back
Every time I listen to Bringing It All Back Home it has an effect of me, especially the culminating sequence of songs beginning with Mr. Tambourine Man, which is followed by Gates of Eden, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and this one, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Here's the feeling I get when I reach the end of the CD: it's that same feeling you get at the end of A Day In The Life after it crescendos then drops onto that sustained chord which fades into infinity.

It's the feeling that I get when I listen to this last portion of Bringing It All Back Home that I'm trying to describe here. It's Alright, Ma is such a literary spectacle, a literary variation of the Beatles' orchestral mashup. And then, Dylan drops us into this aftermath of a song about the aftermath of a relationship. It is truly and wholly and devastatingly all over now.

What is it that gives Baby Blue its power? Certainly the context on this album amps its clout. But context alone won't explain it, because he's been performing the song many hundreds of times in a range of settings and contexts, even as recently as November 2016. It's also been included on eight other CDs in various iterations.

Is it the imagery? Most definitely that is part of it. Phrases like "The carpet, too, is moving under you," speak on multiple levels.

But it's the manner in which the song is delivered that really knocks me out. He's not smiling. And it's because it's another sad farewell. The tone is... what? There's this feeling of weightiness, gravity, and not simply because the singer and his object are parting ways. Here's Dylan trying to get a message through, or Dylan's narrator in this case. There's something that is being conveyed, something he wants the hearer to hear.

The middle class college kids who were listening to Dylan's music had no idea of what life is really like out on the streets. Songs like Ballad of a Thin Man and Like A Rolling Stone are striking for their seriousness when contrasted with Top 40 pop singles like Love Potion #9 and Downtown. Dylan's message to Baby Blue is "wake up." Life is serious and this is not a game. Hence the tone of the song.

John Hinchey calls the opening to this song "truly one of Dylan's greatest single lines." It's packed.

Many of the images in the song are simultaneously vivid and ambiguous. An orphan with a gun. Seasick sailors. A vagabond. A painter drawing patterns on her sheets. A folding sky. All of it unified by a forlorn directness.

What strikes me most about Dylan's trio of albums during this post-folk stage is the mature nature of the subject matter. This was not bubble-gum music and was never intended to be.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
All your reindeer armies, are all going home
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

For more details about the song, Wikipedia offers a bit of background.

Tony Atwood's Untold Dylan provides additional information for those who want still more.

What follows here is a live 1965 performance that was filmed for D.A. Pennebacker's Don't Look Back. One is struck by the simplicity and poignancy. And, as I'm always reminded when I watch the solo portions of Dylan's 1965 tour, his ability to hold an audience captive always impresses me, especially considering his youth.

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Duluth Dylan Fest Update

For the record, this will be a very special Duluth Dylan Fest. Last year we celebrated Dylan's 75th birthday. This year we'll also celebrate his Nobel Prize for Literature. There will be Dylan Trivia, Dylan-Themed Art, a noble Poetry event, our Singer/Songwriter Contest and the usual events unique to the Northland including the Blood on the Tracks Express. And lots of music.
Here at Duluth's Bob Dylan Way Page


johncaruth said...

I think It's All Over Now, Baby Blue is one of Bob Dylan's greatest compositions ... it has stood the test of time. I listen to it frequently and puzzle over what it is about ... a breakup? Whatever but I have always felt that Bob had the troubles of America in his mind and not just a personal upset... lines in it make me think of Vietnam, for instance ... the stepping stones, the dead left behind, the rapper at the door could just as reasily be the Vietcong striking their own match for the future ... someday, doubfully, we'll know the truth because Bob is good at keeping secrets we maybe don't need to know. Strike another match, go start anew ...

paco smith said...

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue: From Whence Comes the Power of This Song? yu ask.

from the soul.

as ginzy said:

It wasn’t dope that gave you truth
nor money that you stole –
was God himself that entered in
shining your heavenly soul.