Saturday, February 24, 2018

Master Blueprints # 8: “It Was Raining From the First and I Was Dying There of Thirst, So I Came in Here”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Just Like a Woman”
Album: Blonde on Blonde
Release Date: June, 1966

Note:  This is the 2 of 2 conclusion of the last write up (Master Blueprint # 7).  If you have not read the introduction to that entry, read it first before reading on here, otherwise a full connection with this entry will escape you ( ).

Carrying on now with my top 10 covers of the Bob Dylan The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden, New York City, October 16, 1992. # 10 up to # 6 were reviewed in that 1 of 2 link above.  Here I tackle the top 5, working my way up to # 1:

# 5. “Mr. Tambourine Man” sung by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, and the Heartbreakers ( ) .  I think I’ll simply paraphrase here on a paragraph from my Master Blueprints # 1 entry ( ), which was written with this song in mind: 

“I recall as I listened to it thinking at the time that Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty both had in mind Dylan himself as they sang the lyrics.  Near the end of the magical rendition of this song, Tom Petty catches McGuinn’s eye and offers a knowing wink.  At that moment, I felt a kinship with these musicians.  A common sense of wonder in relation to the man they were honoring, not only through a song written by him, but now being interpreted as also being about him”.

Not much more needs to be said other than to suggest reading that fist Master Blueprint entry, inspired by the beauty that is “Mr. Tambourine Man”. 

Ok, no more pushing folks off to other entries. 

#4. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, sung by Kris Kristofferson ( ).  I’ve rarely seen a performer so elated singing as Kris Kristofferson is here.  Other musicians on the stage included Willie Nelson (who did an admirable job just prior with “What Was It You Wanted”) and Don Was on bass, who had produced Bob Dylan’s then-most recent studio album Under the Red Sky (I once read a review of those sessions where one of the musicianS who was there was reflecting on Don Was’ fascination in finally having a change to work with Bob Dylan, at one time asking him “So, Bob, did you ever wonder, y’know: ‘Why me?’”, and getting no reply).

A quick listen and one could easily conclude that “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” is a simple love song.  But nothing is simple with Bob Dylan.  Years ago I interpreted this song as being from the perspective of an infant, singing to a parent (hmmm….I’ll add a grandparent to that short list).  Others have concluded this too, because subsequently I read a gratifying Dylan reply to an interviewer, stating that he supposed it could be construed that way (that’s about as good as you are going to get from him). 

So I’m going to run with that, as I am sure this angle was on Kristofferson’s mind too.  His elation is the pure joy emanating from the memory and perspective of a man blessed to have been a father, as I believe Kristofferson (and of course Bob Dylan) was.  Picture a young Dad, any young Dad, seemingly after a weary, long day at work.  I mean, my goodness, from that perspective there is just no beating the line “Kick your shoes off. Do not fear.  Bring that bottle over here. I’ll be your baby tonight”… bottle that is.

Yes, it’s no wonder Kris Kristofferson was on such a high.  If you leave a song up for interpretation, as Bob Dylan always does, it must be so much fun to figure it out for yourself, and then go out and perform it, knowing you’ve got the inside scoop.

# 3. “License to Kill”, sung by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers ( ).  You’d think there would be nothing that could top Kristofferson’s performance, but in my opinion there were three such instances.  # 3 on the list is this (see link above) killer rendition of “License to Kill” covered by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a song about the misinformation that can fill a man’s mind, and a woman’s lament to be unable to do anything about it.  It’s a brave and insightful song for a man to write, and should put no doubt in any equal-rights-minded woman that Bob Dylan has their back (including the Boston waitress who confronts Dylan in an incredibly summarized exchange, which can be heard on the song/novella that is “Highlands” off of Time Out of Mind).  One could also easily envision the “woman” in the song to be any peacemaker, giving “License to Kill” some affiliation with “Watching the River Flow”, which was the focus-song for Master Blueprints # 6.

Anyhow, after a warm greeting to the crowd, Tom Petty’s smile turns into something completely different, which stays with him for the entirety of his intense performance. Mike Campbell adds a brilliant lead guitar during the instrumental bridge near the end. The lyrics are poignant and, in comparison to many of Bob Dylan’s songs, relatively easy to interpret.  With that said, if you have never heard this number off of Infidels (or even if you have) give it a listen:  “License to Kill” is always worthy of further contemplation. 

# 2. “Seven Days”, sung by Ronnie Wood ( ).  First off, I love that Ronnie Wood got his own slot at the Dylan 30th; he and Ringo Starr, often there for the party at these mega rock events over the years, but consigned to only getting on stage for the end-of-show jam fests (think The Last Waltz).  Not so here, Ronnie Wood delivering the goods in this gem of a rarity, which he covered on his 1979 album Gimme Some Neck (there are perks to being a beer connoisseur buddy with Bob Dylan).  Recently I’ve been reading this song as being about a son’s reunion with his long lost mother. 

Oh, and did I say jam?  Yeah, well, I’ve rarely enjoyed one as much as the magnificently drawn-out instrumental bridge that plays out here.  Ronnie Wood comes across as a well-versed conductor, spontaneous to boot, pointing to various members of the Booker T and the MGs band to take lead during the jam.  At one moment, at the 2:55 mark of the link above, Wood appears so zoned in as he backs away from Booker T, that I can’t help but think he’s as close to vaporizing into a big ball of music as anyone who has ever played in a band.  G.E. Smith, the normal conductor for much of the evening, adapts masterfully on the fly, working closely with the rhythm section (check out G.E. when Ronnie calls out Booker T to take the 2nd lead transition during the jam).  The fourth and final lead (back to Ronnie Wood) is a classic moment too, with Steve Cropper aping Wood’s chords 2 seconds behind, like only a seasoned professional could. 

My number 2 and number 1 choices were performed back to back that magical evening; a solid one-two punch.  Number 1 you ask? …….

# 1. “Just Like a Woman”, sung by Richie Havens ( ).  My sister Amy is in the know on this one; the most transcendent moment in the concert as far as I am concerned.  This Richie Havens’ performance of “Just Like a Woman” swung wide open for me the door to connecting with the depth of the beauty in this song, and is that not the intention of any musician, whether singing their own song or someone else’s?  To blow away the crowd, not just with the musical element, but with the narrative and reflective one too?  It all adds up to a strong emotional bond when the stars align. 

When a casual listener thinks of Bob Dylan I believe they relate to him mostly as a folk singer, or a protest singer, or going electric, or his faith journey, or contributing to the weaving of the American narrative.  One normally does not associate him with love songs.  But when you dive into Dylan’s music, you realize that love - and love loss - are the most prominent sources for his creative inspirations.  In turn, when you have someone with the prolific abilities of a Bob Dylan who is willing to open up in this way, you can make some pretty profound connections to your own life experience in relation to this the sweetest – and most painful - of all feelings. 

“Just Like a Woman” comes across to me as a two part account of a relationship achingly nearing its end.  The first 2 verses focus on the woman and her delicate state of mind at the time of the break up.  As I listened to Richie Havens cover this week, I thought of the Counting Crows song “Round Here”, which I now believe was at least partly inspired by “Just Like a Woman”  (heck, on the same album - the solid and well balanced August and Everything After – the Counting Crows even mention Bob Dylan in the lyrics to “Mr. Jones“).  The second two verses, from the man’s view, are even more painful.  There’s not a wasted word in these lyrics, each line making clearer that the songwriter is dealing with heavy heartache.  But at the same time, there is a tenderness and a universality that underlies the entire song, lifting it from the ashes. 

I am grateful to have attended a Richie Havens concert, and one of the big take home messages I got from that show was the buildup.  Havens was slow out of the gate in terms of enthusiasm when Nancy and I saw him, but he knew how to work a crowd, and before long we were all caught up the aura of his musical tapestry.  By the end the entire crowd was enraptured.  The amazing thing about Richie Havens’ performance at the Dylan 30th was that he took that skill for building up a concert and condensed it into one song.  Watch that buildup play out in the link.  It’s more than talent.  It’s genuine empathy.

Well, that’s my Bob Dylan The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration top 10 list.  Honorable mentions include George Thorogood singing “Wanted Man” (what a surprise that was, and it didn’t even make the cd release), The Band singing “When I  Paint My Masterpiece”, and Neil Young’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower”.


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