Lyrics

One of our greatest all-time singer/songwriters.
One of our greatest all-time singer/songwriters.

Lyrics

Ever since I started listening to my iPod many years ago, I pay much closer attention to the lyrics of the music I’m listening to. This never happens when I’m just playing music normally. Background music might get your toes tapping but it doesn’t necessarily make you think.

What attracts me to a song is inevitably the melody or rhythm. The lyric is the icing on the cake. A great song combines a meaningful lyric with an unforgettable melody.

Often when I’m listening to a song sung in a different language, I wonder: What the heck is that person talking about?

Sometimes, there is an English translation in the liner notes, but much more often, there is not. A. R. Rahman, by far one of my favourite composers, writes songs in Tamil (thanks, Google Translate) but no translations are available, which is too bad. Occasionally, for fun, I will make up my own silly translations for the songs I’m listening to and bug Naomi by singing along with the track, something like:

“Oh my dearest,
your curry tonight was great
but not as great as the one you made
when Nahindra got married!”

When you focus on the lyrics of a song, and they click with you and the melody they’re accompanying, the song is elevated is another level.

Which brings me to one of today’s greatest singer/songwriters: Bob Dylan. Something strange is going on with Bob, that’s for sure. His voice has gone way beyond gravelly. Hearing it, you’ll be put off at first, for sure, but eventually you get used to listening to a voice that makes “raspy” sound smooth in comparison.

But it’s not his voice that has me, it’s his lyrics.

In the past, Bob made sense out of his lyrics. Each verse seemed to follow the other in a rational, logical manner. Take the lyrics of one of his best-known songs, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.

“Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”
Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Even you don’t know by now
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It’ll never do somehow

When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window, and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m a-traveling on
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

And It ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road

But I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
But we never did too much talking anyway
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

So It ain’t no use in calling out my name, gal
Like you never done before
And It ain’t no use in calling out my name, gal
I can’t hear you any more

I’m a-thinking and a-wonderin’ walking down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

So long honey, baby
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
Goodbye’s too good a word, babe
So I’ll just say fare thee well

I ain’t a-saying 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.

Each set of lyrics follows, as I’ve mentioned, the previous one very logically.

Now take a look at two songs from one of his recent albums, Tempest, released in 2012. Perhaps you can do a better job than me in understanding how each set of lyrics connects with the previous one…

“Long And Wasted Years”
It’s been such a long, long time
Since we loved each other and our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you

Last night I heard you talking in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn’t say
Oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday

Is there a place we can go?
Is there anybody we can see?
Maybe, it’s the same for you as it is for me

I ain’t seen my family in twenty years
That ain’t easy to understand
They may be dead by now
I lost track of them after they lost their land

Shake it up baby twist and shout
You know what it’s all about
What are you doing out there in the sun anyway?
Don’t you know the sun can burn your brains right out?

My enemy crashed into the dust
Stopped dead in his tracks and he lost his lust
He was run down hard and he broke apart
He died in shame he had an iron heart

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes
There are secrets in them I can’t disguise
Come back baby if I ever hurt your feelings I apologize

Two trains running side by side
Forty miles wide, down the eastern line
You don’t have to go
I just came to you because you’re a friend of mine

I think that when my back was turned
The whole world behind me burned
It’s been awhile since we walked down that long, long aisle

We cried on that cold and frosty morn
We cried because our souls were torn
So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years

“Soon After Midnight”
I’m searching for phrases
To sing your praises
I need to tell someone
It’s soon after midnight
And my day has just begun

A gal named Honey
Took my money
She was passing by
It’s soon after midnight
And the moon is in my eye

My heart is cheerful
It’s never fearful
I’ve been down on the killing floors
I’m in no great hurry
I’m not afraid of your fury
I’ve faced stronger walls than yours

Charlotte’s a harlot
Dresses in scarlet
Mary dresses in green
It’s soon after midnight
And I’ve got a date with the fairy queen

They chirp and they chatter
What does it matter?
They lie and they dine in their blood
Two timing slim
Who’s ever heard of him?
I’ll drag his corpse through the mud

It’s now or never
More than ever
When I met you I didn’t think you’d do
It’s soon after midnight
And I don’t want nobody but you

Don’t get me wrong – I love Dylan’s later albums (Time out of Mind, 1997; Love and Theft, 2001; Modern Times, 2006 & Tempest, 2012). His songs don’t get tired, and it’s a shame that you’ll never hear some of the great songs from these albums on the airways.

But more and more, (even, although less so, going back 18 years) despite the lovely melodies that can rock you into another world, more and more of Dylan’s lyrics don’t make any sense; they’re just musings that seem to fit well enough into the musical rhythms and they rhyme well enough, but have no connection to whatever he just sang or the title of the song.

With 655 songs written (& 36 albums, not counting the many live albums, compilations and bootleg albums that can bring up the number to close to 100 albums), it’s amazing that Bob can still get up in the morning, let alone compose a new song. But regarding his ideas, well, even that may be too much for this musical genius.

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