How Do I Love Bob? Let Me Count the Ways…

milo Hey Pal – nice year end list! To review:

  • Tallest Man – the closest thing we’ve got to a new Dylan? Agreed. (So why the hell haven’t you given me the new album yet?)
  • Louis – the second best show on TV? Agreed. (Now about the first…)
  • Avett – concert of the year? Agreed. (Duh.)
  • Me – a twisted f%@#? Agreed. (And screw you, too.)

Alright, enough reflection. Let’s charge ahead and get to the point: I love Bob Dylan and I love lists, so you and I both knew this post was inevitable. I am pleased to present:

My Top 10 Favourite Bob Dylan Songs 

Note I said “favourite”, not “best”. I’m not trying to be authoritative here. I’m not even trying to be smart. I just want to tell everyone about the Bob songs that, for one reason or another, cut to the core of me more than any other. And unlike my previous lists, I’m not wimping out on this one. I am ranking these sweet tunes, from number 10 all the way up to numero uno. Here we go:

Bob Dylan_The times they are a changin[1]       10.  BALLAD OF HOLLIS BROWN  

You’re right, Pal. I’m a sick f%@#. So I love this song for the same reason I love horror movies: I am helplessly drawn to dark things. And this song is a very dark thing, indeed. Over harsh and foreboding guitar, Bob tells the story of a man driven by poverty and desperation to commit an unspeakable act; told in the second person, just to make sure you’re deep inside the desperate man’s messed up head. The scariest part is that by the time “seven shots ring out like the ocean’s pounding roar” you understand why.

Choice Lyric

He looked for work and money and he walked a ragged mile

He looked for work and money and he walked a ragged mile

Your children are so hungry that they don’t know how to smile

Dylan_Another_Side_Of_Bob_Dylan_front[1]        9.  BALLAD IN PLAIN D 

OK, so I admit this tribute to Suze Rotolo may not be Bob’s finest moment. It’s too long and the lyrics aren’t great (“Scrapegoat”? “Chains of the Highway”?). And I suspect this song is the reason Another Side of Bob Dylan is not always considered a top tier Bob album (which it bloody well should be). But something about this sweet, bitter tale of failed love and regret – about the “could-be dream-lover of my lifetime” – keeps me hanging on every word. I just have to hear how the story ends, even though I know it won’t be pretty.

Choice Lyric

Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound

Her sister and I in a screaming battle ground

And her in between, the victim of sound

Soon shattered like a child to the shadows

blood-on-the-tracks-album-cover[1]       8. IF YOU SEE HER, SAY HELLO 

Because if you’ve ever been on the losing end of a break-up, or you’ve ever wondered “whatever happened to…” you know how he feels.

Choice Lyric

Oh, whatever makes her happy

 I won’t stand in the way

Though the bitter taste still lingers on

from the night I tried to make her stay

bob_dylan-the_freewheelin_bob_dylan(8)[1]        7. BOB DYLAN’S DREAM  

Because I remember a group of friends from long ago. And winter weekends spent at a big old hunt cabin in the wilderness, mountains of snow all around. And “by the old wooden stove where our hats was hung, our words was told and our songs was sung. Where we longed for nothing and were satisfied. Jokin’ and a-talkin’ about the world outside”.  And I have to admit “the thought never hit that the one road we traveled would ever shatter or split.” But it did. And 20 years later I still miss them sometimes.

Choice Lyric

Now many a year has passed and gone

Many a gamble has been lost or won

And many a road taken by many a first friend

And each one I’ve never seen again

Dylan_Another_Side_Of_Bob_Dylan_front[1]           6. TO RAMONA

Bob told a lot of different people in a lot of different songs to wake up and move on because things were a-changing. But this particular lecture is my favourite because he really seems to care about poor Ramona – she of the cracked country lips that he still wishes to kiss as to be by the strength of her skin.

Choice Lyric

The flowers of the city

though breath-like get death-like sometimes

and there’s no use in trying

to deal with the dying

though I cannot explain that in lines.

bringin it all back home            5. SHE BELONGS TO ME 

Because it reminds me of my daughter, who is every bit as dynamic and indomitable as the subject of this ironically named song. The kid’s only 11 but she, too, is “nobody’s child.” She “could take the dark out the nighttime or paint the daytime black”. Someday she just might rule the world. For now, she rules me.

Choice lyric
Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes

Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes

For Halloween buy her a trumpet and for Christmas get her a drum

 bob_dylan-the_freewheelin_bob_dylan(8)[1]        5.  A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL

(Yes, yes – another number five. I couldn’t whittle it down and somehow this seemed better than a top 11 list. May the god of lists cast judgment on “the interpreted brain signals that make up my perceived soul”.)

This one reminds me of my son, and not because he’s my “blue-eyed son” (actually, his eyes are brown), but because “my darling young one” is sensitive and aware and compassionate and will, I think, as he gets older, be as shocked and outraged by injustice in the world as Dylan’s “blue-eyed son”. And if I raise him right, maybe just maybe he too will take a stand and “walk to the depths of deepest black forest” and “know his song well before he starts singing”, and “see it and tell it and think it and speak it”, and “reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it”. Here’s hopin’.

Choice Lyric

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?

blood-on-the-tracks-album-cover[1]          4. TANGLED UP IN BLUE 

Because it tells a story so vividly, it somehow manages to make me nostalgic for experiences I never had. I’m pretty sure I never drifted down to New Orleans to work on a fishin’ boat right outside Delecroix. And I never lived on Montague Street in a basement down the stairs with music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.

But I really wish I had.

And maybe the other reason I love this song is because, like the narrator, I too was a little reluctant to accept other people’s definition of “growing up”.

Choice Lyric

All the people we used to know they’re an illusion to me now

Some are mathematicians, some are carpenters’ wives

Don’t know how it all got started, I don’t know what they’re doing with their lives

But me I’m still on the road headin’ for another joint

We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view

Tangled up in blue

 …OK, Pal, we’re down to the top three now.

Are you excited?

I’m excited.

I know you know number one. (You do, don’t you?)

But do you know two and three?

Let’s see…

 blonde on blonde         3.  VISIONS OF JOHANNA 

Someone needs to turn this song into a play. Picture the stage – a dank and smoky little bar where the heat pipes just cough, the country music station plays soft and lights flicker from the opposite loft. And there sits a group of stranded souls pretending to be happy while pining for the magnificent but tragically absent Johanna. And in the middle of it all there is poor Louise, the real star – with the ghosts of electricity howling in the bones of her face – actually present, but unappreciated, trying to hold it all together. Bob sets the stage, then takes us outside for a stroll through infinity to ponder existence and give us the real story behind Mona Lisa’s smile. Do you feel that little boom between your ears? That’s the sound of your mind getting blown.

Choice Lyric

Inside the museums infinity goes up on trial

Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while

highway_61_revisited[1]           2.  LIKE A ROLLING STONE 

Not because of the awesomely vitriolic lyrics.

Not because Bruce Springsteen was right when he said that the opening snare shot kicked open the door to your mind.

And not because of Al Kooper’s trippy organ bit, which he famously made up on the spot after bullshitting his way into the recording booth.

…But because this is where it began.

I was 17 and did not yet appreciate Bob. I thought Dylan was over-rated and that his Greatest Hits (a measly 10 song collection at the time) was all the Bob I’d ever need, and then some. Hah!Bob_Dylan_-_Bob_Dylan's_Greatest_Hits[1]

I was a Bob idiot – a Bidiot – and I didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’. But I did know one thing – I knew it was crazy fun to crank Like a Rolling Stone when no one was home and leap around the house belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs: “How does it feeeeeel!!!!!!!!”

The door to my mind had been kicked open and I didn’t even know it.

Choice Lyric

You never turned around to see the frowns

On the jugglers and the clowns

when they all did tricks for you!

You never understood that it ain’t no good

You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you!

highway_61_revisited[1]        1.   DESOLATION ROW 

Because for six months Highway 61 Revisited was the only album I listened to, and during that time of mind-expansion I discovered that Desolation Row – at 11 minutes and 27 seconds – was just about the same length of time as the walk between Union Station and my office. Voila. I had the soundtrack of my commute. And so I would walk, with Bob’s rhythm guitar playing in my left ear, and Charlie McCoy’s amazing flamenco-flavoured fills dancing in my right. And over all of it, Bob’s voice and wild wordplay describing the parade of misfits and losers living out their days on Desolation Row. And I would match those freaky characters in my head to the characters I saw around me on the city streets. Cinderella, the Good Samaritan, Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, even Dr. Filth. I saw them all.

I did that every day. Both ways. For half a year. I learned every syllable, every strum, every note. You’d think I would get sick of it. Not even close. Even today, it gets me every time. The final minute, after Bob has uttered his last word, and those guitars and Bob’s harmonica soar together like a sublime wave come to carry you away, still causes me to pound my fist and sob at the sheer beauty of it. My all-time favourite minute of music at the end of my all-time favourite song at the end of my all-time favourite album. Can it get any better? Ah, no.

Choice Lyric

(Every word. Every single word. But if I must make myself choose…)

And the only sound that’s left

after the ambulances go

Is Cinderella sweeping up

on Desolation Row

So that’s it, Pal. My 10 (or 11) favourite Dylan tunes.

Oh, one more thing – I must add my choice lyric from one song that didn’t quite make the list. From My Back Pages (you like how I’m turning a top 10 into a top 12?):

But I was so much older then

I’m younger than that now

Because when I was in my 20s, I thought that was the stupidest line I’d ever heard. Now that I’m in my 40s, I get it. Boy do I get it. Here’s the thing – Bob sang that when he was 22. How can a 22-year-old have that thought? That’s Bob – as I’ve said before – always way ahead of the pack.

Later, Pal.

One response to “How Do I Love Bob? Let Me Count the Ways…

  1. These are very interesting song choices, to say the least. I have 2 questions and 1 comment. Question #1… who are you wondering about when you wonder about loves lost – “what happened to….”? Question #2…….Has Hollis Brown ever been the subject of an indie movie? His story sounds horrible but vaguely familiar. Now, I wanted to share my moment when I became not soooo much of a bidiot (although I kind of still am)… It was when I was watching Much Music years ago and I saw the video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. The video blew me away and I thought…who is this wonderful man who asks these fabulous thought provoking questions and makes these bold yet accessible statements? Then I realized that it was the same voice who sang the song Blowin In The Wind. I had to sing this song when I was in Grade 4 at our Remembrance Day assemby and I always loved it. I also realized it was the same man who sang the original folksy diddies that Elise and Michael Keaton used to sing on Family Ties whenever they brought out the guitar (or when Elise tried to sing at a bar). When I put all of these fond memories and familiar moments together I realized that listening to Bob Dylan made me feel nostalgic in a safe way. I will never be the Bob fan that you two pals are but I think that I get the love, if just on a different, more surface level.

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