59. I’LL KEEP IT WITH MINE – Bob Dylan

 

‘Some people are very kind’, I found myself singing in the car one day recently, when somebody let me into a stream of traffic, when they could so easily have not.  And wondered where the line came from, and then realized that in my head the line sounded like Sandy Denny singing.  Pretty soon, by a sequence of connections, I got there: the album ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ which I had bought during my first year at university and the song was by Bob Dylan, and I loved it.

I’m almost sure, that I purchased the album (from the ‘Duck, Son and Pinker’ record shop in Swansea) because it contained a cover version of a Joni Mitchell song that I’d never heard of before, and which had never appeared on any of her own recordings –the wonderful’ Eastern Rain’ (why on earth has no one else chosen to cover this beautiful song?); and also for some odd reason , I maintained a kind of illusion that this band Fairport Convention was somehow a bunch of undergraduates just like me who did this sort of thing in between lectures and tutorials.  I had the same sort of feeling, incidentally, about Bridget St John with whom I was musically half in love at this time: I imagined them all going to seminars about John Keats, or oceanography, or even mechanical engineering, and then getting together in common rooms to make music, or staying up late in student digs penning sensitive songs. Hmmm.

The sound, the sounds, on’ What We Did on Our Holidays’ was fabulous, and still is.  Richard Thompson has gone on to achieve iconic musical status; Sandy Denny –and not just because her early death confers ‘legend’ –is acknowledged rightly not only as one of the great contemporary folk singing voices, but also as an accomplished songwriter in her own right.  The choices of songs on the album seem, now, pretty inspired -and of course the timeless ‘Meet On The Ledge’ is included in that number…  along with this relatively unknown Dylan song.

What gave this song its wistfulness?  Well, first of all it’s within the context of a kind of unconventional love song  (loving you ‘not for what you are/But for what you’re not..’)- but it’s also about ‘searching’ (a popular idea in the post- flower power years), with the added slightly mystical appeal of searching ‘for what’s not lost’.  There’s the attractive idea of communality –‘everybody will help you/discover what you set out to find..’; and then there’s that quirky, ambiguous refrain which provides the title: ‘if I can save you any time/come on give it to me/ I’ll keep it with mine’.

Despite being a words man, I’m still not clear on this.  He could be saying of course that he’s more than willing to save ‘her’ (the addressee) time and trouble spent searching for meaning, or whatever (‘what’s not lost’).  But I think I heard it in a kind of literal way too –‘time’ being talked about as a sort of commodity to be ‘saved’, looked after, ‘kept’ (safe?) – and the playful offer from the singer is that if she will be willing to hand over her allocation of time to him, he will look after both their ‘times’, together – like love, sort of thing.

Where does the verse three train (which leaves ‘at half past ten’) come into this, I hear you ask.  Funnily enough, though trains often feature in songs as symbols of freedom and movement, in this one I wonder if the train’s monotonous regularity (‘back tomorrow at the same time again’), like the conductor ‘still stuck on the line’, is in fact bit of a contrast to the searching spirit, not earthbound by these timetables and schedules.  So does the refrain now come to imply: against this backdrop of mundanity, stick with me and either ‘we’ll do our searching together’ or rather that‘spending our time together is the right goal of all that unnecessary searching’?  Answers on a postcard please.

The only recording I’ve heard of Dylan himself singing this is, I think, with his own bluesily plonky piano accompaniment –still great, of course of course- but perhaps helping us to appreciate even more Fairport’s lightness of touch. Nico’s famous cover from her ‘Chelsea Girls’ album doesn’t do it for me really, and Judy Collins’s early stab at it (a 1965 single which she never bothered to include on an album) is perhaps a touch too jaunty. It’s not an easy song, perhaps, or I’m just fussy.

Or more likely, the lovely Fairport Convention recording spoilt me for any others.

So dear readers, if you have any further reflection, memory or interpretation relating to this song: come on, give it to me, I’ll keep it with mine.

 

15. I BELIEVE IN YOU – Bob Dylan

As I have anticipated the first Dylan song I’d be writing about, never once did I consider this one.  For the record –I thought maybe ‘Gates of Eden’, one of the first that I learned to play; ‘When the Ship comes in’, the one I played most in folk clubs, or songs I have just formed a close affection for –‘Lay down your Weary Tune’ and even the much slighter ‘One more cup of coffee’…     But on the ol’ ipod shuffle, yesterday, Judy Collins’s version (what, her again?) of this song came on, and I remembered Dylan’s original, and I knew that I wanted to write about it.

When Victor and I flew back into Heathrow Airport after three weeks of travels on Greyhound buses in the States, we must have had some spare moments in between connections to mooch around in the Airport’s newspaper  and magazine kiosks.  Shameful to confess, on this occasion media and music news caught my attention  more than the news of world events and political issues.  Joni Mitchell was on the cover of Rolling Stone, with the infamous curly perm – and –was this hinted at on the covers of NME?  Melody Maker?  Or was it just alluded to in the Joni Mitchell interview?  -Dylan had found God, and was talking openly, and writing, playing and singing, about his newfound Christian faith!

Vic, a most fervent Dylan fan, said we shouldn’t be surprised –Dylan had been a chaser after truth all his life. And yes, it was the case: he’d been unwilling to settle for easy answers, clichés and platitudes, but had maintained integrity even when, unpopularly, he had refused the pigeon holing of trendy genres (consider ‘Our Back Pages’ – a comment perhaps on the oversimplifications of ‘protest’ singers) “So it was just a matter of time,” Victor suggested, “till he arrived at Truth.” (something like this. hope I haven’t misrepresented the younger you/us, Vic.  But that’s who and where we were then).

The first ‘Christian’ album (the first of three, basically) was an unequivocal underlining of this new commitment –‘Slow Train Coming’-  and perhaps surprisingly met with much critical approval despite (or because of?) its authentic gospel tones.  Our camp, our church community of twentysomethings and even younger, were quietly thrilled.  It graced all our turntables; Colin even taught ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals’ to the Sunday school.

It was a time when –with that wonderful youthful energy and idealism which needs no apology or regret –we wanted to express ourselves in every possible artistic medium and genre; so, as a church, we had several evenings of ‘offering our gifts to each other’, expressing praise and blessing in song, poetry, drama, music, story and dance.  I can’t remember whose idea it was, but on one of these occasions a few of us prepared, rehearsed and performed an interpretive dance to ‘I Believe In You’.  This is hard to believe now!  Hard to imagine what range and variety of movements sustained us through its full five minutes of recorded song!

But I do vaguely recall the joy, the excitement of doing it, and of course that the experience of performing and interpreting the song in a different medium made one inhabit the song in a different way, listening and living through each phrase.  While it starts off on an almost defensive note, a sort of almost sorry whine from a misunderstood  believer –‘they don’t want me around…  Because I believe in you…’ it moves to something that is very much like real praise,all this very close in tone and content to many an honest, raw Davidic psalm: the affirmations of ‘I believe in you even on the morning after/…  When white turns to black/…  Even though I be outnumbered…’And so, also psalm-like, the content moves not just from complaint to faith affirmation/praise, but also then to the imperatives of prayer/plea –‘Don’t let me drift too far…’, ‘Don’t let me change my heart…’

And each one of those stages, each one of those lines and phrases of self pity, solid commitment and plea is echoed with total conviction by the nuances of Dylan’s extraordinary voice – agonized in places, plaintive in others (and against which Ms Collins’s rendition sounds…sorry, Judy…somewhat bland) – and to each of these stages, we danced, we moved, we tried to inhabit it with our hands, feet, gestures, expression and our own faith.

It’s not surprising, then, that others have wanted to cover this song.  Whatever your stance on spirituality, the song has an obvious authenticity of feeling, and integrity, and it is beautifully structured too.  It lives on –beyond what we now call Dylan’s ‘Christian period’.  My heart lifts to remember it today, my faith – gladly -still making that same arc of psalmic responses..