Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006

Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006

by Clinton Heylin

View All Available Formats & Editions

The second of two volumes, this companion to every song that Bob Dylan ever wrote is the most comprehensive book on the words of America’s greatest songwriter. Clinton Heylin is the world’s leading Dylan biographer and expert, and he has arranged the songs—including a number that have never been performed—in a continually surprising


The second of two volumes, this companion to every song that Bob Dylan ever wrote is the most comprehensive book on the words of America’s greatest songwriter. Clinton Heylin is the world’s leading Dylan biographer and expert, and he has arranged the songs—including a number that have never been performed—in a continually surprising chronology of when they were actually written rather than when they appeared on albums. Using newly discovered manuscripts, anecdotal evidence, and a seemingly limitless knowledge of every Bob Dylan live performance, he has uncovered a wealth of information, leaving no stone unturned in his research.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
With its companion, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957–1973, Heylin's new book provides an exhaustive chronicle of every song written by Dylan through 2006 and the album Modern Times. As in the first book, these 300 songs are arranged in the order in which Dylan presumably wrote them, which displays the development and progression of his craft. Heylin has gathered details about the songs from interviews, journals, and studio logs and adds his personal notes about live performances. Even if one isn't familiar with the songs, these reports are never dull. Heylin is generous with his praise and pulls no punches with his criticism. He cites the first studio recording(s) and the first known performance for each song, allowing readers to discover songs that have never been performed in concert. Heylin also includes an overview of Dylan's creative output during this period and an explanation of the book's methodology. Although the author writes that this is the concluding book in the series, he might need to add a third volume because the ageless Dylan just keeps on writing and performing. VERDICT Essential for academics and general readers interested in Dylan criticism.—Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
From the Publisher

"Clinton Heylin, master explicator of the Dylan canon, has however improbably, sorted it all out for us through the tangled '80's and beyond, completing what he started in Revolution In The Air. The book is essential." —Jonathan Lethem

"Heylin is at once a researcher, explicator and archivist . . . Taking Dylan's songs in sequential order of composition might seem to be an improbable project, but Heylin documents it with such attention to detail that one marvels at his provable and entirely correct timeline." —Shepherd Express

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.42(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

Still on the Road

The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974â"2006

By Clinton Heylin

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2010 Clinton Heylin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-759-7



{Blood on the Tracks}

On January 3, 1974, Dylan returned to the road (save for 1982–5, for good). On December 30, 1974, having returned "home" to Minnesota for Christmas, he completed the album he had spent most of the year working on, recording, thinking about, and rerecording. Blood on the Tracks was the result of a year of letting his soul bleed into the songs again. And of putting his marriage vows on hold. The process, though, of getting an album out of the fifteen songs he scribbled into his notebook that summer — and two that he didn't — had proven the most tortuous since Blonde on Blonde. Probably because he knew how good they were, he was determined not to let this opportunity go to waste ...


Published lyric/s: Lyrics 85; Lyrics 04.

Known studio recordings: A&R Studios, NYC, September 16, 1974 — 1 take;

Sound 80, Minneapolis, MN, December 30, 1974 [BoTT].

First known performance: Salt Lake City, UT, May 25, 1976.

The uses of a ballad have changed to such a degree. When they were singing years ago, it would be as entertainment ... A fellow could sit down and sing a song for a half hour, and everybody could listen, and you could form opinions. You'd be waiting to see how it ended, what happened to this person or that person. It would be like going to a movie ... Now we have movies, so why does someone want to sit around for a half hour listening to a ballad? Unless the story was of such a nature that you couldn't find it in a movie.

— Dylan, to John Cohen, June 1968

Just six months after John Wesley Harding — "the amnesia" having barely set in — Dylan was trying to figure out how to reconfigure the most ancient form of popular song for an audience brought up on "going to a movie." Six years later, he pulled it off. "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" sets out to tell, and succeeds in telling, a story "of such a nature that you couldn't find it in a movie" (though Jonathan Taplin at one point thought it could make the transition to celluloid). A ménage à quatre involving the three title characters and Big Jim, the tangled tale ends with only the fair Lily and the Jack of Hearts escaping with their lives.

This epic ballad appears to have been wholly inspired by Dylan's experience of making the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in a genre which suited both ballad and b movies: the Western. "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" even acts like a shooting script at times. When Big Jim pulls a gun on the Jack of Hearts, only to find that "the cold revolver clicked," one's mind's eye immediately sees the empty gun in close-up, then the expression of Big Jim ("ya couldn't say surprised"), before focusing on Rosemary ("steady in her eyes") behind him. Only in the next-but-one verse do we find out that she (or Lily) has not only emptied his gun but has stabbed him with a penknife, a beautiful touch — the penknife being the favored instrument of murderers in every traditional ballad from "Love Henry" to "The Cruel Mother."

How long the idea gestated after those days in Durango we can only guess. But it should come as no great surprise that he wrote such a song separate from — and antecedent to — the pouring forth that makes up the rest of his 1974 album. It may have been something he had already started to sketch out on the road. (In his on-tour diary, he broods about the fact that Billy the Kid died when he was only twenty-one.) Certainly, the impetus here is quite different to the other nine cuts. In this song, he idealizes an outlaw who is part Billy the Kid, part Robin Hood, but mostly that archetypal "stranger" who arrives in town, turns everything on its head, and rides out.

Not that his model for this character comes from any movie. Rather, it can be found in a pack of cards, itself a running motif throughout the song (and, indeed, album). The Jack of Hearts is the Magus, the Magician of the Tarot, a juggler, "the mountebank who surprises yokels by his sleight-of-hand, the trickster in the commercial world, the subtle deceiver" (Oracle of the Tarot). Nor is it a coincidence that at the feet of the Magus, in the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck, are two flowers — the lily and the rose. Both appear, in appropriately Madonna-esque guises, in the ballad: each in thrall to the master magician. One is even prepared to spill blood to preserve his freedom of movement.

The sophistication of this narrative, both in its symbolism and as a carefully woven tapestry, is really quite remarkable, even for a man brought up on the "big ballads." That copy of Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads which Allen Ginsberg remembered sitting on Dylan's shelf in MacDougal Street had been well thumbed. This was not a song Dylan ran off in an afternoon.

He presumably worked on "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" in the immediate aftermath of a six-week tour. Certainly, by the time he was ready to crack open a new notebook and transfer the scraps of song he'd been working on, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" — his most ambitious lyric in almost a decade — was already a realized piece of work in need of very little tweaking.

Its position at the start of the Blood on the Tracks notebook — that fifty-cent purchase whose contents are now priceless — suggests not only that it was already to hand, but also that it was not a song he worked on much down on his Minnesotan farm, where most of the album was penned. Of the sixteen verses, just two are given a light makeover in the notebook — the twelfth ("Lily's arms were locked around ...") and the fifteenth ("The next day was hangin' day ...").

Dylan, it seems, was never entirely satisfied with the former scene, in which Lily entwines herself about the Jack of Hearts, and tried a number of ways to make the dialogue work. When he rerecorded the song in Minneapolis in December — for what became the album take — he omitted this verse altogether, even though its final line sums up the song's theme better than any other: "Just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts." As it happens, he forgot to amend the songbook, so the verse has always appeared in the printed lyric:

Lily's arms were locked around the man she
dearly loved to touch,
She forgot all about the man she couldn't stand, who hounded her
so much,
"I've missed you so," she said to him, and he felt
she was sincere,
But just beyond the door he felt jealousy and
Just another night ...

The "hanging" verse troubled Dylan, too, as he sought to make Rosemary's acceptance of her fate appear suitably stoic. In the process, he transforms the perfectly acceptable "And in the final moments, it was said she gave a wink / Toward the purple hills, or maybe to the Jack of Hearts" into something less satisfactory: "Nobody knew in those final moments what she did think." As a result, he forces the narrator to awkwardly introduce himself: "But I'm sure it had something to do with the Jack of Hearts." He also required the poet within to focus on the sober hanging judge, introducing the tautological "hadn't had a drink" to rhyme with "blink," so that he could introduce the memorable get-out clause, "The only person on the scene missin' was the Jack of Hearts." The whole song had been "just another night in the life...."

The one challenge left now was to see if he could record this epic fifteen-verse narrative with a similar minimum of fuss. Which it appears he did. And again it came first. On day one of the sessions at the old Studio A in New York (now known as A&R Studios) — before the band called up to lend a hand had even arrived — Dylan had cut the song in a single take, making it the first song to be assigned to the album. Nor did he feel throughout the New York sessions the slightest need to return to the song.

Only at a second set of sessions in late December, set up in the frozen Midwest by his brother David, did he make it one of five songs "reworked" with a less minimalist touch. Before the tape rolled, the younger Zimmerman instructed the local Minneapolis musicians, "This is a long song; just keep playing. When you think it ends, it doesn't, so just keep on playing." It was a smart call. Unerringly, Dylan did it again: cutting the song in a single take after only a partial run-through (such was his haste that he was stuck playing harmonica in the wrong key — A, not D — throughout).

Dylan was less tempted to try his luck live. This compelling, convoluted narrative has been attempted just once in performance, as a duet with Joan Baez — who cut the song herself for her own live album, From Every Stage — at the final Rolling Thunder Revue show in Salt Lake City. He didn't think he could remember all the words and ended up writing a series of cue phrases on the sleeve of his shirt. He apparently still managed to pull it off (just as he had memorized Guthrie's equally epic "Tom Joad" fifteen years earlier). Unfortunately, Mormons don't appear to own tape recorders. The concert was not recorded, leaving this particular gathering of the Jack of Hearts and friends just a memory for the fortunate few.


Published lyric/s: Lyrics 85; Lyrics 04. [Variants 74–8: I Can Change I

Swear; 1984 lyric: Words Fill My Head/In His Own Words 2.

Known studio recordings: A&R Studios, NYC, September 16, 1974 — 1 take;

September 17, 1974 — 2 takes [TBS]; September 19, 1974 — 6 takes; Sound 80,

Minneapolis, MN, December 30, 1974 [BoTT].

First known performance: New Haven, CT, November 13, 1975 [early show].

It's like this painter who lives around here ... He might take a barn from twenty miles away, and hook it up with a brook right next door, then with a car ten miles away, and with the sky on some certain day, and the light on the trees from another certain day. A person passing by will be painted alongside someone [who's] ten miles away ... That's more or less what I do. — Dylan, to John Cohen, June 1968

This description of "what I do" given to John Cohen can hardly be said to apply to those songs Dylan wrote in 1968 — all three of them. It was another technique he was saving for a rainy day. Indeed, he only confirmed he had been working on the "real" follow-up to John Wesley Harding throughout the "lost" years when he began introducing "Tangled Up in Blue" at a number of American 1978 shows as "a song it took me ten years to live and two years to write."

During the spring of 1974 he finally began painting the words to this particular story, in which the past, present, and future intersect on the same tangled plain. As with previous momentous breakthroughs — like "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Like a Rolling Stone" — "Tangled Up in Blue" became one of those songs Dylan seemed quite happy to talk about, welcoming the opportunity to explicate upon a breakthrough no less profound or enduring.

Invariably on such occasions, the two themes he sought to address were the way the narrative played with time and how it was essentially an aural version of a painting in his head; as "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" had been the aural equivalent of a motion picture. As late as 1991, he still talked about "Tangled Up in Blue," and the album it spawned, as products of "my painting period ... learning how to paint on canvas. ... It's like they are paintings, those songs, or they appeared to be. ... They're more like a painter would paint a song as [opposed] to compose it."

This "painting period" came about because of time spent that spring in the company of an elderly teacher called Norman Raeben, in New York, while deciding what to do about his failing marriage. At the time, Dylan avoided discussing the connection with Raeben, but after spending a year and a half of his life applying the same methodology to a four-hour movie, Renaldo and Clara(1977), he opened up about their common inspiration.

Raeben was clearly a remarkable man, who pushed Dylan to unify the visions that had always come his way. As the songwriter informed poet-friend Ginsberg, "I had a teacher that was a conscious artist and he drilled it into me to be a conscious artist. So I became a conscious artist." There was very little practical about what Raeben taught his pupil/s. To him, it was all about vision, not technique — something Dylan wisely expounded over a number of interviews in 1977–8:

He didn't teach you how to paint so much. He didn't teach you how to draw. He didn't teach you any of these things. He taught you [about] putting your head and your mind and your eye together. ... He looked into you and told you what you were. ... If you were interested in coming out of that, you could stay there and force yourself to come out of it. You, yourself, did all the work. ... My mind and my hand and my eye were not connected up. I had a lot of fantasy dreams. ... It wasn't art or painting. It was a course in something else. ... After that I wrote Blood on the Tracks ... Everybody agrees that that was pretty different. ... There's a code in the lyrics. ... You've got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room.

Having been reintroduced to his "true self," it took Dylan a while to recognize a number of these former selves. If he felt like he had become an entirely different person, he was not alone: "I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. ... She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn't possibly explain it." Having married a mathematician, she'd woken up with a poet.

He later informed Ron Rosenbaum, "I haven't come to the place that Rimbaud came to when he decided to stop writing and run guns in Africa." Which is not what he says in "Tangled Up in Blue" — and I'd rather trust the tale than the artist. The couplet "Then he started into dealing with slaves / And something inside of him died" explicitly equates Dylan's Woodstock period with Rimbaud gun-running in Abyssinia. With "Tangled Up in Blue," he threw off the shackles and was astounded to discover that his memory again served him well. By his own admission, having previously "tried to force-learn it ... [but] I couldn't learn what I had been able to do naturally on Highway 61 Revisited ... I learned in '75 [sic] that I have to do it ... consciously; and those are the kind of songs I [now] wanted to write. The ones that do have the break up of time, where there is no time, [while] trying to make the focus as strong as a magnifying glass under the sun."

In order to lock in such intensity, Dylan was obliged to insert himself into his own story — as an omnipresent narrator looking at all these past selves. The ménage à trois element thus introduced ("I lived with them ...") reflected a Gemini at war with himself. Even if he liked to introduce the song in concert as something he "wrote ... about three people in love with each other all at the same time," it was his twin, "that enemy within," who was his opponent — as he almost admitted to Australian journalist Craig McGregor, describing "Tangled" as "the first [song] I ever wrote that I felt free enough to change all the ... he and the she and the I and the you, and the we and the us. I figured it was all the same anyway."

A decade after he had flicked the switch and found his muse again, he went further, telling Musician's Bill Flanagan, "I was trying to do something that I didn't think had ever been done before. In terms of trying to tell a story and be a present character in it without it being some kind of fake, sappy attempted tearjerker. I was trying to be somebody in the present time while conjuring up a lot of past images."

The efficacy of the technique allowed autobiography to entwine around the very roots from which his art sprang, while putting some distance between real life and Art. When discussing this song with Matt Damsker in 1978, he felt able to claim, "There might be some little part of me which is confessing something I've experienced and I know, but it is definitely not the total me confessing anything."

The lines that ring truest are the opening and closing couplets: where he is lying in bed, remembering the past; and at the crossroads, looking to the future. When he sings, "Me, I'm still on the road, heading for another joint," he is contrasting his peripatetic life with the one his wife wanted for them. It proved to be an urge he never entirely killed off. Even in May 1971, at the height of his domestic hiatus, he told one biographer, "The important thing is to keep moving ... Or else to stop by the side of the road every once in a while and build a house." He had done both and knew which worked for him. If past and present selves are reconciled at song's end, the lovers are not.

As part of the process, this conscious artist had become a rather self-conscious lyricist. If Dylan's references to Rimbaud and Hesse are oblique, for the first time in a lyric he was owning up to reading some real poetry. Thus, the mysterious girl from the topless bar (Hermine again — see "Went to See the Gypsy" in the previous volume) hands him a book of sonnets in which every word "rang true and glowed like burning coal." He even kept up the gag by informing McGregor "that [the] poet from the 13th century" was Plutarch, knowing full well it was Petrarch, the founding father of the love-sonnet — who was actually from the 14th century, but who's counting. (My prime candidate for the specific sonnet from Petrarch's Canzoniere Dylan is recalling would be #107: "I see no way now I can free myself / those lovely eyes have warred with me so long / that, alas, I fear this burden of care / will destroy my heart that knows no truce. / I want to flee: but those loving beams ... are in my mind day and night.")


Excerpted from Still on the Road by Clinton Heylin. Copyright © 2010 Clinton Heylin. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Lethem
Clinton Heylin, master explicator of the Dylan canon, has however improbably, sorted it all out for us through the tangled '80's and beyond, completing what he started in Revolution In The Air The book is essential.

Meet the Author

Clinton Heylin is the author of several books, including Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, Can You Feel the Silence: Van Morrison, and Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957–1973.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >