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  #1  
Old 01-16-2013, 10:54 AM
Meltdown Meltdown is offline
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Bob Dylan Song -- Why Boots of Spanish Leather?

The song "Boots of Spanish Leather" off of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' is mostly a dialogue between two lovers, one of which is leaving the following day on a long trip overseas. He asks her if she'd like him to bring anything back for her, and she replies (over and over again, finally getting a little mad about it) that all she wants is him back again, safe, with her.

Finally, at the end of the song, he's gone, and she gets a letter from him telling her that he's probably not coming back at all. She writes back in the last verse:

Quote:
So take heed, take heed of the western winds
Take heed of the stormy weather
And yes, there's something you can send back to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather
Full lyrics here.

My question -- why, specifically, Spanish boots of Spanish leather? Is it just a generic "screw you" and could really have been anything (as long as it scanned)? Or is there some other meaning that I'm missing?

I'm not even sure what Spanish leather is, so that could be part of it.
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  #2  
Old 01-16-2013, 10:59 AM
Meltdown Meltdown is offline
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I'm not even sure what Spanish leather is, so that could be part of it.
I mean, obviously it's leather from Spain, but is Spanish leather supposed to be especially high quality or something? That's what I meant.
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  #3  
Old 01-16-2013, 11:10 AM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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I mean, obviously it's leather from Spain, but is Spanish leather supposed to be especially high quality or something? That's what I meant.
Yes, in particular Cordovan leather, originally from Cordoba.
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  #4  
Old 01-16-2013, 11:24 AM
SaharaTea SaharaTea is offline
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Beautiful song. Inspired by Dylan's girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who left him heartbroken in the summer of 1962 when she left for Italy to study art. Rotolo wrote an interesting book about their relationship. She passed away just last year. She's the girl with him on the cover of Freewheelin'.

Last edited by SaharaTea; 01-16-2013 at 11:26 AM..
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  #5  
Old 01-16-2013, 11:41 AM
harmonicamoon harmonicamoon is offline
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Probably she wants the boots so she can move on.
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  #6  
Old 01-16-2013, 11:47 AM
Sam A. Robrin Sam A. Robrin is offline
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No doubt ol' Bob would have chuckled and told you that whatever the song means to you, well, I guess that's what it was supposed to mean.
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  #7  
Old 01-16-2013, 01:15 PM
cjepson cjepson is offline
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Originally Posted by harmonicamoon View Post
Probably she wants the boots so she can move on.
And one of these days she's gonna walk all over HIM!
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  #8  
Old 01-16-2013, 01:54 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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I think it may be because Dylan's reputation is overrated. I feel sometimes he writes a few lines, get stuck for a rhyme, and then just throws in a nonsense line rather than work on coming up with something that fits. And his fans, rather than calling him out for half-assing his lyrics, assume that anything that doesn't make sense must have some deep hidden meaning.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 01-16-2013 at 01:54 PM..
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  #9  
Old 01-16-2013, 02:28 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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I've always thought that it's an allusion to the Woody Guthrie song "Gypsy Davy". It's a thematically similar song and Bob borrowed a lot from Woody. The song ends with the jilted husband asking his wife to remove her Spanish leather gloves and ride home with him and her refusing.
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  #10  
Old 01-16-2013, 03:38 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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Sorry for the double-post, but a bit more Googling turns up the traditional roots of the Gypsy Davy song (not totally surprising). Not all versions of the song mention Spanish leather, but the Carter Family seems to have recorded a version of it ("Black Jack David") at least as far back as the '30s that refers to "high-heeled shoes...of Spanish leather". Which means that Bob's use of boots is a return to tradition.
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Old 01-16-2013, 03:49 PM
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Black Jack David reminds one of I'm Seventeen come Sunday.
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Old 01-16-2013, 04:18 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
Black Jack David reminds one of I'm Seventeen come Sunday.
Neat. I was just letting folk songs with Spanish leather lead me on a merry chase through the interwebs and I stumbled over a version of "As I Walked Out" that mentions "shoes...of Spanish leather". As I Walked Out seems like a version of Seventeen Come Sunday.
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Old 01-17-2013, 01:48 AM
Snooooopy Snooooopy is online now
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She was going to ask for boots made of rich Corinthian leather, but as everybody knows, that's only for cars.
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Old 01-17-2013, 01:54 AM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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She was going to ask for boots made of rich Corinthian leather, but as everybody knows, that's only for cars.
Hmmm, I got the sense that Ricardo (or was it Ferando?) had some, er, disciplinary instruments made of fine Corinthian leather.
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  #15  
Old 01-17-2013, 06:12 AM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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Originally Posted by epolo View Post
Not all versions of the song mention Spanish leather, but the Carter Family seems to have recorded a version of it ("Black Jack David") at least as far back as the '30s that refers to "high-heeled shoes...of Spanish leather". Which means that Bob's use of boots is a return to tradition.
Dylan also recorded a version of this song, as Black Jack Davey.

"Pull off, pull off them high-heeled shoes
All made of Spanish leather
"

If you consider the two songs together, one possible interpretation is that Boots of Spanish Leather continues the story of Black Jack Davey and the young lady.
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  #16  
Old 01-17-2013, 06:48 AM
BobLibDem BobLibDem is offline
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I didn't know about the reference to Guthrie's work, which makes a lot of sense given Dylan's deep appreciation for him. I've always interpreted that as "you're probably not coming back, and if you do it's longer than I'm going to wait, so send me something that will last and I'm moving on."
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Old 01-17-2013, 10:00 AM
Meltdown Meltdown is offline
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I didn't know about the reference to Guthrie's work, which makes a lot of sense given Dylan's deep appreciation for him. I've always interpreted that as "you're probably not coming back, and if you do it's longer than I'm going to wait, so send me something that will last and I'm moving on."
I like that. All the allusions to prior songs probably informed the choice as well, but I hadn't made the connection that Spanish leather = something that will last (unlike this relationship). I can totally see that.
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  #18  
Old 01-21-2014, 02:37 PM
Edgar Allan Foe Edgar Allan Foe is offline
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You've got the genders reversed.

"I got a letter on a lonesome day / it was from her ship a-sailing"

She is sailing away.

He wants nothing more than for her to come back.
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  #19  
Old 01-21-2014, 03:56 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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I think we're all clear on the genders. There seem to be a whole series of variations of songs about women leaving men that all mention "Spanish leather" in some way. Not sure why there's a connection between unfaithful women and Spanish leather, though. Unless as Bob suggests, it's a contrast between something impermanent and something especially durable.

Mostly I'm just responding to quote this, though:
"If it was never new and it never gets old, then it's folk music"
-Llewyn Davis
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  #20  
Old 01-21-2014, 05:14 PM
Parenchyma Parenchyma is offline
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I love the Nanci Griffith version of this song.
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  #21  
Old 01-21-2014, 06:03 PM
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Originally Posted by SaharaTea View Post
Beautiful song. Inspired by Dylan's girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who left him heartbroken in the summer of 1962 when she left for Italy to study art. Rotolo wrote an interesting book about their relationship. She passed away just last year. She's the girl with him on the cover of Freewheelin'.
Suze went to Italy, which is mentioned in Bob Dylan's Blues.
I always just saw it as asking for something expensive in a slightly vindictive way. Plenty of that in his early songs.
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  #22  
Old 07-06-2016, 06:26 AM
ddarch88 ddarch88 is offline
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My interpretation of the song is that as he is coming back to her he gets a letter that she has now left. She makes a point of never asking for anything, yet he does. I'm not sure why it's Spanish boots of Spanish leather, it certainly has a an interesting phrasing to it. The first time he says the word Spanish it is quick, but the second time the first syllable is held. I hear a longing in that note. Regardless of why it is Spanish boots of Spanish leather, it's important that he does ask her to bring him something, because he undoubtedly wants her back. And realizes probably, he blew it by leaving for so long.
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  #23  
Old 07-08-2016, 05:48 AM
Username6 Username6 is offline
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Meaningless

I think that it doesn't matter what it is, just something to bring back, because then she will come back too... But he chooses Spanish boots of Spanish leather and also names it the song to draw attention away from the real thing he is asking for, and that is just for get her to return. I mean it certainly distracted us, as we seem to be giving the question of "why that" a lot of attention.
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  #24  
Old 07-08-2016, 11:28 AM
drad dog drad dog is offline
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He has given up on her by the end of the song and asks for a material thing because of that. It's not a sitcom.

If it sounds good, then what else is the song supposed to do? Why was this even a question?
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  #25  
Old 07-08-2016, 04:56 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Originally Posted by ddarch88 View Post
My interpretation of the song is that as he is coming back to her he gets a letter that she has now left. She makes a point of never asking for anything, yet he does. I'm not sure why it's Spanish boots of Spanish leather, it certainly has a an interesting phrasing to it. The first time he says the word Spanish it is quick, but the second time the first syllable is held. I hear a longing in that note. Regardless of why it is Spanish boots of Spanish leather, it's important that he does ask her to bring him something, because he undoubtedly wants her back. And realizes probably, he blew it by leaving for so long.
No, he didn't leave at all. In the first verses it is clear that she is leaving and is asking him what he would like her to send from Spain. He says nothing - what he wants today he will want again tomorrow - clearly love and/or sex.
When she reaches Spain - or actually on the way - she says that she won't be coming back anytime soon, so he then wants something physical. Just like I said 2 years ago when I killed this thread.
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  #26  
Old 07-09-2016, 11:34 AM
Ranger Jeff Ranger Jeff is offline
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No, he doesn't ask for the boots because she'll bring them back for him. She asks if she can SEND back something for him to remember her by.

So does he really want a pair of boots? Of course not. But it's a face-saving answer he can give her so she'll stop asking him what he wants as a souvenir. And perhaps he's finally admitted to himself that she's gone and may not ever be back and a good pair of boots might be useful to wear as he moves on too.
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  #27  
Old 07-09-2016, 01:41 PM
Common Tater Common Tater is offline
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Here's an interview with a young Robert by Studs Terkel, and at one point he laughs, and says "Oh, you wanna hear a love song?" Pretty classic. He interrupts Studs to point out it's not a "Boy loves Girl" tune, but a "Girl leaves Boy" tune.

https://youtu.be/t4nA3QwGPBg

The chords are the same as "Girl From The North Country" and pretty close to "Tomorrow Is a Long Time."

http://dylanchords.info/03_times/boots_of_spanish.htm
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  #28  
Old 07-20-2016, 05:01 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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In the two years since this thread started, I've had some time to think and the more I think about it the more I realize that the narrator of the song is an ass. He sounds like one of those "nice guys" that turn out to be whiny, entitled jerks. He's complaining about his girlfriend going off to have some amazing life experience because all he can think about is himself. He thinks he's all romantic because he values her above diamonds and whatever, but really he's manipulative and controlling (come back to me "unspoiled"?!?).

Therefore I suspect the allusion to Gypsy Davie and related songs is a deliberate slap in the face. "You want to go off to study in another country instead of prioritizing me? You're as inconstant as the woman in that song."


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  #29  
Old 07-20-2016, 06:57 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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In the two years since this thread started, I've had some time to think and the more I think about it the more I realize that the narrator of the song is an ass. He sounds like one of those "nice guys" that turn out to be whiny, entitled jerks. He's complaining about his girlfriend going off to have some amazing life experience because all he can think about is himself. He thinks he's all romantic because he values her above diamonds and whatever, but really he's manipulative and controlling (come back to me "unspoiled"?!?).

Therefore I suspect the allusion to Gypsy Davie and related songs is a deliberate slap in the face. "You want to go off to study in another country instead of prioritizing me? You're as inconstant as the woman in that song."


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Lots of the narrators in early Dylan songs are asses. Take a listen to Don't Think Twice where the narrator says that the woman who put him up wasted his precious time. Nasty.
And, much as I love Dylan's music, the way he treated Joan Baez in the tour shown in "Don't Look Back" shows him to be a bit of an ass himself.
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:44 PM
drad dog drad dog is offline
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oh blah blah blah.
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Old 07-20-2016, 09:14 PM
Two Many Cats Two Many Cats is offline
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And, much as I love Dylan's music, the way he treated Joan Baez in the tour shown in "Don't Look Back" shows him to be a bit of an ass himself.
I always thought one of the best zingers I ever read was Mike Royko's response to something that Bob Dylan said in an interview. Dylan said, "I'm not looking to be that new Messiah. That's just not in the cards for me."

To which Mike wrote, "I don't know if that's modesty or a lack of ambition."

Ooooooh buuurrrrn. Good one Mike!
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Old 07-21-2016, 09:28 AM
epolo epolo is offline
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Lots of the narrators in early Dylan songs are asses. Take a listen to Don't Think Twice where the narrator says that the woman who put him up wasted his precious time. Nasty.

And, much as I love Dylan's music, the way he treated Joan Baez in the tour shown in "Don't Look Back" shows him to be a bit of an ass himself.


Yeah, it's not exactly shocking, is it?

But Boots of Spanish Leather happens to be one of my favorite songs and sometime in the last year I was singing it to my infant daughter when it suddenly popped into my head that it was pretty much a textbook illustration of that "nice guy" phenomenon. I will keep singing it to her, but as soon as she's old enough I plan to use it to point out to her that she definitely shouldn't date a guy like this and why.


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  #33  
Old 07-21-2016, 12:25 PM
drad dog drad dog is offline
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Yeah, it's not exactly shocking, is it?

But Boots of Spanish Leather happens to be one of my favorite songs and sometime in the last year I was singing it to my infant daughter when it suddenly popped into my head that it was pretty much a textbook illustration of that "nice guy" phenomenon. I will keep singing it to her, but as soon as she's old enough I plan to use it to point out to her that she definitely shouldn't date a guy like this and why.


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I can't help but think that projection like this is the reason Dylan retreated from public life, and made records that didn't mean anything at all for awhile.

It can't be that he has realized during the song that he can't get her back and asks for something material because of that? It's the whole art and arc of the song. Not sure why that makes a dude such a life lesson about assholes.

Don't think twice? Can it be that the guy was hurt, and justified? I have heard that song as a direct message from me to someone else. And I wasn't the asshole.

There's a big world out there outside of Dylan back seat driving land.
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  #34  
Old 07-21-2016, 01:48 PM
smithsb smithsb is offline
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oh blah blah blah.
Wrong lyrics;

It's, "Oh blah dee, Oh blah doh".
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  #35  
Old 07-21-2016, 02:04 PM
IvoryTowerDenizen IvoryTowerDenizen is online now
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drad dog Find a way to express yourself that is not insulting. If you don't like the topic, move on. There is no need to threadshit.


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He has given up on her by the end of the song and asks for a material thing because of that. It's not a sitcom.

If it sounds good, then what else is the song supposed to do? Why was this even a question?
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oh blah blah blah.
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  #36  
Old 07-22-2016, 01:15 AM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Yeah, it's not exactly shocking, is it?

But Boots of Spanish Leather happens to be one of my favorite songs and sometime in the last year I was singing it to my infant daughter when it suddenly popped into my head that it was pretty much a textbook illustration of that "nice guy" phenomenon. I will keep singing it to her, but as soon as she's old enough I plan to use it to point out to her that she definitely shouldn't date a guy like this and why.
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I thought that nice guys never actually got the girl. In this song he had her, and then lost her.
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  #37  
Old 07-22-2016, 02:50 AM
Princhester Princhester is offline
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Lots of the narrators in early Dylan songs are asses. Take a listen to Don't Think Twice where the narrator says that the woman who put him up wasted his precious time. Nasty.
One of my favourite songs but I really don't see what he's saying as being particularly nasty. Isn't he effectively saying "I was looking for a good relationship with you but you are being cold, so I've wasted my time trying".

It's a bit blunt, but if you take the singer at his word, arguably someone who isn't interested is wasting your time if they lead you on and don't say so from the outset.
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  #38  
Old 07-22-2016, 01:06 PM
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No, he doesn't ask for the boots because she'll bring them back for him. She asks if she can SEND back something for him to remember her by.

So does he really want a pair of boots? Of course not. But it's a face-saving answer he can give her so she'll stop asking him what he wants as a souvenir. And perhaps he's finally admitted to himself that she's gone and may not ever be back and a good pair of boots might be useful to wear as he moves on too.
I have been watching this on the sidelines and wondering if anyone would just cut to the chase.

Of course this is it.

He wants her. She is trying to say she's leaving and not returning, but wants to be nice and send something back. He doesn't hear that at first and keeps asking for her to come back. Finally, he says "sigh...okay, send me something they are famous for - whatever."

And yeah, something made of leather from Spain would fit that. Perhaps if she had gone to Russia, he would finally have just said "okay, fine - just send me some borscht!"

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Old 07-22-2016, 01:15 PM
John Bredin John Bredin is offline
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Perhaps if she had gone to Russia, he would finally have just said "okay, fine - just send me some borscht!"
No, a Russian fur hat of Russian fur.
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  #40  
Old 12-23-2016, 11:12 AM
JCHaywire JCHaywire is offline
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She's just not that into you, Mr. Protagonist.

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I have been watching this on the sidelines and wondering if anyone would just cut to the chase.

Of course this is it.
He wants her. She is trying to say she's leaving and not returning, but wants to be nice and send something back. He doesn't hear that at first and keeps asking for her to come back. Finally, he says "sigh...okay, send me something they are famous for - whatever."
And yeah, something made of leather from Spain would fit that. Perhaps if she had gone to Russia, he would finally have just said "okay, fine - just send me some borscht!"

I'm most comfortable with this reading. I wouldn't call the narrator an asshole as much as a hapless out-of-touch MALE. You can tell by her tone, and the persistence of her question, that she's saying goodbye. For good. But he doesn't get it. She sounds a lot more mature than him, at least a lot more self-realized. These kind of codependent/immature/effed-up protagonists usually come up with the most interesting narrative. "How could you treat me this way?" kind of stuff that may work in song, but lands a fella in counseling, then in bachelorhood. I've been that pathetic man, and she was headed off to the Peace Corps.

My favorite rendition of the tune is by The Seldom Scene.

Threads like this are bound to keep coming back from the dead as new eyes come upon them. My wife and I have been discussing this song the last few days, and checking out variations on the story on YouTube. I keep coming back to Bob's, though.

Last edited by JCHaywire; 12-23-2016 at 11:13 AM.. Reason: subscribing to replies
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  #41  
Old 12-23-2016, 01:13 PM
moojja moojja is offline
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Threads like this are bound to keep coming back from the dead as new eyes come upon them. My wife and I have been discussing this song the last few days, and checking out variations on the story on YouTube. I keep coming back to Bob's, though.
I agree, and I love reading the lyrics. There is an emotional progression to the song. This is how I read them:


Oh, I'm sailin' away, ...

First verse is her POV, still very loving, using the phrase my own true love. No impression that this isn't a short vacation.

No, there's nothin' you can send me...
His POV: Very poetically saying I'll miss you and to please come back safely.

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine...
Her POV: Less loving than her first verse. Nothing about love, offering material gifts instead.

But if I had the stars ...
His POV: still loving, very romantic images. No, just come back and be with me again.

But I might be gone ...
Her POV: Hinting at what's to come. I might be gone a while, can I just send you some stuff to make you feel better instead.

Oh, how can, how can...
His POV: Not getting it. Still thinks she might come back.

Oh, I got a letter on a lonesome day...

His POV: He got it. She's not coming back. She doesn't care about him in the same way.

So take heed, take heed...

His POV: It's a bit passive aggressive. The first two lines, he's saying you might have lousy weather ahead and not everything will be fun in the new country. Also can be read as warning about how restlessness for travel took his love away.
The second two lines show acceptance. He's has taken up her offer of a material gift instead of her physical presence.

Last edited by Chronos; 12-23-2016 at 03:49 PM.. Reason: Removed excessive lyrics
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  #42  
Old 12-23-2016, 01:31 PM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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I reported the post because I think it's a full lyric, which violates copyright.
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  #43  
Old 12-23-2016, 03:51 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Indeed it does, and that's something we take seriously on this board. I think I've left enough of each verse to make it clear to someone who knows the song what's being referred to.
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Old 12-23-2016, 04:31 PM
moojja moojja is offline
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Indeed it does, and that's something we take seriously on this board. I think I've left enough of each verse to make it clear to someone who knows the song what's being referred to.
Sorry, I'll know better next time.
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  #45  
Old 12-23-2016, 05:01 PM
drad dog drad dog is offline
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Things I think about when I hear a song: Is it good, great? Melody? Lyrics? Who wrote it and when?

Things I don't think about: Is he an asshole? Is he passive aggressive? Can I psychoanalyze the singer? Can I psychoanalyze the subject? Can I gain some kind of psychic mastery over the song or the singer by picking him apart?

To whatever extent it is a great song, it is less and less amenable to such surgery, IMMHOO. That's kind of for the bad songs in the world isn't it? And this is a great song, by a great artist.
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  #46  
Old 12-23-2016, 06:25 PM
JCHaywire JCHaywire is offline
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Perhaps you're mistaking the narrator for the artist in this case. When Bob Dylan sings this song--or anyone else, for that matter, deciding on the character of the narrator is very much part of a full appreciation/analysis of the song. Speaking for myself, the character of Bob Dylan never entered into the discussion. I think it's fairly clear that when a singer lays a song out there--the voice may be his own, but most likely is not.

So I gently rebut your assertion--in the spirit of music appreciation. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.
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  #47  
Old 12-23-2016, 07:09 PM
drad dog drad dog is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JCHaywire View Post
Perhaps you're mistaking the narrator for the artist in this case. When Bob Dylan sings this song--or anyone else, for that matter, deciding on the character of the narrator is very much part of a full appreciation/analysis of the song. Speaking for myself, the character of Bob Dylan never entered into the discussion. I think it's fairly clear that when a singer lays a song out there--the voice may be his own, but most likely is not.

So I gently rebut your assertion--in the spirit of music appreciation. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.
I guess my point of view is that it's not life, it's a song. And that's not examining it, it's fansplaining it in a way that, in all likelihood, would make the author cringe. That's sometimes a sign that one has gotten carried away... sometimes.

When I say the singer I mean the vocal persona, which means the lyrics and the intent. Not meaning Bob Dylan per se, necessarily. But Dylan has his ego, talent and genius behind his songs. That's why you buy the Dylan LP, and not the Neil Diamond one. If you dissect it out and make a psychological exegesis of it it might be an intellectual exercise but I can't see what it has to do with an artistic work such as a song. It seems like the exact opposite of music appreciation.
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  #48  
Old 02-10-2017, 03:25 PM
epolo epolo is offline
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Lost track of this thread for a bit. Thanks to JCHaywire for continuing my thought more coherently than I did. To reiterate: I love the song. But after the thousandth time singing it, it occurred to me that if the narrator (not the singer) were to have posted his story here in MPSIMS he would almost certainly be called out as a passive aggressive chauvinist prick.

Honestly it's sort of like a new song for me when I hear it now as I'm rooting for the other party.


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