Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #3: In My Time Of Dyin'

Well, I knew this moment would come - I've reached my first song where I am struggling to find something to write about. I'm embarrassed to find that it would come on the THIRD SONG of my journey, but then my opinions about this album have already been expressed, and this is a prime example of my qualms re: Bob Dylan. When I'd decided to tackle this project chronologically (starting with the debut and working my way to the most recent album), I always assumed that this album would be amongst the hardest to write about, followed by the early-90s folk albums and, well, all the bad ones. So I'm basically reaping what I sowed. This is an album that doesn't lend to much interpretation, and this is a song that might lend to even less.

I mean, what can I really say? "In My Time of Dyin'" is a traditional gospel song originally translated to blues by Blind Willie Johnson, "arranged" by Dylan, and sung with a gritty bravado that belies his twenty years. The song's been covered many times (deferring to Dylan's version, mainly because he got there first), most notably by Led Zeppelin, whose version on "Physical Graffiti" lasts about a billion years. The lyrics are about dying and Jesus, themes all too familiar in blues music. The guitar playing features some bottle-neck slides, but nothing any Robert Johnson fan can't work out with a little practice. I'm sure I'm not saying anything new in this paragraph.

It IS interesting to consider why this song, rather than any other number of blues and gospel songs out there, got the nod for Dylan's debut. In an earlier post I made mention of the need for legitimacy in the folk community, and I think this song would've been considered a natural choice - originally performed by a blues legend, lyrically gripping, and relatively easy to finger-pick. It's meant to be a showcase, and it succeeds on that level. Somewhat tellingly, Dylan would drop the song from his live repertoire as he gained more experience and wrote more songs, showing that when he didn't need the song anymore, it was gone.

Still, there's a power and energy here not always found on the debut, and it's eye-opening to hear Dylan tear into the song. "In My Time Of Dyin'" is a definite highlight of Bob Dylan, and deserves the attention that it's received through the Dylan-copping cover versions. Thank the Lord this version isn't eleven goddamn minutes long.

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Josh Perry said...

I agree that was rough. This is actually my first time listening through this album. I just caught the Dylan bug about 2 years ago with No Direction Home Soundtrack. I've loved his mid sixties stuff, blood on the tracks, and recent things, but the other stuff I get bored with and come back to those things. But this is fun working through his whole catalog.

Pablo Uribe said...

Anthony, this is incredible...
Im an avid Dylan fan (clearly), but haven't really met anyone in my school (im 16) that i can talk about anything dylan related outside of Highway 61.

Thank you, im glad this exists and expect to see quite a few comments from me.

David George Freeman said...

Hello there, thank you for posting this interesting analysis. Why not come inside Bob Dylan's Music Box' and listen to every version of every song.