Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #30: One Too Many Mornings

(1)

Not too long ago, I'd written my thoughts about "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" and how I thought of it as a bit of fluff on an album stuffed with classics, and caught some (perhaps well-deserved) flack over it. I still stand by my statement - after all, to quote uber-poster Justin Shapiro, there are no classic songs without less-than-classic songs - but I will readily admit that, a mere four songs into The Times They Are A-Changin', I am positively jonesing for a song as light-hearted as "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance", if only to break the oppressive mood of this album. I mean, the songs are good and all, but holy Toledo, it's like watching a film simply full of one tragic scene after another. If this was meant to be the sop to the folk music crowd that wanted finger-pointing songs, no wonder Dylan immediately retreated into self-reflection and a touch more humor one album later, because it's hard to constantly keep that finger pointed with pain on your face, anger in your heart, and tears in your eyes.

"One Too Many Mornings", one of the songs that can rightfully be called a more personal track on here, continues in that same sorrowful vein - or maybe it just feels more sad than it is because of its surroundings. After all, "Girl of the North Country" has the same wistful, nostalgic vibe, but its brother songs are less doleful and therefore lightens some of the heartache. Without that same lightening here, the heartache is all that stands out; "One Too Many Mornings" is one of my favorite songs on here, but more for the versions that have followed than the (admittedly fine) album version here.

In a way, this song actually feels more personal than any of the love/pain songs from Freewheelin'; Dylan took great pains to set the mood here, and it shows. You can almost palpably feel the confusion ("the sounds inside my mind"), the longing, and the bitterness as the song's narrator leaves the house he'd once lived in with his lover, gazing back only once to where he and his love had spent nights together, then back out onto the lonely street, awaiting his footsteps as he travels yet another road. Dylan sings the song in a tone so muted that it feels like the microphone's struggling to pick up his vocal, and the harmonica solos, echoing the song's quiet melody, feel like a shadow dogging his pained, weary words at every step.

Now that I think about it, the song is like a prelude to "Don't Think Twice", which features a narrator already traveling along, musing on a relationship that ended badly and managing to extract the emotional knife twisted into him and chucking it aside (it's all right, dontcha know). Here, though, the musing hasn't quite gotten as far, and we see the narrator right in the moment of his relationship crumbling apart, senses heightened with charged emotion (when else do you notice dogs barking with that kind of clarity, unless you're in that state of heightened awareness or you're actively looking out for it?), still bitter at the way things have ended. Some might think of "you are right from your side/and I am right from mine" as a way of apology - but after a few listens, I think of it as another subtle kiss-off, a way of saying "okay, fine, you go ahead and feel you've won; I feel I've won just as much" as he walks out the door. Where the anger might've been suggested at in "Don't Think Twice", here (in my opinion) the final verse lays that anger right out there for all to hear.

I can imagine that many of you have gone through a breakup at some point, and the gut-wrenching anguish and vicious anger that it can cause. I've had the, um, pleasure myself, and all I know is that time didn't so much slow down during the process as it suddenly became material, something I could feel hanging around me like the humidity of a hot summer day on the East Coast, as I bargained and pleaded and finally gave up the ghost. And once that process had ended and I was left alone with my thoughts, I still remember feeling in a no-man's land where everything around me seemed entirely unreal, and the only things with any weight were my own pain and sadness. It's in those moments when humans are often most unguarded, when you have no choice to feel something all too real, the emotions that we spend so much of our lives trying to avoid at all costs. And it isn't even an irrational feeling; I was quite aware of attempting to stuff all that buried emotion into a tiny box to store in the back of my mind, alternately cursing her name and begging God to have her call back, because this argument I'm devising is certain to heal the breach between us. Hopefully that wasn't TOO emo for you guys; just trying to tell the truth here.

Dylan's "restless, hungry feeling" more or less sums up the way we all feel at that precise moment when something you've poured yourself into splinters into a thousand pieces; it's like an animal that charges around blindly, desperate to be sated, and only time and distance (two things you couldn't possibly have at that moment) can put it to bed. It is a feeling I would only wish on my worst enemy, and one I hope to never feel again. "One Too Many Mornings" doesn't bring that feeling back, but every time I hear the song that feeling stirs inside me, a war wound that throbs when the weather turns. And, yes, I chose that metaphor quite deliberately.

(2)

I'm trying not to step on my own toes here, since I've briefly discussed the 1966 World Tour in the "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" post and will be writing my own essay (of sorts) down the road here. But I have to say a few words about the 1966 version of "One Too Many Mornings", a version that leaves all others in the dust, including the 1976 version, which is one of the few high points (IMO) of that misbegotten tour. Consider this a trailer for the feature-length, coming in a few months.

One of the coolest things about the 1966 version of "One Too Many Mornings" is the fact that it exists at all; in fact, its existence tells you a lot about the 1966 tour and the many undercurrents running through Dylan and The Hawks' shows that year. If "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" was an interesting selection for the electric portion, this is a downright fascinating choice. After all, from Dylan's most overtly political and issues-oriented album, this is the one song Dylan chose to perform on the tour, either acoustic or electric - he rather blatantly avoided any songs with the slightest whiff of protest around it, and could very well have chosen to skip The Times altogether, but sticks the most personal song on here in the most controversial circumstances imaginable. And, like the other two formerly acoustic songs arranged for electric performance, the Hawks turn it inside out and make it sound amazing, as though that's how they were meant to be performed.

Everything comes together neatly in this short tune, which served as the warmup for the mammoth "Thin Man"/"LARS" one-two punch that closed every show that year. Garth Hudson's plays a smooth organ throughout, and Richard Manuel's piano acts as a counterpoint for the electric guitars churning out their wicked noise. Rick Danko (who actually made the backup shout on the word "behind" - the only backup vocal on the whole tour; I'd originally attributed it to Manuel because I'm a mow-ron) plays his usual solid, powerful bass. Mickey Jones, the tour's secret weapon, drops hammer blows with economic fervor, the snare shots punctuating the end of every line. Robbie Robertson fires off licks during the verses, and delivers a sharp solo when called upon (albeit one that sounds similar for each performance...more on that later). And Dylan, stretching out syllables and twisting each verse into pretzel shapes, sneering and moaning with panache, seems to be enjoying himself as he reinvents this quiet and somber tune into a grinning, leering rave-up. I have no doubt in my mind that, when he gets to the "you are right from your side" couplet, he means it as his own emotional knife twist, a middle finger and Bronx cheer to the distraught folk fans unable to embrace his new self. Perhaps that's the key to why he chose the song after all, leaving aside tracks like "It Ain't Me, Babe" and "Tombstone Blues" from the previous year's tours - Dylan in 1966 was out for blood in many ways, and he took every chance he could to measure and cut.

Two audio goodies here will close things out. First, from No Direction Home (which I assume you've all seen, but still), is "One Too Many Mornings" from the Liverpool show, probably my favorite electric set of the whole tour. Any video of 1966 Dylan is especially precious, and to see him in his element is truly special. Second, from the invaluable "While The Establishment Burns" CD of the Genuine Live 1966 monstrosity, comes "One Too Many Mornings" from Edinburgh, which probably would be my favorite electric set if we ever got the whole thing instead of two measly songs. The part I like the best is that, although the band is on fire as usual, Dylan is particularly over the edge, his vocals veering drunkenly across a four-lane highway and just begging to slam into the restraining barrier. In particular, when he screams the "all right!" that became the 1966 version's signature moment, he lets out an awkward, shaky, and downright hilarious squawk that serves as the crash into a concrete wall. Were I in the audience for that show, I'd have probably burst a lung laughing; listening through headphones, that howl just serves as part of the wild experience that was the 1966 tour.



One Too Many Mornings - Gaumont Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland 5.20.66

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9 comments:

bokhara said...

Love what you are doing with this blog. Funny thing regarding the video from NDH CD - it is spliced together from I believe three shows. Beginning of video Robbie is wearing a dark jacket - I believe this is Edinburgh. 1:14 is obviously different - video sound and vocals don't match during head shot. 2:17 (Robbie's solo) looks to be footage from Newcastle (compare to LARS video from same show on Utube and note Robbie's purple velvet suit jacket). Then check 2:34 and Robbie has changed suit jackets mid-song to a white with black striped number.

Anyway I suspect it was cobbled together from several performances during the ETD "editing" that went on in late 1966-early 1967 up in Woodstock with Howard Alk before Bob hit the basement with the boys. I just wish several full concerts from the 66 tour were released in entirety - shame they have not been. This one is a treasure:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueGuzmotwaI

Tony said...

Thanks, bokhara! Kind of funny to hear that the OTMM video was a splice; if you can't trust Dylan, Alk, OR Martin Scorcese, who can you trust? :D

I think that we will see a full 1966 video at some point, or something close to it. Columbia will not leave that potential gold mine boarded up. What surprises me is that a new 1966 line recording hasn't popped up recently - there's still got to be plenty in the Pennebaker/Columbia vaults just begging to be bootlegged and slobbered over by us 1966 devotees.

andrew! said...

What's this I hear about someone devoting a blog to every bob dylan song who doesn't like the 1976 tour? For me, there's as much to love in '76 as '66. There was more passion & energy in 1966, but it's much more focused energy in '76. Idiot Wind & Shelter from the Storm are among the greatest Dylan performances, right up there with Ballad of a Thin Man & Like a Rolling Stone in '66. Sorry, another topic for another day.

"You are right from your side & I am right from mine" is so brilliantly simple it hurts, I'll agree with you that the '66 versions trump the '76 versions of this song.

Azor said...

I'm pretty sure that is Danko who gets to sing "Behind."

Tony said...

Azor, you're right, it was Danko. I'll have to edit the post so that future generations don't know what a doofus I am.

andrew!, I assume we'll be dueling with sharp swords when we get to the 1976 tour. My thoughts on the trek were already outlined in the Hard Rain post. I will say that Idiot Wind and Shelter from the Storm from those tours never fail to amaze and always bring an energy both exhilarating and slightly uncomfortable. Shelter from the Storm, in particular, I could listen to all day - I used to seek out '76 bootlegs just for versions of that song.

Stasia said...

the '66 version is one of my all-time favorites - thanks for including commentary of it! (and thanks for adding my blog to your roll)

connus said...

Tony I love your blog!
But how are we leaving out the classic duet with Johnny Cash from the Nashville Skyline sessions, a video of which(from an old Cash documentary) is on youtube.
That is the version of OTMM that made me really love this song.
They could not harmonize together worth a damn, but to hear those two trading verses, first Johnny's baritone, and then Bob comes in with his "non-smoking voice" , it is one of my favorite performances by anybody.

Tony said...

Thank you, connus! Not to tip my hand or anything, but I was planning on writing about the Dylan/Cash sessions when I got to the NS version of Girl of the North Country (since I'd already written about it a few weeks back). Trust me, I'll mention the OTMM from that session as well.

Vinicius Bevilaqua Neves said...

Hey.

I loved your opinion about "one too many mornings" I just would like to know what the line "I am one too many mornings, and a thousand miles behind" means to you.

Thank you.