Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #71: One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

I've never really known what to make of this song. It's never been a favorite of mine on the album, even though I won't deny its quality, and I always feel a little unsettled every time I listen to it. Maybe it's the bit about "clawing out my eyes" - surely I can't be the only person who hears that and goes "where the hell did THAT come from?" You'd think there are better ways to write a rhyme for "apologized". But that's probably just me. Musically, I think the song's fantastic - few things stand out to me on the album like those rapid-fire snare shots after the first "sooner or later, one of us must know" in the chorus - but there's something about the words that just rub me the wrong way.

I think what might put me off the song the most, having listened to it enough times, is how it sounds to me like a confessional song, but doesn't really have the requisite emotions or heart to pull it off. I'll probably get to this more when I start writing about Blood on the Tracks, but one of the reasons that the songs work so well on the album is that even if we didn't know the reasonings behind why those songs were written in the first place. There is probably a generation of fans of that album that actually don't know the songs were written about (or mostly about) Dylan's first wife Sara, and probably wouldn't care a single bit if they did know. It helps that Dylan's cryptic writing style, avoiding any tabloid-style kiss and tell nonsense that plague so many other songs about failed relationships, couch the lyrics in mystery and beautiful language. Dylan's genius allows us to hear all the heartache and pathos through his storytelling, in a way nobody has before or since.

With "One of Us Must Know", on the other hand, there's the same feeling that Dylan's pouring out his heart, but it doesn't strike me on the same level, and that hurts things quite a bit. Maybe (and this is unfair, I know) it's because of the rest of the album surrounding it, where the swirling, whirling haze of the other songs can obscure any real feelings being expressed. Or maybe it's because Dylan, so good at painting himself as the wronger, doesn't always have the same magic touch when he portrays himself as the wronged. After all, even when he's trying to apologize for doing something wrong, he can't help but still be something of a jerk ("you shouldn't take it so personal" - yeah, nothing personal about love and relationships, eh, Bob?). He calls the lady in question immature, keeps professing his innocence throughout the tune, and basically says "hey, I'm the one that tried to make this work, why am I getting the nails-to-eyes treatment?" I dunno, I just can't find myself being sympathetic, and that ruins the experience for me.

For whatever reason I find myself thinking of Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece about the meaning of truth and how our perceptions can shade anything we want them to. Without giving anything away, the film's plot revolves around three people telling their own versions of the same incident, all of them sufficiently different to make you wonder which could actually be true. What Kurosawa was getting at, I think, is that all three were true, in their own ways, and actually trying to divine real truth from that is a pointless exercise. I guess that came to mind because my listening of this song always makes me wonder "well, what does SHE have to say about all this?" Now, I'm well aware that precious few songs of this type take the other person's viewpoint in mind, simply because these songs are inherently personal and can only speak for the songwriter's feelings about things. But, just one time, I'd love a songwriter who just had their heart broken to sit down with their ex, piece together how they felt about things, and write a song that takes both points of view in mind. Perhaps that's too much to ask.

I suppose what I'm saying is that in a song like this, where Dylan's ultra-cool hipster persona is asking us to feel sorry for him because a bunch of misunderstandings led to a relationship collapsing, I can't help but look askance at the whole thing. Maybe, sooner or later, one of them will know that she didn't just "do what she was supposed to do", but acted in a truly honorable manner. And maybe he never really did try to get close to her, but it's his song, so who are we to feel different? I'm probably on an island feeling this way, and that's all right. Maybe that little weasel deserved getting his eyeballs scratched out.

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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

YOUR BACK!!!!!!!!!!

Also, did you notice how much poppier this album seems from the rest of the Electric Trilogy? Songs like I Want You, this one, and Just Like A Woman

Anonymous said...

I am going to be honest - what you just wrote was pretty shitty. It lacks any real direction and offers no argument.

Most importantly you have missed the most interesting thing about this song - It most probably kept 'She's your lover now' off the album, which, is the songs only real floor.

All the authorities said...

"It most probably kept 'She's your lover now' off the album, which, is the songs only real floor."

I presume you mean 'only real flaw'. Unless you're being surreal!

'She's Your Lover Now' following 'Visions Of Johanna' - that really would be sensory overload.

Anonymous said...

This has always been one of my favorite songs on the album, since I first heard it in 1967. The song depicts true tragedy. In tragedy, everybody is right, and everybody acts according to their values, and disaster ensues. The song, for me, reaches tragic grandeur. By the way, when I first head Springsteen's BACKSTREETS, I noted the song's influence in the later tune.

Anonymous said...

I've read most of your commentaries and enjoyed them, but I think you've completely screwed up on this one. This article isn't about the song. It's about you.

Tony said...

Well, I had a feeling I was going to get reamed on this one. I'm not exactly happy I was right, but I sort of felt it coming.

I suppose I could plead rust, but that's not particularly a good reason. I guess all I can really plead is that I wasn't sure how to approach this one, and it showed.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to disagree with some of the previous comments, since your analysis of the song squares exactly with what I have thought of it over the years. It's not a "bad" song, obviously, I just can't take the same enjoyment from I that I get even from "Positively 4th St" or "Idiot Wind." Maybe 4th St. rings just a bit truer, and Idiot Wind is just slightly more even-handed. The melody and arrangement really are beautiful, but it's impossible for me to overcome the unattractive sentiment in the lyrics.

Vefor said...

If keeping "She's Your Lover Now" off of BLONDE ON BLONDE is the biggest flaw of the less-than-perfect "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", then no harm, no foul. Had "She's Your Lover Now" received an official release at the time it was recorded, instead of being forbidden fruit ala bootlegs, then I'm sure there are many who would agree that the song is nothing short of a jumbled train wreck. "She's Your Lover Now" verges on self-parody and sounds more like a caricature of someone trying to write a mid-sixties type Dylan song. Lordy, "She's Your Lover Now" makes The Rolling Stones' "Jigsaw Puzzle" seem like a masterpiece by comparison.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you. Musically, I like it well enough -- especially the piano couplets courtesy of probably Garth or Richard - but the narrarator (our hero) comes off like a jerk. Sounds like the Dylan they attempt to portray in the Edie Sedgwick bio they made a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Check out the live version of this from Scranton 8/1997. Although he trips on the some of the verses, this version - to me at least- really gives a different perspective. I personally think this superior to the original but I'm sure there are plenty where the inverse is true.

Anonymous said...

I agree, you missed the point of the song, especially "clawed out my eyes", it's a metaphor...He's describing two people in a relationship who are on completely different levels. One being immature and defensive, afraid, insecure, suspicious and unable to recognize his feelings. And his feelings are hurt and disappointed but forgiving. It describes a lot of relationships, which of course many of his songs do. That's why it feels like he's talking right to you. That's art..That's Bob

Anonymous said...

I didn't think about this song too much until I heard it live at Hershey (PA), also in August 1997. It was the first song of Bob's encore and was a huge surprise. After slightly flubbing the opening line (he began "they treat you so bad..."), Bob did a wonderful version and held the closing note of two lines for a long time ("I didn't realize how young you werrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre" and "I never really meant to do you any harrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm." Pure magic.

Anonymous said...

Every song on Bob Dylan's album Blonde On Blonde rated & discussed

Anonymous said...

It is, quite possibly, Dylan's greatest song - it's an almost too perfect composition, he couldn't have recorded it better. Dylan at the height of his powers. Stunning.


Great blog.

radiodave said...

My favorite Dylan song and second-favorite song ever. The narrator's no bigger a jerk than he was in "Don't Think Twice" (where he felt no pain), and here it's clear they're both in great emotional pain (re Idiot Wind).
But really it's about the sound of the music on this one. That "thin wild mercury sound" - although there's nothing thin about the richness of it. Dig the organ fill between the second and third verse (chills!). Dig the cascading piano under the last chorus. Dig the drum-into-harmonica kickstart to the song. And of course the teasing out of vowels and syllables on the vocals. It's hard to just listen to the song - it's almost a cinematic experience that leaves you wrung out in four and a half minutes.

Anonymous said...

This is probably one of my favorite songs, not just of Blonde on Blone, but of all Dylan´s albums. I love the lyrics so much, it´s an "I'm- sorry-but-it's-your-fault-too" song... just like life.

smith said...

Oh Man, I could only read a few lines of your thoughts on Sooner or Later, and I'm so glad I didn't get as far as the stuff about Kurosawa because I knew I would then want to go and jump in a river and drown myself because, man, you are what Oscar Wilde once described: The man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Man, you are the guy that goes in to a restaurant (alone & there's a reason for that) and you order your food and drink and you wait for it come and it comes and you eat it all up and then the waiter comes up and asks you if you enjoyed your meal and you'd eaten it all anyway, but you say anyway, 'Well, you know, I thought the fries coulda done with a little more crisping, and the salad dressing, though I enjoyed the salad very much, was a little on the vinagery side..even though I know Akiro Kawasaki, or Homer Simpson for that matter...

Anonymous said...

you have trouble with, "as she clawed out my eyes," Granted the lines of this verse aren't sequenced but this expression fits with "never meant to do you any harm" and if you can't imagine you've never experienced a romantic tragedy!

Anonymous said...

and, yes, it IS too much to ask. This post is about you, not the song.