Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #72: I Want You

This is one of the songs on Blonde on Blonde that really works best when you're listening to it through headphones. That way, you get to hear every element of the music working together in such harmony - Robbie Robertson's guitar dancing elegantly around the main melody, meshing beautifully with the organ's simple notes, while Dylan pounds away on the piano when he needs a little extra oomph. And, as the sour counterpoint to the sweetness of the band, there's Dylan's voice at it's most "Dylanesque" - that unique style of phrasing and gruff vocalisms that we all know and love (or tolerate, in some cases). It actually helps, in a lot of ways; a song that could possibly have been a little too twee is tempered by the sound of late night cigarettes and jaded weariness, even when it's singing lyrics about undying love. A pretty neat trick, that.

It's interesting to note that Dylan, when you get past all the stuff about kids in Chinese suits and drunken politicians, is basically giving us the same kind of love-conquers-all deal as "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" (to name another example). And, much like that song, there's a lack of cynicism in the lyrics that's both disarming (since it's Dylan, after all) and entirely sweet. You can't help but just feel a little tug at the heartstrings when Dylan says "but it's not that way/I wasn't born to lose you", a stark revealing of emotion he only gives us when he really feels like it. In a way, that feels like a stronger declaration of love than the chorus does - any fool can say "I want you", but there's something so truly beautiful and meaningful in that one line that is hard for me to express.

It must have been hard for Dylan to express it, as well. What has been so remarkable about Dylan over the course of his 40-plus year career is how, no matter how many facts we accumulate about the man, we've never really gotten a full picture of who he is as a human being, no matter how complete a picture of him as a musician we may have. For the many flaws of I'm Not There, the one thing Todd Haynes got right was the film's essential conceit - that Dylan cannot be properly understood as one singular person, but as a number of different identities that he held all throughout his public life. And that splintering also helped illustrate the distance that we've been held from him, by his own design, so that we have no choice but to find ways to bridge that gap. Amanda Petruisch, in her review of Modern Times, had a remarkable summation of Dylan's carefully cultivated publis persona: "he's the boy who doesn't love us back, the one everyone yearns for, the Holy Grail, the last American hero." Just the way Bob always wanted it.

So it's truly special when we can feel (even if it's not true) that Bob has let his guard down, even for one solitary moment, and given us a picture of the man that so desperately needed to create that persona like a protective cocoon. We've had the Dylan of his records and concerts for so long that it's hard to remember that that person did not spring fully-formed from Zeus's head, but was pieced together like a suit of armor for many, many years. In a song like "I Want You", we can see the young man who bullshitted his way into a lifetime of acclaim and the love of millions peeking out from that suit of armor, giving us real emotion even when couching it in the lyrical voice that belongs to him and him alone. He can gussy up his feelings in drugged-out metaphors and surrealism all he wants, but at the end of the day all he wants is his love. You have to feel sweet inside to hear that.

There's a moment in one of Dylan's many, many shows that I can't help but remember as I type this post, one that says a lot about Dylan the man. He played Madison Square Garden's more intimate Arena on November 19th, 2001, a mere two months after September 11th, and anybody that listens to the show's recording (let alone those that were there) can tell how charged the atmosphere was that night. One thing Dylan did that night was perform "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", a nice moment that you could have reasonably expected from him. But what you couldn't expect from the famously reticent Bob was after he performed "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", when he tells the crowd "Most of the songs we're playin' tonight were written here, and those that weren't were recorded here. So no one has to ask me how I feel about this town." And, for that brief moment as the crowd explodes in cheers and applause, we get to feel a little closer to the man. Those moments are rare indeed. To have one of them on Blonde on Blonde is something we should all feel lucky to have.

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Md23Rewls said...

Very well written entry, I think it's one of the best ones you've done. Along with all of the things you mentioned, "I Want You" is also probably as close to pop as Dylan ever got. Short song, snappy chorus, catchy melody, not your typical Dylan. Perhaps that's why it's so enjoyable--it's something unexpected.

nie said...

As far as getting close to Dylan (the sad part saying: he does not love us back), remember what Bob Dylan was singing himself already in his early years in Don't think twice, it's allright: I gave you my heart, but you wanted my soul

Perhaps this is a key answer to the appreciation of his public stance or his attitude towards his admirers (as I am)!

rob! said...

I was there in MSG that night, and it was an amazing moment. I'm used to hearing so little from Bob on stage, so it was a great thing for him to do.

IWY has always been one of my all-time favorite Bob songs--amid all the distracting craziness of the verses, I love how he cuts through all that with the simple, declarative statement of "I Want You."

Plus, that guitar by Robertson is friggin' GENIUS.

Anonymous said...

I agree this is an excellent commentary. I've always loved this song, along with "Stuck Inside of Mobile...".

They clearly showed another side of Bob, albeit a bit more "Pop" and heavy on the instrumentation, that was lacking in his two previous, edgier albums from his "Trio".

I wonder if you have any thoughts on the version from "Live at Budokan"? I've always appreciated those versions of his songs, and saw that tour at MSG back in the late seventies.

Cheers, and thanks for the great reading.

Anonymous said...

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

Guilherme Basto Lima said...

Thanks for this blog, it's really a masterpiece. This is the third entry that I read and it's getting better all the time.

This song is one of my favourites: the stream of counsciousness that it brings is fantastic. At the same time, it's a very simple song and in its lyrics there is a message of love appearing in that most common sense way that Dylan seems far away: I want you.

Grant said...

Thank you for the introduction. Incredibly well written.

I have a question regarding this song. Before youtube removed all the videos "I want you" by our man Bob Dylan, I listened one very unique version of the song (sung by Dylan). It was much sadder than the most common version, and slower. Do you know which version I am referring to? I cannot seem to find it anywhere. The closest I've come is a cover version (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xd0d0s_i-want-you-bob-dylan_music) but obviously I'm looking for Bob Dylan's version.

Could you help me identify this melancholic rendition?

maready said...

I was also there for that post-9/11 MSG show and can testify that Dylan's sincerity when making that remark and intensity when playing/singing was overwhelming. Particularly the 'Love and theft' songs which will always be linked to 9/11 for me (Tweedle-dum; Cold water).

While "I'm going back to NYC, I do believe I've had enough' seemed a bit counterintuitive to my feelings at the time, the way Dylan and band put it across worked for me.

Music of Bob Dylan said...

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