Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #113: Down Along The Cove

Even now, having listened to "Down Along The Cove" over and over, I find myself in the same quandary - how in the world can I possibly analyze or even talk about this song? Decades of Dylanologists have peered into those forbidding lyrics, two minutes and twenty six seconds of mysterious allusions and strangely off-putting imagery. Even on an album that has spawned reams of discussion and debate over what exactly Dylan was onto while recording it, "Down Along The Cove" takes the absolute cake. In fact, as I type these words...

Okay, I tried to keep that up as long as I could. "Down Along The Cove" works best as a surprise after you've already listened to the rest of the album, get to this track expecting perhaps another parable-like cryptic masterpiece or morality tale disguised in plain sight, and instead you get, well, this. To be perfectly frank, even Dylan's career up to this point couldn't entirely prepare you for this song; there aren't a lot of songs this upbeat, this blunt in its meaning, and this completely over-the-moon in terms of being a love song. After all, we know what a Dylan love song sounds like up to this point - where's the stuff about ravens with broken wings? Where's the Egyptian ring, or the cliffs of wildcat charms, or the mercury mouth in the missionary times? Honestly, I would not fault anybody that heard this song for the first time and thought Dylan had recorded a cover song. It's almost disarming how un-Dylan the song is.

This song, along with its companion "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", is generally considered the appetizer for the main course that is Nashville Skyline, Dylan's way of preparing us for what would come next. I don't entirely buy that - Dylan's never really been one for sketching out a far-reaching plan to begin with, and while the rather narrow subject matter fits the general aesthetic of that album, that doesn't necessarily mean it's to be thought of in the same way. One interesting thing, though, is that both this and the next song were written in the same way (music and lyrics at the same time), a way completely different from the rest of the album (where the lyrics came before the music, a complete rarity in Dylan's career). There's going to be a lot more discussion of this both in the next post and in the Nashville Skyline series, so I don't want to delve too deeply into it now, but what I see in those last two songs is a natural extension of the songwriting process that Dylan was undergoing at the time, as he was reinventing the way he approached both lyrics and the arrangements surrounding them. After all, not every song has to be a sparse tale of bandits or Biblical stories or what have you - keeping it simple, stupid can very easily apply to love songs, as well.

Instead of the narrower idea that "Down Along The Cove" was simply pointing to the country album that apparently seems obvious in retrospect, I find it easier to think that "Down Along The Cove" spoke to the artistic reimagining Dylan was putting himself through, as he tried to find a new voice for himself after having ditched his old one. What seems to baffle some people, then, isn't so much that he looked for that new voice, as it was that of the lyrical threads he'd picked out on this album, this was the one that he chose to follow. Why would such a great artist willingly shoehorn his music into an even smaller box, singing about the moon and June and country pies and so on? Like so many other questions with Bob, that's one that's ultimately going to the grave with him; the plain fact is that he followed that thread, we got a fine album out of it, and he moved on, another step in his constant evolution complete. With "Down Along The Cove", we actually get to see that evolution in process, as Dylan grasps for the only suitable recording style to fit the lyrics he was writing. The fact that it's a song you can dance to seems to be a bonus, as well.

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Rob said...

Tony, I don't see why you feel it necessary to talk fo Dylan taking some secret to the grave with him ! After all, you've answered it here in this post and elsewhere, all artists have phases, periods, chapters, whatever we call it. It's all part of the rich tapestry. To everything there is a time, as Dylan didn't write; a time to be verbose and pyrotechnic and a time to be a good ol' boy telli ' it like it is ... or like it ain't, no matter so long as it's a nice soothing contrast to the frenetic wordfest that came before, and which will come again (eg lily, rosemary and jack 'o' hearts etc.). And don't forget post-modern irony: when Dylan acts like a good ol' boy he patently isn't one in a straight-up kinda way and he knows that we know that he knows that.

Tony said...

Tony, I don't see why you feel it necessary to talk fo Dylan taking some secret to the grave with him !

Because it's a question always worth asking. After all, it was certainly part of the artistic process for Scorcese to direct New York, New York, yet the matter as to WHY he would do it is still interesting, no?

Besides, if I didn't ask these questions, this blog would get really dry in a hurry. Perhaps more so than it is now. :p

Rob said...

Don't get the Scorsese movie reference, can u sum up in a few words what was the artistic mystery here ?

No need to worry about writing getting dry, so long as it has the ring of truth to it and doesn't look pretentious. As a former Eng. lit. student myself, many years ago, i had all floridity knocked out of me quickly by my entry into the world of journalism.

I think we can make too much of artistic this and that. We all as humans, whether we call ourselves artists or not, live in a good deal of darkness, mystery, opacity etc. ... but we also live in a world that is very logical and scientifically measurable. The two dimesnions, and no doubt others, live happily side by side. We don't need to turn into Dr. Spock (as in Star Trek, not babies) but nor should we overstate the mysteriousness of things.

Dylan just wanted to try a lot of different styles, just like these days he likes to visit the childhood homes of musicians like neil Young and John Lenon. In this regard, he's just a regular guy wanting to enjoy a rich and varied life.

Well, your post certainly got my mental juices flowin'.

PS - I'm now up to post no. 36 in my catch-up reading, still a lot of wide blue water between me and the present-day blog, which I started reading at post 94 i think.

T.R. Hatherington said...

Don't be so hasty in dismissing the depth of a seemingly easygoing song.

After all,

Down Along The Cove = Along th' Woven Code

Stephen C. Rose said...

Just listened on the strength of this post. LaLa brings up several versions and the JWH one is clearest to my ears. It is a ditty. Nothing too deep. For deep try Angelina. Cheers, S

sixties said...

Bob Dylan is my favorite singer of all times. An exceptional product of the sixties culture, he has it all: the lyrics, the voice and the looks!

Md23Rewls said...

I think it's a good point that in the context of both the album and Dylan's career to that point, "Down Along the Cove" came out of nowhere. Even his more straight-forward 'love' songs such as "Boots of Spanish Leather" or what have you are coming from an angle, rather than straight on. In this, there's really no angle, it just is what it is.

Music of Bob Dylan said...

Hello Tony, Thank you for posting this interesting analysis of a song from Bob Dylan's Music Box Come and join us inside and listen to every version of every song composed, recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, plus all the great covers and so much more.