Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #124: Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

Author's note (boy, I've had a lot of those recently, haven't I?): Keep reading below the post for two special announcements, one regarding the next post, and one regarding the blog's future.

Maybe it's those opening bars, with the pedal steel guitar coming together beautifully with a really cool piano line. Maybe it's the oddly thick guitar notes played all throughout the song. Maybe it's the funky middle eight, that pedal steel soaring to great heights and Dylan hitting the high notes in a way that suggests that some real skill does go into his vocal performances. Or perhaps it's just the way the song written, a few simple chords arranged perfectly into a gorgeous and fitting closer to the album. Whatever the reason, "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" stands as my favorite song on Nashville Skyline, one of my favorite closers to any album, and a song that I would put on a Dylan mixtape for somebody trying to explore further into Dylan's massive body of work. It's a sentimental favorite, what can I say.

For one thing, "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" boasts probably my favorite musical arrangement on the album, on an album that's chock full of fun musical moments (even "Nashville Skyline Rag", with its fun banjo work, has something to be said for it). That pedal steel, an instrument that almost immediately conjures up country music whenever you hear it, is used here to devastating effect, swooping between Dylan's lines and adding extra emphasis when he's not singing. And the piano adds an extra sweet counterpoint, like a musical flourish at the start and end of the track. People tend to make a lot about how simplistic country music tends to be, and while I don't disagree with many of the complaints (modern country music, in particular, doesn't seem to have much going for it), there is still a great deal to like in the best of country, just like in the best of any genre. And one thing that I've always enjoyed, even with crappy country music, is its differences in instrumentation, with pedal steel guitars, violins, banjos, and other things you don't always hear in music coming to the forefront. It's almost like hearing a different language, and that's always cool.

The other thing that I've found interesting about this song, especially as I get older, is the actual subject matter of the song. What Dylan's singing about, and I never really thought of it when I first heard it, is a tale of a man who is apparently visiting some town or whatever, has fallen in love with a woman there, and now has decided to give up his train ticket (I always liked that "if there's a poor boy on the street" line) in order to stay with his newly beloved and do all sorts of things not actually mentioned in the lyrics. That's a take on the love song you don't always hear; it's not a tale of a devoted relationship, nor is it simply about a one-night stand with some girl the narrator will never see again. Instead, you have Dylan singing about actually having what was supposed to be a one night stand, and becoming so enamored with the woman in question that he's prepared to chuck everything in his life ("throw my troubles out the door") in order to just stay with this woman. That's kind of sweet, isn't it?

It's somewhat educational to compare the album take of this song with the version played on the Rolling Thunder Revue's first leg, as heard on the official Live 1975 album. Whereas this version aims for a sort of modest declaration of love, the RTR's version comes on far more strong (as evidenced by the "you came down on me like rolling thunder" line, which Dylan always sang with a great deal of panache) and packs a more overwhelmingly sexual punch. Of course, the arrangements have a lot to do with that, as the 1975 version swaps out the pedal steel and piano for roaring guitars and Scarlet Rivera's bewitching violin (along with a lot more shouting), and Dylan had rewritten the lyrics to give the song a totally different energy. The narrator in this new version is more insistent of his desire ("you got to understand/that tonight I'll be staying here with you...get ready!") and seems a lot less innocent ("I could have left this town by noon/by tonight I'd been to some place new"), almost like Dylan was inserting his current touring incarnation into the song rather than the random traveler/businessman/whoever of the album version. It's the same song, but with a whole other meaning behind it.

We can be thankful, then, that Dylan kept that sexual energy latent or completely absent in the album version. The kind of blatant come-hither aura that permeates the RTR's version (and the RTR in general, really) would have been incredibly out of place in the pastoral setting that Nashville Skyline resides in. Instead, we have a take that still exudes joyfulness, but in a much more innocent way. It's a charming ending to a charming album, maybe the most charming Bob ever recorded.

Okay, so.

First, a word about the next entry in the blog. I'm already starting to break out in hives thinking about starting up the Self Portrait series, so before I delve into that album I'm going to do something rather more fun. We all know about Dylan's performance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival with The Band, an unexpected and often overlooked moment in his career. Recently a new version of the concert tape surfaced in the trading community, a definite step up over the barely listenable Frankenstein's monster that was the original version. And, in the interest of giving more attention to a strange part of Dylan's canon, I'm going to be listening to the show and writing up my own running diary, to be posted on this site. I urge all of you to download the show, pull up the diary on Monday, and follow along with me as I give you my thoughts about a truly unique show. Join me, won't you?

And now, a word about me. I would say about 99.99% of the readers of this blog don't know me personally, and so none of you would really have an idea as to what I do when I'm not writing this blog. Well, starting in August I will be attending the University of San Diego School of Law, giving up three years of my life in the hopes of "making something of myself" (he says with a wry smile). I bring this up not just because it'd be cool to meet any readers from San Diego, but also because I'm not entirely sure how this will affect this little project I've undertaken. Now, lest you think I'm saying goodbye a mere decade into Dylan's career, fear not - I will still be making posts and reading comments and so on. This blog is not going away. However, whether or not I'll still be posting at the same clip...that I don't know. I might be going to one entry a week, maybe one entry a month. Okay, definitely not one entry a month - I'd like to finish this project before I pass on. But the chances that I continue to provide the same amount of content every week seem slim. At any rate, I wanted to let you all know in advance. I'm still continuing the blog, and I hope you still continue reading and commenting.

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Anonymous said...

Tony--great piece on "Tonight". Good luck at law school; try not to be intimidated. If you've ever worked eight or ten hours a day for a living, you'll handle law school just fine. You obviously have the requisite writing and analytical skills. Looking forward to your comments on Isle of Wight.

Amanda said...

So glad to hear you are not giving up, just winding back a little. We are all cheering you on :-)

DanG said...

Congratulations! I look forward to the continuation of the series. Your patience and dedication is admirable.

Pete said...

All the best with your new challenge! I'll be curious to read your reaction to IoW (I was there) but why not restrict yourself to every song Bob wrote [or rewrote], and an overview of the albums that are mostly or entirely covers? Just a thought ... But you still have to come up with several thousand words on Wigwam, and an extended essay on All the Tired Horses.

Kenneth Lobb said...

What you've accomplished with this blog so far is already admirable, so just keep plugging away and we're behind you all the way! Stay the course.

Anonymous said...

As a devoted Dylan fan - I'm 65 years old and have been listening to Dylan for at least 40 years of that 65 - I want to say that I am getting more out of your fabulous blog than I have out of a host of books and commentaries that I have consumed over the years. I am looking forward to what you will be saying about Dylan's output in the 70s and 80s, especially your comments on "Slow Train Coming" which I think is one of Dylan's best - and underrated albums - and on the dark songs of "Street Legal" especially "New Pony," "No Time to Think" and "Is Your Love in Vain?"

Unknown said...

You sound as though you're a good fellow, and I've enjoyed the heck out of your "Every Dylan Song" (and was wondering how SELF-PORTRAIT would be handled).

Glad to hear you're headed for law school. The world can use a few more folk who are like Atticus Finch in that business!


Speedy said...

Tony, your blog is one of my few daily must-reads. You have a great feel for Dylan's words and music and an elegant writing style. Are you really sure you want to go to law school? Think hard, my young friend! Aren't you an artist at heart?
(Note that I am a youth corrupter by profession. I teach literature.)
Rock on, whatever you do.

Anonymous said...

In response to Speedy, I would only note that I have practiced law and taught. What little art there may be in me has flourished in the practice of law and withered in the world of education. Obviously, that doesn't necessarily hold for everybody, but the perhaps facetious concept that art and law are antithetical should be taken with a block of salt, in my humble opinion. Have at it with a will, Tony!

David George Freeman said...

Hello Tony, Join us inside Bob Dylan's Music Box'll-Be-Staying-Here-With-You and Listen to Every Version of Every Song. This page is referenced via the "Additional Information" link.