An essay inspired by the Bob Dylan Concert in Copenhagen on October 8, 2015


By Niels J. Dinnesen



I see the current Bob Dylan set list as the artist’s attempt, using a fixed string of songs, to present one integrated and progressive tale which has a beginning, a middle (pointing in different directions), and an ending. The songs, and the sequence in which they are performed, are carefully planned. During these last few years the order is never in any way random. Every show is one powerful tale which deserves to be seen and heard as such – and to be taken literally for what it is.


The major theme is about love and love lost, about the pain and suffering of having lost a true love. It is the tale of “A worried man with a worried mind / No one in front of me and nothing behind”. These are the very first words of the opening song, “Things have changed”. Following this, the next two songs “She Belongs To Me” and “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” deal with romantic love:


Bow down to her on Sunday

Salute her when her birthday comes

(She Belongs To Me)


We’ll keep on loving pretty baby

For as long as love will last

(Beyond Here Lies Nothing)


Things begin breaking up with the fourth song – and much later, at the end of the show, the final song presents the ultimate expression of the sting, hurt and ache of the narrator’s heartbreaking lost love.


I’m sick of love; I hear the clock tick

This kind of love; I’m love sick


Sometimes the silence can be like the thunder

Sometimes I feel like I’m being plowed under

Could you ever be true? I think of you

And I wonder


I’m sick of love; I wish I’d never met you

I’m sick of love; I’m trying to forget you


Just don’t know what to do

I’d give anything to be with you

(Love Sick)


The song ends with a strong and passionate contradiction. The narrator says “I wish I’d never met you” and “I’m trying to forget you”. But then he pleads, “I’d give anything to be with you”.


The love lost theme is initiated by the fourth song where one sad night, the lovers “call it a day”. From this point many of the following songs deal with this common thread, including most of the old songs uncovered recently by the artist for the “Shadows In The Night” project. Seven of these songs are now in October 2015 part of the current tale.


Many reviewers refer to these traditional songs as “Sinatra covers”, but this is a huge understatement. Originally, these songs were sung by (among others) Frank Sinatra, but that is not why the artist chose them. The songs were selected for the “Shadows” project, and now for the current set list, because they are genuine expressions of the narrator’s emotions and feelings in relation to love and love lost. The tunes are catchy, yes, but the words of these songs are what is essential to the tale.


The titles alone of some of the old songs point to the love lost theme – “The Night We Called It A Day”, “What’ll I Do?”, “I’m A Fool To Want You”, “Where Are You?” – and the lyrics are quite explicit: “All life through, must I go on pretending? / Where is my happy ending, where are you, where are you?”


Towards the end of the tale comes “Autumn Leaves”, which originally was a French song, written by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma with lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. The English lyrics were written by American songwriter Johnny Mercer in 1947, and the song has been recorded by dozens of artists, one of whom was Sinatra in 1956.


Since you went away

The days grow long

And soon I'll hear

Old winter's song


But I miss you most of all

My darling

When autumn leaves

Start to fall

(Autumn Leaves)


The tale is not only about love lost. Other themes in the middle part of the show deal with different aspects of endings – from feelings and thoughts about the narrator’s own death, all the way to the end of time and the ultimate destruction, the chaos of the great flood. “It’s rough out there / High water everywhere”:


High water risin’, six inches above my head

Coffins droppin’ in the street

Like balloons made out of lead

(High Water (for Charley Patton))


In the opening song, the “worried man with a worried mind” is well dressed, “waiting on the last train”, standing on the gallows with his head in a noose. “Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose”. Similar images of time running out appear in “Duquesne Whistle” where sometimes the whistle sounds as if the train is on its final run, as if “she ain’t gonna blow no more”.


Even tougher images of destruction and endings appear in “Pay In Blood” and “Early Roman Kings”. These are expressions of the dark sides. The words are threatening and menacing. Disaster lurks behind every corner:


Well I’m grinding my life out, steady and sure

Nothing more wretched than what I must endure


How I made it back home, nobody knows

Or how I survived so many blows

(Pay In Blood)


I can strip you of life, strip you of breath

Ship you down to the house of death

One day you will ask for me

There'll be no one else that you'll wanna see

Bring down my fiddle, tune up my strings

I'm gonna break it wide open like the early roman kings

(Early Roman Kings)


Scarlet Town is a mix of it all – from good and evil and beginnings and endings to “The black and the white, the yellow and the brown / It’s all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town”. 


In the context of the current set list and the tale of lost love and rough endings, the old classic “Blowin’ In The Wind” takes on a new meaning and becomes a quiet and naïve reflection of the extreme events and emotions we have witnessed. “How many times must a man look up / Before he can see the sky?” We have seen the sky and heard people cry – and we know that too many people have died. It’s time to go and to round it all up. “So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years”.  


The show in Copenhagen on October 8 was tight, emotional, well crafted with a clear sense for every detail in musical arrangements, vocal styles, stage lighting and the entire setting.


I see the current set list and the current show as the artist’s successful attempt, through a carefully selected string of songs, to present one integrated and progressing tale. I hear the entire show as one sublime and tender expression. The narrator portrays himself as a worried man with a worried mind. He is nearing the end of his day and sometimes sees the world on the edge of going under, but he is still on the move and longing for his true and lost love, pleading “I’d give anything to be with you.” Not quite a swan song. It is not dark yet.


Now I’m going back again

I got to get to her somehow


Me, I’m still on the road

Towards another joint

We always felt the same

We’ve had our different points of view

Tangled up in blue

(Tangled Up In Blue)

Written in October 2015.

Published on Bob Links on October 15 2015.

Previously, on Bob Dylan: Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.


Set list in Copenhagen on October 8 2015:

1. Things Have Changed
2. She Belongs To Me
3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
4. The Night We Called It A Day
5. Duquesne Whistle
6. What’ll I Do?
7. Pay In Blood
8. I'm A Fool To Want You
9. Tangled Up In Blue
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. Where Are You?
12. Early Roman Kings
13. Why Try To Change Me Now?
14. Spirit On The Water
15. Scarlet Town
16. All Or Nothing At All
17. Long And Wasted Years
18. Autumn Leaves
19. Blowin' In The Wind
20. Love Sick



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