Thursday, November 22, 2007

Musicology 101 - Just Like A Woman

I’ve had this post on my mind for quite some time, and the holiday gives me a little time to put it together. This year I started a series of posts called Musicology 101, which focuses on one particular song. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the series has only amounted to two songs to date. I chose Dylan’s Just Like A Woman today because he claimed to have written this on Thanksgiving. From the liner notes in Biograph:

“I think I was on the road… I think I wrote it in Kansas City or something… yeah I’m pretty sure I did. I was invited over to somebody’s house for Thanksgiving dinner but I didn’t go, didn’t feel like doing anything, I wasn’t hungry. I stayed in my hotel room and wrote this.”

No one but Bob knows if this is true. Dylan is known for his grand fabrications in interviews, and many accounts of the Blonde on Blonde Sessions have him working on songs in a Nashville hotel and recording on the fly into the wee hours of the morning. But that’s irrelevant. What’s important is that Just Like A Woman is one of Dylan’s most enduring songs, on perhaps his greatest album. Widely regarded as a sexist and anti-feminist taunt, the song was criticized by many when released in 1966. The critics seemed to interpret the song as an indictment of women’s inherent weakness. Even 5 years later, Marion Meade in the New York Times stated "that there is more complete catalog of sexist slurs." where Dylan defines women's natural traits as greed, hypocrisy, whining and hysteria." That's a bit heavy. There’s no doubt that Dylan is remarking on the childlike emotions of a certain woman, commonly thought to be Warhol groupie Edie Sedgwick, but I don’t hear any intent that it’s directed at women in general. [Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat is also thought to be about Edie, who may have also inspired the album title. Ironically, Bob played both songs last time I saw him]. On the original recording, the lilting arrangement has a nursery rhyme quality, as Dylan seems to mock the immature girl that lurks below the surface of the woman:

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.

Ironically, it could be these very qualities of childlike innocence and vulnerability that attracted him to her in the first place. In the end, he speaks of his own vulnerability:

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here

then later...

I just can't fit
Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
When we meet again, introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.

In later years, the live performances of this song take on quite a different tone, as Dylan reflects on this failed relationship with a critical eye on his own failings as well as hers. Check out his solo performance from 1974, one of my favorites, from Before the Flood:

Interpreting Bob Dylan’s music is a daunting task. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and not much help from the author. When asked about the song in a 1992 interview, Dylan responded, “That’s a hard song to pin down. It’s another one of those that you can sing a thousand times and still ask what it is about, but you know there is a real feeling there.” Like all great poetry, it can mean different things with each reading, and this, my friends is why his music will endure for centuries. Happy Thanksgiving.

Just Like A Woman
Recorded March 8, 1966
Columbia Recording Studios, Nashville, Tennessee

Released as a single in September, 1966.
Bob Dylan, lead vocal, guitar and harmonica
There's some confusion over who played what on these sessions, which included:
Robbie Robertson, Al Kooper, Ken Buttrey, Rick Danko, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Jerry Kennedy, Bill Aikins, Henry Strzeleci, Joe South, Garth Hudson, Joe South and Paul Griffin, among others. [Little known fact: sweeping the studio floors was a young janitor named Kris Kristofferson].

more on Blonde on Blonde
the final word on Blonde on Blonde, and some damn good writing

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Anonymous muebles madrid said...

I believe everybody ought to look at this.

2:15 AM  

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