Cover by Wovenhand / David Eugene Edwards & original version by Bob Dylan
As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine’s
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains
I offer’d her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm
“Depart from me this moment”
I told her with my voice
Said she, “But I don’t wish to”
Said I, “But you have no choice”
“I beg you, sir,” she pleaded
From the corners of her mouth
“I will secretly accept you
And together we’ll fly south”
Just then Tom Paine, himself
Came running from across the field
Shouting at this lovely girl
And commanding her to yield
And as she was letting go her grip
Up Tom Paine did run,
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said to me
“I’m sorry for what she’s done”
Original version by Bob Dylan
What is the meaning of this song? I don’t think anyone has figured it out, but it is one of the best songs on John Wesley Harding, which was Dylan’s December 1967 “return” album after a considerable hiatus following his May 1966 double album “Blonde on Blonde”.
I have always found it interesting to think about this transformative period of Dylan’s life and work which led him to once again alienate the majority of his fans by abandoning rock for a new period of folk and country-ish music, just as he had earlier alienated his folk fans by going to rock music, and later would alienate alienate most all of his fans with his three Christian-gospel albums. This is one reason I have great respect for Dylan, who has generally always marched to his own drum of artistic freedom, rather than catering to his fans. For this reason I think that Bob Dylan would have been a lousy politician and certainly could never have made a career out of it!
By the way, the fact that I placed Wovenhand’s version first does not in any way suggest that I think it is better that Dylan’s! But I do like the primitive and sparse feel of the Wovenhand version.
Following are a few excerpts from wikipedia about this period and the album:
Dylan went to work on John Wesley Harding in the fall of 1967. By then, 18 months had passed since the completion of Blonde on Blonde. After recovering from the worst of the results of his motorcycle accident, Dylan spent a substantial amount of time recording the informal basement sessions at West Saugerties, New York; little was heard from him throughout 1967. During that time, he stockpiled a large number of recordings, including many new compositions. He eventually submitted nearly all of them for copyright, but declined to include any of them in his next studio release (Dylan would not release any of those recordings to the commercial market until 1975’s The Basement Tapes; and by then, some of those recordings had been bootlegged, usually sourced from an easy-to-find set of publisher’s demos). Instead, Dylan used a different set of songs for John Wesley Harding.
It is not clear when these songs were actually written, but none of them have turned up in the dozens of basement recordings that have since surfaced. According to Robbie Robertson, “As I recall it was just on a kind of whim that Bob went down to Nashville. And there, with just a couple of guys, he put those songs down on tape.” Those sessions took place in the autumn of 1967, requiring less than twelve hours over three stints in the studio.
Dylan brought to Nashville a set of songs similar to the feverish yet pithy compositions that came out of the Basement Tapes sessions. They would be given an austere sound sympathetic to their content. When Dylan arrived in Nashville, producer Bob Johnston recalls that “he was staying in the Ramada Inn down there, and he played me his songs and he suggested we just use bass and guitar and drums on the record. I said fine, but also suggested we add a steel guitar, which is how Pete Drake came to be on that record.”
The dark, religious tones that appeared during the Basement Tapes sessions also continues through these songs, manifesting in language from the King James Bible. In The Bible in the Lyrics of Bob Dylan, Bert Cartwright cites more than sixty biblical allusions over the course of the thirty-eight and a half minute album, with as many as fifteen in “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” alone. An Old Testament morality also colors most of the songs’ characters.
In an interview with Toby Thompson in 1968, Dylan’s mother, Beatty Zimmerman, mentioned Dylan’s growing interest in the Bible, stating that “in his house in Woodstock today, there’s a huge Bible open on a stand in the middle of his study. Of all the books that crowd his house, overflow from his house, that Bible gets the most attention. He’s continuously getting up and going over to refer to something.”
Music critic Tim Riley writes that “‘As I Went Out One Morning’ has more to do with the temptations of a fair damsel who walks in chains than with America’s first outlaw journalist, Tom Paine.” In his album review in Rolling Stone, Greil Marcus wrote, “I sometimes hear the song as a brief journey into American history; the singer out for a walk in the park, finding himself next to a statue of Tom Paine, and stumbling across an allegory: Tom Paine, symbol of freedom and revolt, co-opted into the role of Patriot by textbooks and statue committees, and now playing, as befits his role as Patriot, enforcer to a girl who runs for freedom—in chains, to the South, the source of vitality in America, in America’s music—away from Tom Paine. We have turned our history on its head; we have perverted our own myths…”
Any comments are welcome. Does anyone have an opinion of what the song is about? Do you agree that Dylan would have been a lousy politician?
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content