Song of the Day #748: ‘Mississippi’ – Bob Dylan

Twenty-six years and 16 albums after Blood on the Tracks, the fifth of the six albums I consider Bob Dylan’s absolute masterpieces, he released Love and Theft — the sixth. 1997’s Time Out Of Mind was his Grammy-winning comeback album but Love and Theft left it in the dust, proving he was not only back but better than ever.

While Time Out Of Mind is obsessed with mortality, Love and Theft is brimming with life and humor. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Dylan have as much mischievous fun as he does on this album. Certainly it’s the first Dylan album to feature the phrase “booty call” and the first that I know of to include a knock-knock joke.

And Dylan has never stomped and raged as hard as he does on the blistering blues tracks on this album. He growls through a smirk on ‘Lonesome Day Blues,’ ‘Honest With Me’ and ‘Cry Awhile,’ spitting out some of his most inspired lyrics in years:

Yeah the road’s washed out—weather not fit for man or beast
Funny, how the things you have the hardest time parting with
Are the things you need the least

Leaves are rustlin’ in the wood—things are fallin’ off the shelf
You gonna need my help, sweetheart
You can’t make love all by yourself

Love and Theft also features Dylan in crooner mode on the lovely ‘Moonlight’ and the sweetly funny ‘Po Boy’ and in Poet at the Apocalypse mode on the stifling ‘High Water’ and elegiac album closer ‘Sugar Baby.’

The most famous track on this album is today’s Song of the Day, ‘Mississippi,’ perhaps Dylan’s most masterful moment of the past decade and beyond. The song was originally recorded for Time Out of Mind but not included on that release (a good move in retrospect, as it fits much better on Love and Theft). Sheryl Crow recorded a version for her album The Globe Sessions before Dylan’s own version was released.

His was worth the wait.

Every step of the way we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is pilin’ up, we struggle and we scrape
We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape

City’s just a jungle; more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin’ to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

Got nothin’ for you, I had nothin’ before
Don’t even have anything for myself anymore
Sky full of fire, pain pourin’ down
Nothing you can sell me, I’ll see you around

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well, the devil’s in the alley, mule’s in the stall
Say anything you wanna, I have heard it all
I was thinkin’ ’bout the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleepin’ in Rosie’s bed

Walkin’ through the leaves, falling from the trees
Feelin’ like a stranger nobody sees
So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

Some people will offer you their hand and some won’t
Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t
I need somethin’ strong to distract my mind
I’m gonna look at you ’til my eyes go blind

Well I got here followin’ the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now

My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waitin’ to be kind
So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

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One thought on “Song of the Day #748: ‘Mississippi’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    A wonderful song from a wonderful album.

    While listening today, I again think about Joni Mitchell’s chameleon criticism of Dylan. I know I previously suggested I saw her point, and, to an extent I still do, and I previously tried to fit her theory into Dylan’s sound over the past 20 years (acoustic rock in the path taken by Clapton, etc), but, in thinking about it further, I think any validity to her criticism ended with Time Out of Mind. I think that, beginning with that album, and continuing to today, Dylan stopped trying to be “relevant” or fit into the musical stylings of the day, and just wrote great songs and put them out there with a general minimalism fitting the work (and in keeping with his increasingly diminished vocal capacity).

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