Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why Baby Blue?

When people ask me the name of the website for this blog and I tell them "BabyBlueOnline.org" I am consistently met with a stare - and then the question. "Baby Blue? Why Baby Blue?" And so I tell them it's a Bob Dylan song. But why that song? Why does that song mean so much that I'd name not only my blog, but also my online posting name (BabyBlue), an AOL mailbox (BabyBlueAnglican@aol.com) and my own website (BabyBlueCafe.org) after it?

So I thought I might attempt to explore the reasons why. Click on the headline above to download the podcast or continue reading.

In the late fall of 2004, I bought a CD at the Truro Bookstore called "Songs Inspired by the Passion." (learn more here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0001N9WFK/104-7277291-6995136?v=glance&n=5174). On the CD I discovered the song "Not Dark Yet," by Bob Dylan. I played it once. Then I played it again. And then played it many times over the next several weeks and then months. Something in that song resonated with me at that particular place in my life. It touched me deeply, but I couldn't figure out why. Here are the lyrics:

Shadows are falling and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

Well my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

Well, I've been to London and I've been to gay Paree
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain't looking for nothing in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm moving, but I'm standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear a murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

Dylan 1997

It wasn't only the words, it was the music, the arrangement, and finally - it was Dylan's voice itself that seemed to go straight to my heart. I was coming to a place in my life of feeling this way, but not able to completely explain why. I was about to pass a milestone - I would be older than my mother was when she passed away in 1977 when I was sixteen. I was also walking through the coming departure of a friend who would die of cancer in a few months. And I was watching as the Episcopal Church continued to take steps that was not dark yet, but it was getting there.

Yet there was some sort of hope inside the lyrics, inside the music, inside Dylan's voice. The song came to me as a confession. By admitting this was where I was, truly, I found there was now room for resurrection. It turns out that one of major contributors to select the songs included on the album was Bono of U2. This was a song of the Passion - a song of Good Friday. And the year 2005 turned about to be a Good Friday year.

The result was I wanted to find out more about Bob Dylan. What I discovered was that I had been heavily influenced by him all my life in so many ways - and never knew it.

While on my pilgrimage to learn more about Dylan I came across this song, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." It is one of his masterpieces - it seems simple at first, but then the more you dig into the lyrics (and the many ways in which Dylan has performed it over 40 years), the more intriguing it became. And like "Not Dark Yet," it resonated - there were layers and layers of meaning in the song. Just today I learned another layer from the first stanza which has bewildered me, but now astonishes me. Dylan writes "yonder stands your orphan with his gun." What in the world is that about? But here's the new discovery - how can someone be "your orphan?" Does that mean the gun is pointed at you? Are you the parent? If it's "your orphan" than it's your child. If the child is symbolic, who does it represent? And then - who are you? The parent - representing what? And what if the orphan is actually you and you are the one pointing the gun? Which character is Dylan representing as "you?" You see what he does? It's not as simple as it seems at first. Man, I love this stuff. This is why I spent four years getting a BFA in Creative Writing. I just love it. This song is just full of it.

Here are the lyrics:

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered from coincidence.
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home.
All your reindeer armies, are all going home.
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor.
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

Dylan 1965

The song resonates at this period because it seems to be about the end of one part of one's life and the start of something new. It's a very sad song of farewell, perhaps one of the saddest, but it's also quite pointed. And in the last stanza we have early evidence of Dylan's understanding of Scripture.

"Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you."

What does Jesus say?

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

Matthew 8:18-22

Like the phrase in the first stanza "Yonder stands your orphan with his gun," which seems to say that "you" are dead if "you" have an orphan. Later, the last stanza, Dylan writes "forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you." Jesus says "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." How can the dead do anything if they are dead? How can you see yonder your orphan if you are dead? Who is it that is dead?

If our faith is compromised until it is unrecognizable, where the gospel of the age replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ, then what is dying? What has indeed died?

In the first stanza Dylan writes that the "orphan" is "Crying like a fire in the sun." Then in the last stanza he writes "strike another match, go start anew." Here we have contrasting visions - of tears like fire, and a flame being struck for a new beginning.

All these phrases have special meaning to me as I approach this song at Pentecost. We leave the dead to bury the dead, we are orphans with tears that burn until the fire goes out and it's time to strike a match and start a new journey, a new pilgrimage. For some it does feel like we want to stay where we are, but the carpet is moving under us, our tears have burned away and now we look for the light to show us the way home. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.


Click the headline above for the podcast of "Why BabyBlue?" It includes "Not Dark Yet," and the 1975 and 1966 bootlet versions of the song. The 1975 version is from the Rolling Thunder Tour and the 1966 version is from the concert at Manchester Hall, though popularly known as the "Royal Prince Albert Hall" concert. This is the concert where the infamous "Judas!" was shouted at Dylan from the audience.

Go here: http://mooniing.net/sounds/rock/Bob%20Dylan%20-%20It's%20All%20Over%20Now,%20Baby%20Blue.mp3 to hear the original recording of the song off "Bringing It All Back Home." One of the best recordings of the song, however, is off the Bootleg Series "Live at the Royal Albert Hall." You can also go to the welcome page at BabyBlueCafe.org and hear a later version that's one of my favorites. Dylan is constantly reinventing the song. One of the saddest versions is now available to see in the documentary "No Direction Home," when Dylan returned to the stage at Newport 1965 after being booed off stage for plugging in and sang one last accoustic song with a guitar borrowed from Johnny Cash. It was a defiant "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." It's likely the Newport crowd then understood that their "original vagabond" they had known was no more.

Click here for an interesting discussion about the lyrics of "It's all over now, Baby Blue." http://pool.dylantree.com/phorum/read.php?f=2&i=339816&t=339816


Anonymous said...

BabyBlue, Thank you for your blog.
i finally had to post a Thank YOU!

The Wednesday, February 28, 2007
PB Blogfest: With God On Our Side only Nixon Can Go to China
posting is super excellent and i have shared it with several friends.

Jesus Christ be with you today and always.

a humble friend, gregory

Anonymous said...

From what I have read, this song is Dylan's leap from folk to electric bob. Interpretations are that Dylan was describing profound/compelling change ..something that you can't hold back. You may not want to go but you can't stay type of change.

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun--is possibly a metaphor for leaving a part of yourself that is resisting the change. You have created an orphan in what you left behind.

Crying like the fire in the sun...is reference to the intense inner conflict. Profound change can come with excruciating pain despite the fact that you can't stop it.


Anonymous said...


You should listen to this
(Last song)

Love your take on Babyblue. I see all sorts of layers of meaning also. I most often take it as a break up song, with the orphan being a child abandoned by its possibly drug addicted mother, being the one crying in the sun.
The first line has a fed up tone
"you must leave now, take what you need" Get the hell out, to paraphrase, take your stash, and your things and get out you junkie bitch... sorry getting carried away.

just one of many ways to look at the song, of course it means so many things and is one of the greatest songs ever written. If you have not heard the version in the link above I bet you will love it.


Anglican Beach Party said...

Hi Baby Blue,

I wonder if you have ever heard the Chocolate Watch Band version of the song?

Yours truly,
Anglican Beach Party

Unknown said...

Paul - thank you so much for sending me to this version. At first I thought it was a punk version, and then realized it was th 60s, but again it has such a punk sound to it - just great. Thank you. It will probably find a way to pop up on the blog soon.


Anonymous said...

"Yonder stands your orphan with his gun" .. to me that line is clear: the 'orphan' is Bobby's earlier artistic character that he had chosen to leave already when making that song. The "woodyguthrie" rambling hobo without a home with a guitar in hand that serves as a tool for advocating a political point (see Woody with the machine that kills fascists: http://isiria.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/woody-guthrie.jpg). Dylan had heavily adopted such a character in his early career and actually wasn't all clear or truthful about his roots in Minnesota to people. Rather he was something like "born in the bottom of a wishing-well".

An interpretation is always interpretation and Dylan's lyrics are a great example of successful art that speaks to all different people in their different ways.

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Anon. Thank you!


Evan Curry said...

"yonder stands your orphan with his gun..." Is a cinematic reference, that's all! Not to be smug. "The Long Night" starring Henry Fonda and Vincent Price. It is an iconic noir film. Once you watch the film, you will understand why Bob would refer to it. Fonda portrays the character Joe brilliantly. Joe, a romantic blue-collar dreamer, and Jo Ann, a naive girl who is held under some mysterious spell by a spine-shivering creepy magician, portrayed by Vincent Price. Both Joe and Jo Ann are orphans. The film starts with gunshot ringing from Joe's apartment and a dead Magician falling down the stairs; the only witness is a blind boy.

Irene said...

Guya, You have all put it all together so clear, I have nothing to add. Thanks for enlightening me!