My good friend Betsy Dye is responsible for turning me onto Bob.
Back when I was living in Brooklyn, I hit some hard times. To get me through, Betsy swooped in and sent me a load of Dylan songs that would introduce me to his songwriting and the way his mind works. This is a pretty daunting task to pick songs from an artist who recorded over 500 songs. But Betsy was up for the challenge and determined to turn me onto Bob because she knew I would fall in love with his style and mind.
It really did blow me away. She sent me tunes from the early years, but a few that stuck out for me are Lay Down Your Weary Tune and Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. I’ll get into these songs more in depth in future blog posts, though a more suitable setting to dissect his music and lyrics would be a in University classroom.
This was my first introduction into something completely new and amazing. Out of the handful of songs she sent me, I then made it my mission to find all of his music from the 60s and 70s. Downloading from iTunes, hitting record shops for vinyl, scouring the racks at Bleecker Bobs for live bootlegs of “The Rolling Thunder Review”… This was such a prolific man and collecting the music was becoming a full-time job, but the rewards were worth it. Dylan is completely responsible for giving me my songwriting voice. Seger put the bug in me. Springsteen guides my storytelling and taught me endlessly about how to write with melody, but Dylan held the flashlight up and said, ‘watch’. He had a way to encompass everything you would need to know about songwriting, and he could do it effortlessly in every song.
The song that totally floored me was Boots of Spanish Leather. I must have played this song hundreds of times since I found it. This is a sad, sad song about a man who is still in love with a woman who is moving on. I’ve been in that situation one too many times in my day. Legend has it that the song was written about his lady Suze Rotolo (pictured below) before she moved to Italy. She then married a man she met while in Italy. What speaks to me the most is the constant back and forth between the two lovers. Her distraction, and his persistence. He even becomes offended when she asks the same question twice, and he responds with “how can you ask me again, it only brings me sorrow, the same thing I want from you today, I would want again tomorrow”. I have great respect for the songwriters that can phrase exactly what you’re feeling. A feeling that you can never put to words, but once you hear it in a song, you wish you wrote it. Dylan does this to me all the time.
Boots of Spanish Leather
Oh, I’m sailin’ away my own true love,
I’m sailin’ away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I’ll be landing?
No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love,
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’.
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.
Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden,
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona.
Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss,
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’.
That I might be gone a long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’,
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin’.
Oh, how can, how can you ask me again,
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.
I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin’,
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.
Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I’m sure your mind is roamin’.
I’m sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you’re goin’.
So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.
I imagine he did this to so many artists finding his music for the first time, including Springsteen. Bruce admits that without Dylan there would be no Bruce Springsteen. The effects this man had on music and a generation are endless, in the same way that his music his timeless.