10 Bob Dylan Songs I'd Rather Die Than Live Without, In No Particular Order, Part 1


I love Bob Dylan so much I feel like I am dead. I don't know when I'll write Part 2. Maybe on Wednesday. Maybe in a month. 

I'll Be Your Baby Tonight 

I moved into the apartment across the hall on the last day of June and I put a couch in my kitchen. "Nothing says "I'm a chill person" like putting a couch in your kitchen," I said. 

My kitchen-couch is brown, kind of a velour/suede-hybrid texture. Next to my couch is a little brown table and on the little brown table is my little brown record player, and a bunch of records and record sleeves are always lying beautifully askew on the table in front of it. Records and record sleeves don't know how to lie any other way. 

It's all a very laid-back, seventies sort of brown- "It's always 1972 in my couch-nook!" is definitely a sentence I've heard myself say; it's my couch-nook's slogan. It's really begging for some Bob Dylan. You can listen to other records too, but it became so obvious so fast. The first time I ever sat alone on that couch I put on John Wesley Harding, because it was the only Bob Dylan record I had. I'd never heard it before. 

I didn't have Internet for a week. All I did was chill on my couch reading MFK Fisher and listening to John Wesley Harding. I learned the whole thing in two days. It is wide-wale tan corduroy with a little bit of the brown suede-velour to it too. At first I thought it was from 1972, too, but my favorite thing about it's how it isn't. It's from 1967. 

I fucking love Bob Dylan, for straight-up refusing to participate in psychedelia. He was just like, "Fuck it. I'm not even gonna touch that." Everybody else in the world and their brother were singing "Gelatin kangaroos leaping over a leprous purple moon on Sunday..." and Bob Dylan decided to make a couple rickety little country albums, which was lovely of him- my exact preferred style of defiance. 

I decided on one of my sunny Internetless July mornings laying around listening to John Wesley Harding that I'll Be Your Baby Tonight was from that moment on going to be my Romance Anthem. Everybody needs to have a Romance Anthem! It's a very cool unexplored concept that I am basically a genius for inventing. A Romance Anthem is like the theme song for your romantic self, explaining how you like to be romantic. It's not about the way you want love to be; it's about the way love is when you're involved. 

I'm very romantic too. "Kick your shoes off, do not fear, bring that bottle over here"- it's all very kind, very lazy and kind, but it's a very alpha love song! He's the one doing the bulk of the soothing, he's definitely calling all the shots. He's not worried or afraid of anything that's going to happen in his room. All he's got to do is get drunk and show the girl the moon. 

Subterranean Homesick Blues

I almost didn't go to my favorite line cook's 22nd birthday party because it was the same day I got my Internet back and I was so stoked to go home and buy Bringing It All Back Home off iTunes so I could listen to Subterranean Homesick Blues; I'd been dying without it. So thank God that night was so shitty and my hair was so dirty; by the time I got to the end of the night I couldn't not have a drink. I had a hundred drinks: double gin and sodas in a pint glass with lots of lime and lots of ice. They were doing incredible things to me. Words were falling very smoothly out of my mouth and hanging out in the air like music notes in a comic strip. (I just typoed "comic" as "cosmic" which I think says everything you need to know about where this story, and every story, is going...) I have been blessed with the magical ability to never seem as drunk as I am, and also was stealing sips of my ex-sous-chef's banana slurpee, which helps. With everything

One of my line cook's best friends showed up. I asked him what he did and he answered evasively so I said "Oh, you're a drug dealer." He found out I'd taken acid after I asked him if he could get me any acid and asked me the kind of questions a twenty-two year old who's taken acid twice would ask a strange woman trying to suss out if she's enlightened or not. He asked me if I'd ever seen God and I told him I had. He asked me if I though God made everything and I said "No, I think God is everything"- he texted me the other day asking if I'd like to take mushrooms with him. I said sure. 

I arrived home at 3:45 AM and thought I left my phone at the bar before realizing that I'd actually just plugged it into my charger like the responsible adult I have weirdly somehow become. I downloaded Bringing It All Back Home and listened to Subterranean Homesick Blues somewhere between seven and eleven times in a row, and it sounded so good I cried and made a couple small "yelp" noises here and there, flexed my toes and tweeted about how all I want out of life is a t-shirt that says "Don't follow leaders" on the front and "watch your parking meters" on the back, and little else, and then I tried to use those little letter magnets the person who lived in my apartment before me left on the refrigerator to spell out that sentence, which is everything, butI  ran out of rs. 

I listen to Subterranean Homesick Blues every day now, usually about three to nine times per day; there's some magic thing about about it which allows me to always connect to how grateful I feel to get to listen to it, which I think relates to seeing the video once when I was a little kid, and needing to get inside of that coolness. And it's just got so much energy! It definitely makes you understand why square old people used to think rock and roll was the devil's music. It's black magic! 

I was listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues while drinking an icy and giant black iced coffee as early in the morning as I'll ever be at a subway station on a Saturday, I think I'd probably slept better than usual because I remember feeling particularly alert, like in a drugs way, and I think I probably thought I looked pretty cool in my outfit and my hair was going the way it's supposed to and everything, and I saw this guy look at me, look at me. I didn't care 1% about him, romantically or sexually or even aesthetically, but I still felt a little pissed that he couldn't have known I was listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues. Like every other thing about me counted as being 1% of me and then the entire 99% rest of it belonged to how I was listening to that song. And then I thought, "God, it's just so smart to be listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues!" and I thought about how dead wrong people have it, living their lives and not listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues anywhere near as much as they ought to. Now every time I see any neutral or lame or even cool-seeming person on the street or train plugged into headphones I just think, "God, Christ, it could all be so much better for you..." 

And then, that same night as the day of the iced coffee morning, I was walking home from work listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues and some drunk frat boy held up his hand to high-five me and I high-fived him, and then the same thing happened four days later, and I thought that's just me I guess, wandering around the world listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues on headphones because I know what's good, high-fiving drunk frat boys if they ask for it because what kind of bitch would I have been if I hadn't, and why the hell wouldn't I. 

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues is the first Bob Dylan song I ever loved, and I loved it before I even heard it. The Beastie Boys, my beautiful wicked wonderful Beastie Boys, sample my favorite line of the whole song- I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough- in their song Finger Lickin' Good off Check Your Head. I just listened to it, just now, twenty seconds ago, for the first time since Adam Yauch died- I was going to take a shower and then write about Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues with my hair wet, to let my hair dry, but now I'm feeling very emotional, and heavy, but in a sort of good way, like if inside my body there were no blood or bones, just ocean water, all the way up to the very top of my neck, but my head is still just my regular had. So I think that's a good way for me to feel for writing about Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. I'm drinking champagne.

A Bob Dylan lyric in the middle of a Beastie Boys song sounded to me, as a very young teenager, like turning on a light. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues is my favorite Bob Dylan poem, if you took away all the sounds from every song; every line of it hits me hard, it's a story about a lost person, a guy who's not where he's supposed to be- that's where I used to not be too. And when I was little I used to hear that line and think that New York's the city I'd need to go back to too, but it definitely never would be, and has never been. But I've definitely had enough, and enough and enough and enough, a thousand times, and this song's the one I always went back to, sitting cross-legged in a field dragging my forefinger across the wheel of one of the seven thousand iPods I Have Known, too impatient to hear the whole thing over again- I've always just wanted to hear that line.  

But there's others, too, and anybody who's ever LIVED has lived through all of them:

-when you're lost in the rain
-and negativity don't pull you through
-don't put on any airs
-they really make a mess outta you
-please tell her thanks a lot
-my fingers are all in a knot
-i don't have the strength to get up and take another shot 
-and you're so kind and careful not to go to her soon
-she takes your voice and leaves you howling at the moon
-if you're looking to get silly, you better go back to from where you came-

He's a really a genius, you know. He's so much better than we are, any of us, at writing songs and at writing words down. Like if you took the person you know who is best at writing songs and mixed them with the person who is best at writing words, they'd still probably be only about 15% as good as Bob Dylan, and I'm happy about that, I want him to have that, he deserves that-

I started out on Burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff,
Everybody said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough, 
But the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff- 
I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough. 

I think there's more genuine sadness in the first three lines of that verse then there are in the entire Beatles, Ulysses, and every story JD Salinger wrote about Seymour Glass put together and timesed by three, or even four! I wish I could watch a video of myself every time I ever listened to those words and related to them just so I could remember who I was when I felt so sad; I was sadder than I'm now capable of remembering how to feel. Now when I listen to it, I realize that my life today's the New York City I'd want to go back to. It's a happy ending for us both.

Don't Think Twice, It's Alright 

At work one afternoon in July I got in minor trouble for fucking up the Excel spreadsheet I filled out on the night of the storm. The storm flooded half the city and the subways stopped running. It was a stressful, ugly night at my restaurant; the sky was darker than just dark, the street flowed like a river and strangers crammed themselves beneath our awning to hide from the rain. Everybody eating dinner was hiding from the rain, and I was wishing I could have gotten to know the crazy-rain they were hiding from. I was sad that I was hidden away from all the drama. You can't be a writer who doesn't love a storm. 

When I found out I fucked up, I reacted terribly- very dramatically, in a manner that might have validated scores of early-twentieth-century misogynist's beliefs that women are too emotional to work. And it was even stupider because, you see, even "minor trouble" is an overstatement in this instance; to tell the truth, I barely got in any trouble at all. Somebody just told me that I did it. 

I just kept thinking that I'm frivolous. I was totally out my head and probably on my period and definitely exhausted; I didn't storm out the front door but I marched out fucking fast, right down the street and into a Starbucks, where I ordered myself a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, "as light as you can get it but with whip" and sat out on the patio, which is located next to a gigantic cement hole in the ground. I guess they're building a condo or whatever. 

I tried to read my stupid book but I was too tired and sad about how frivolous and crappy at my job I am so I put Don't Think Twice, It's Alright on headphones and just listened to it. A couple nights before I'd watched the episode of Mad Men where Don Draper comes home to an empty house on Thanksgiving, sits on the stairs and his grey suit creases where his elbows and knees bend beautifully and I'm assuming thinks about what a crappy husband and father he is and Don't Think Twice, It's Alright plays and in doing so inadvertently, or maybe advertently, becomes the official anthem of All People Who Fucked Things Up Everywhere; in particular, of spacey assistant managers who once upon a time tried to do anything in the world that wasn't write and fucked it up and couldn't find her headphones that very fucking morning before realizing they were tucked inside the leg of a pair of pyjama pants, in her laundry basket, who walks into oncoming traffic and into trees and can barely even manage walking to the fucking bathroom without tripping over the fucking molecules of the fucking air and falling flat on her face- 

I hadn't cried in months, at that point, because everything's going really well for me these days, but that afternoon I cried so hard I had to get off the Starbucks patio STAT for fear of somebody who works at my restaurant bumping into their assistant manager weirdly whimpering while drinking a stupid-looking Frappuccino 45 minutes before Saturday night service was due to start. 

I put Don't Think Twice, It's Alright on repeat and locked myself in a Starbucks washroom wondering if "We never did too much talking anyway" was tragic or celebratory, slurping up the end of my Frap and crying so hard felt so right and so good that I forced myself to remember up every single thing in my life and the world that could possibly bring me to tears, just so the tears wouldn't have to stop. And then I wrung it all out and went back to work and had a great night, though I forget precisely why, and- boringly enough, for anyone keeping me score- I never even came close to making that  same mistake about an Excel spreadsheet again. I'm not a frivolous person, just an appreciator of weird beauty who is a little bit shitty at math. And this will not be the last time I ever sobbed my brains out while listening to Don't Think Twice, It's Alright and knocking back a novelty Frap: it's the exact type of weird beauty I was born to appreciate. 

Idiot Wind

I used to hate Bob Dylan for being an asshole but now I love Bob Dylan for never pretending not to be an asshole. I was thinking I might re-watch that clip from Don't Look Back where he's mean to the science major and try to defend it and then relate that to everything I love about Idiot Wind, but I really can't be bothered. All I can think is, imagine if somebody'd made a movie about me when I was twenty-five, and they'd managed to capture some footage of me being a dick to one of the seven hundred-ish people I was an unbridled dick to during the second half of 2010 and/or the first of 2011, and then in the future some person who never knew me tried to have an opinion about it? That would be such a giant fucking waste of that poor person's time. Let's just call a Bob Dylan spade a Bob Dylan spade and let our Bob Dylan bygones be Bob Dylan bygones and accept the fact that Bob Dylan's only as big of a jerk as any other semi-intelligent human being who doesn't like lying.

Blood on the Tracks makes me really excited to be thirty-five. It is the #1 rock and roll album of all time that is most like a book. He's definitely made peace with his contempt for the majority of humanity and seems to be taking it all considerably less personally than he did during Bringing It All Back Home. There are things about Bob Dylan that you can tell make him fundamentally angry and by Blood on the Tracks he's reached a very inspiring state of acceptance. Bringing It All Back Home and Blood On The Tracks bookend ten years of his life; in 1965, when he's a little twenty-four year old baby, he just wants to wage war against every fat square who has ever pissed him off, they're all dipshitty Maggie's Ma et al. and they've got it all wrong and he's a poet and that's just the way it is; ten years later they're still as stupid as ever only now he's a bit stupid too- "We are idiots, babe"; it's no longer a moral issue, since There Is No Right- that's what getting older is like. When you're young you think, "You're stupid, I'm smart"; then you age a little bit and learn to doubt yourself and it becomes, "You're stupid, I'm mean." Then you age a little bit more and realize, "We're all stupid, and I'm only mean sometimes."

But isn't it great to be mean sometimes? My third-favorite lyric from Idiot Wind is "I can't even touch the books you've read"- I fear he might mean it metaphorically, but I like to imagine that it refers to physically touching ANY SINGLE BOOK THAT THE IDIOT YOU HATE HAS EVER READ IN THEIR ENTIRE LIFE. Like you're chilling at some dude's place and he's trying to light his joint but his lighter's out and he's all "Hey, can you pass me that matchbook?" and you look to where he's nodding at the matchbook and you notice that it's partially obscured by a copy of In Cold Blood and you remember back to how once five years ago that dipshit once tweeted some blood-chilling slop about Truman Capote and you're just like, "No. Nope. Sorry. I can't pass you that matchbook"- I think that's such a perfect way to hate someone. 

But my first-favorite lyric from Idiot Wind is the one where he's "daydreaming about the way things sometimes are"- it's just so fabulously unromantic! Unless you're some losery fanfic guy who daydreams over turning into a vampire who has sex with Harry Styles, who is also a vampire, or whatever- which is also unromantic- "the way things sometimes are" is the only dull thing even your daydreams, which I should hope are significantly less dull than your real life, can ever be, which just goes to show dull life is, which I guess is why once I got a little older I fell in love with the guy who sang, "Well, anybody can be just like me"- 



  1. fucking love this.

    I also think "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" is a super sexy song, as in, when you can laugh during sex, I guess that's what it reminds me of.

    Also, gin & soda is the only non-beer drink I ever order at bars.

  2. True Story: Once I went to a free lecture given by a MIT Professor, but he was not an MIT professor on this occasion but a Dylanologist - a person who studies the lyrics, music, references and cultural impact of Bob Dylan. It was hosing down with rain outside - so as the audience entered the room, dripping and shaking out umbrellas, he played "Shelter from the Storm". It was perfect. A 300 seat lecture theatre never felt so fire-side.

  3. I love Bob Dylan so much and I feel like no one ever gets it. I never met a man who gets it, anyway, which is why I'm single.

  4. yes everything yes.