Four years ago, Bob Dylan and his band performed “The Times They Are A-Changin'” at the White House as part of “In Performance at the White House, A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” held in recognition of Black History Month.
Jon Pareles in the New York Times, February 10, 2010:
WASHINGTON — Half a dozen legislators sat a few feet away, under the crystal chandeliers of the East Room of the White House, as Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” poker-faced.
“Come senators, congressman, please heed the call,” he rasped. “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.” His tone was rough but almost wistful; he had turned his old exhortation into an autumnal waltz. Afterward, he stepped offstage and shook President Obama’s hand.
It was part of “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.” The program was the Black History Month event in Michelle Obama’s continuing music series at the White House, and will be broadcast Thursday night on PBS.
It was not lost on anyone that Mr. Obama is America’s first African-American president. “The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music,” Mr. Obama said in opening remarks. The music, he said, “was inspired by the movement and gave strength in return.”
Mr. Dylan shared the bill, though not the stage, with fellow musicians who regularly sang at civil-rights rallies in the early 1960s — Joan Baez, and Bernice Johnson Reagon with the Freedom Singers — and a cross-generational gathering of performers: Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp, Yolanda Adams, Natalie Cole, the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Howard University Choir.
It has such a beautiful melody for starters. And there’s that carnival rock ‘n’roll sound that Dylan dreamed up with Robbie Robertson and a bunch of Nashville cats. The song is so seductive at first, and Bob sings it straight, no sarcasm, so we think it’s a gentle love song.
But what kind of love song?
By the second verse this is no typical love song. No way, ’cause Dylan is putting this woman down. She’s the same woman (or all the women) he sang about in “Like A Rolling Stone,” and in that second verse we learn that she’s gonna find out she’s nothing special.
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can’t be blessed
Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls
Then in the bridge we get a flashback. The singer telling us of the day they met.
It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
What’s really amazing is the final verse the roles reverse and the narrator, who up until then mostly comes across in the power position telling us about his lover, suddenly steps up and directly addresses her as he reveals that he was a mess when they first met and that she was way up above him. Dylan could now be taking the role of Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night” after Diver has lost his moneyed but psychologically unstable wife Nicole, has blown it with his movie star girlfriend Rosemary and become an alcoholic. In the last verse we see the narrator as totally vulnerable, asking her to keep their secret, and his too.
I just can’t fit
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world
Dylan was writing on another plane back then. A novel condensed to a song.
Check out this cool live version of “Just Like A Woman” played May 16, 1966 at the Gaumont Theatre, Sheffield, England:
And this one from May 5, 1966 at the Adelphi Theatre, Dublin, Ireland:
Bob Dylan, “Just Like A Woman,” Live 1966:
Bob Dylan, “Justs Like A Woman,” Manchester Free Trade Hall, Manchester England, May 17, 1966:
Bob Dylan, “Just Like A Woman,” (from Blonde On Blonde):
And here’s a lo-fi version recorded by Dylan biographer Robert Shelton and played by Dylan with Robbie Robertson in a Denver hotel room March 13, 1966, five days after Dylan cut the version that would appear on Blonde On Blonde in Nashville:
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