Boots of Spanish Leather - The Prologue

by Patrick J. Webster

462 words on

The love song and anti-love song


I want to begin this month by making a clear statement, I want to suggest that the most significant genre of Dylan’s work is the love song. Now I know the love song is the staple element in popular music as a whole, but I want to suggest that nearly all of Dylan’s love songs, of which there are several hundred, set out to either consciously or unconsciously subvert their own genre. Dylan’s love songs are mostly what might be called ‘anti-love songs’.

I say this because it seems to me that Dylan’s love songs are primarily concerned not with trying to obtain the love of a woman, but rather are concerned with how to escape the domain of woman. ‘Boots of Spanish Leather,’ is, I would suggest, one of the very greatest of Dylan’s love songs, but it is also of interest because it is close to being a complete exception within Dylan’s canon. I say this insomuch it is a song in which a woman is leaving a man. This is rare in Dylan’s work, the general discourse of Dylan’s work is to offer us reasons for men to leave women. It seems to me that this is apparent from the beginning, from his first love song, which I see as being ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ right up to the most recent - to the greatest love song Dylan has recently offered us, ‘Mississippi’.

The crucial line in ‘Don't Think Twice, It’s Alright’ in fact it is a crucial line in the whole of Dylan’s work - if one understands this then the whole of his work becomes clearer; the line is as follows:

‘You’re the reason I'm travelling on ...’

Once you understand that women are the cause of masculine wandering then you have a key to comprehending a great part of the ways sexual politics are extolled in Dylan’s work. You get the same sense of the distance of the gender divide in ‘Mississippi’ wherein we are told:

‘I’ve been in trouble ever since I put my suitcase down ...’
‘I stayed in Mississippi a day too long ...’

The point I am making here is that the discourse of Dylan’s work depends upon a relentless desire for - but more significantly a fear of - women.

I state all this to set up a reading of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ in my next piece. And also to raise questions for debate. It seems to me that we see the work of a songwriter like Bob Dylan with much greater focus when we try and identify the dominant themes at play in his work. After I have laid out my ideas on ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ next time I would be interested in other views on this.