(Down In The Willow Garden)
by J. R. Stokes

Until about mid 1989 I was pretty much complete. My collection, for I suppose it was a collection of sorts, was however all over the place with no particular order or scheme to keep things in check. Even the audio tapes that I used weren’t consistent: Maxell, TDK, Memorex, Boots own and Sony; I guess I had them all in different lengths and grades. And there were hundreds of them. Piled up in a heap on the floor they looked pretty daunting but placed side by side on my shelves they didn’t fool anyone. I recall that Mel Gamble used to collect only on TDK AD’s (the ones with the blue inserts) which I always thought was pretty impressive and that sweet paradise of harmony was probably what I strived for. But I never made it.

Chris Cooper’s collection was out of sight. All his tape boxes were numbered and cross referenced into a catalogue. If you wanted to hear the last night of the ’78 tour for instance, the one where Dylan played ‘Do Right To Me Baby’ for the first time, Chris would have it on his tape-to-tape machine before you could say ‘Born Again!’.

That particular recording, the night of December 16th 1978 at The Hollywood Sportatorium, could no doubt be held up as ‘Exhibit JRS1’ in my mitigation against the charge of being a Dylan fan without due care and attention. ‘Do Right To Me Baby’ was just a small nugget in a mother load of reinvention for, in his 37th year, Dylan placed some dynamite against the rock face of his back catalogue and blasted new life into old veins. To get the whole picture you had to have the complete set, right through from June to December, and obviously you had to have all the rehearsals as well and, oh yeah, the Far East Tour too. Not having, or having heard, a particular show was like being stuck in the toilet with a stomach complaint on the day that Jesus was being crucified on a hill outside: you were obviously missing something very important.

Of course, similar things happened in ’79 and ’80. Every show had something new and thus became classic items for the collection. It made the worry and stress of trading all the more worthwhile because you knew that, when the second night of the gigs from Massey Hall, Toronto 1980 turned up, you were going to hear Dylan say something that he didn’t say on the first night.

1984 was another example in the ‘must have’ tape stakes. All those wonderful lyric changes to be fathomed and drooled over and, what’s this: a Willie Nelson song in Basle and Brussells? Bloody hell, he’s never done that before! And I tracked and traced them all: on Maxell, TDK, Memorex, Boots own and Sony. In no particular order or place. But I had them all.

Things seemed to change in 1988. On June 7th we didn’t know what tricks Dylan would have up his sleeve and we also didn’t know that the concert performed that night at Concord, California would be the start of a tour that would become what the depths of the ocean might seem to a drowning man: never ending. As is turned out, Dylan invited us on to a wonderful magic roundabout that consisted of 13 songs, four of which had never previously been performed live namely ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’, ‘Driftin’ Too Far from Shore’ and the opener ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. With Neil Young joining Dylan on stage for 10 of the 13 songs performed, the tape of this show would be a Penny Black with no perforations. Coincidentally at around this time Maxell introduced a new range of double XL quality C90’s. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

So, in June 1988 we had the first concert of the NET, a show which opened with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and closed with ‘Maggie’s Farm’. 5 months and 70 shows later, the first year (of 17 to date) of the NET concluded with the concert at Radio City Music Hall, New York on the 19th October, a concert which opened with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and closed with ‘Maggie’s Farm’. It’s strange to think now that, halfway through 1988 Dylan had never previously performed ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ live but by the end of the year he had performed it 70 times, for each show opened with ‘Johnny’s in the basement’. As Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament Prophet once observed: ‘For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven’. On that basis, 1988 was surely Johnny’s season and Johnny’s time under Dylan’s bright blue heaven of performance.

By the time the second year of the NET started, which happened to be on May 27th 1989 in Andrarum, Sweden, my house was becoming littered with Maxell double XL quality C90s. Some had been labeled, some had not. Even more seriously, some had been played, many more had not. Chris’s were all numbered and cross referenced into his ever growing catalogue which put my pathetic attempts at collecting to shame. Sooner or later I would be found guilty of that charge of being a Dylan fan without due care and attention. My only hope would be in the mitigating circumstances that, in that first 1989 show in Sweden, Dylan opened again with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and closed again with ‘Maggie’s Farm’. Johnny was back in the basement and it seemed like he would be there forever. The Penny Blacks were giving way to those ‘God knows when but you’re doin’ it again’ blues.

Irrespective of the standard of Dylan’s performances at these early shows in the NET, I suppose I eventually came to realize that, whilst Dylan’s Johnny could go on mixing up the medicine in the basement for ever and a day, this particular Johnny had better ways of spending his money than providing Mr. and Mrs. Maxell, and all the little Maxells, with a comfortable life style for the purpose of building an archive of largely un played and thus unappreciated material. But it wasn’t just the money, I didn’t seem to be doing it for the love any more either. So, after I attended the concert at the Wembley Arena on June 8th 1989, which again opened with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and again closed with ‘Maggie’s Farm’, I decided to give up collecting for good. Again, this had nothing whatsoever to do with Bob’s performance for it was a great show; it was more a matter of lung capacity. Bob had started a marathon and even at this early stage I realized I couldn’t keep up. Whilst I sat on the pavement exhausted and surrounded by unlabelled and unplayed Maxell double XL quality C90’s, Bob was streaking off into the distance happily heading for another joint whilst my lungs just seemed to be full of smoke from the last one.

It really is one of those totally silly quirks of coincidence, a strange but true situation, but after I had decided to give up collecting following the Wembley Arena show, and after Dylan had opened all but one of the previous 78 shows of the NET with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’; the following night, June 10th at Den Haag in Holland, he opened with ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’. And as if to mix some cement with the sand and water of his set list, he opened with this song on the following four nights in a row before reverting once again to Johnny in the basement. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who had dropped out of the marathon at that stage and perhaps Dylan sensed a victory over the faint hearted who had tried to chain him down or drain him down onto magnetic tape. If the truth be told, all I really wanted to do was to have a neat collection like Chris Coopers but I eventually concluded that I was no match for either Chris or Bob who, admirably, both still run in the same marathon to this very day.

Thus, since mid 1989, I haven’t collected many shows and of course shows aren’t collected on audio tape anymore anyway; we now have MP3s and CDrs and Bit Torrents and Hubs and Trees and these aren’t a few of my favourite things. There have been a couple of exceptions and one in particular was the show at Munster in Germany on October 1st 2000 which was the very first time that Dylan performed ‘If Dogs Run Free’ in concert. Keith Wootton kindly gave me a double cdr of the show in a nice jewel case with a cd insert which had a photograph of Dylan on the front and the complete track listing on the back. The recording of the show was pretty good too.

Now, having shows on cdrs seemed to me to be a much more tidy and sophisticated way of collecting: thin little boxes: just a quarter of an inch thick and measuring five and a half by four and three quarter inches, with the name and the date of the show printed down the spine. A couple of hundred of them would look great in rows on a new Ikea shelving unit. Whilst I was pondering the notion of not collecting EVERYTHING but only collecting those shows where Dylan played ‘If Dogs Run Free’ I began to hear voices and the rattling of chains. It was the ghost of Maxell past coming to warn me off: ‘if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime’. So this old heart of mine faltered again and the trip to Ikea was cancelled.

Although I eventually got good grades at my Reformed School for Pathetic Dylan Collectors, I still couldn’t get one aspect of the collecting habit out of my system. I was never a great fan of compilations, that is having songs from various shows on one simultaneous recording. To me, this was somehow cheating as, to enhance a collection and, incidentally, to appreciate the performance, you needed to have the whole show or not at all. Having bits and pieces from various shows also seemed a very selective and lazy way of collecting which wasn’t particularly representative of anything, other than that Dylan had notched up yet another year of his Never Ending Tour. So, when, sometime in late 2004, John Nye very kindly gave me a cdr which was labeled ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ I left it un played for a while as the contents of the cdr were exactly as it said on the label ‘Selected Performances from the U.S. Tour – spring 2004’. A compilation. There was however a recording of ‘If Dogs Run Free’ on the cdr and, like a henpecked husband who is continually harangued by the tongue of a dominant wife, I eventually succumbed to the constant nagging of my subconscious and pressed the ‘play’ button. Since that moment I have pressed the ‘play’ button many times, or to be more exact, the ‘select’ and ‘play’ buttons. For track two of ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ has moved and mesmerized me immensely. Indeed, as I write, this was the last Dylan track that I have played – and, dare I say it: constantly.

The town of Boone is situated in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. In the late 18th century the great American Frontiersman Daniel Boone traveled through the area and left behind, not only a trail of blood and broken undergrowth, but also a town named after him. Daniel Boone had a very keen eye for game, whether of the human or animal kind but you have to remember that, in those days, the Country was young and had God on its side. Some 225 years later another traveler came to town but instead of packing a rifle, he brought with him a band and a hatful of songs. On Wednesday April 7th 2004 Bob Dylan played The Holmes Center at the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. The Holmes Center is a concert venue with a capacity of around nine thousand and, on the night that Dylan played there, the venue was about two thirds full. According to Dane and Dena Hauver, who attended the concert, April 7th was a beautiful spring day in the mountains of North Carolina and Bob came on stage promptly at 8.15.(1)

Dylan had been recently opening shows with ‘The Wicked Messenger’ and this indeed was the opener he chose at The Holmes Centre. The show then proceeded with some great songs, old and new, until he came to the eighth song of evening, the performance of which had the following affect upon Dane Hauver: ‘It altered my reality, like an Elvis/Hendrix sighting or something’. The song was ‘Tears of Rage’.

What Dane and Dena Hauver, together with the other 5998 members of the audience of The Holmes Center on the night of 7th April 2004, witnessed was an absolutely stunning performance of the song written by Dylan in the summer of ’67 and for which he generously credited the late Richard Manuel as assisting him with the composition. What the audience didn’t have on that night however was the luxury of replay. If they had, Dylan wouldn’t have got beyond that eighth song. On the other hand, with my cdr of ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ I can replay the song as many times as I want. And I have!

The first thing that struck me about the performance of ‘Tears of Rage’ from the Boone show was Dylan’s voice. 2004 was the 16th consecutive year of the NET and, in the ears of many, the constant vocal delivery had taken its toll on Dylan’s physical capabilities. In short, the popular view was that Dylan’s voice was shot. Well that’s how it seems when Dylan delivers the first line of ‘Tears of Rage’. A voice broken and in despair. But as the song proceeds there is a recovery, a strength that is almost ethereal. Notes are hit with a perfect pitch, words are stretched and float upon an exactitude of melody. There is a conjunction between the lyrics and the delivery that is almost bloody operatic! I had forgotten just how magnificently powerful Dylan’s singing could be and I found myself a traitor at the gates of mistrust for, despite all the mixed up confusion of those intervening years, Dylan can still hold his breath three times longer than Caruso.

According to medical theory there is a lapse of about one minute and forty five seconds between the time that the body presents itself for a serious heart attack and the actual moment of fatality. Apparently it is called a cardio-vascular electoplasm and if appropriate medical treatment is received during that crucial time, an untimely death could be avoided. Please feel free to take whatever you can gather from coincidence, but the length of the instrumental break between the second and third verses of ‘Tears of Rage’ as performed on the night of 7th April 2004 was exactly one minute and forty five seconds. And at that crucial moment of impact when Dylan returned to the microphone these are the words he sang;

"I’ve never been to Strawberry Fields
I’ve never been to Penny Lane
But I’ve been down in the Willow Garden
And I’ve ridden on the hell bound train.
And I want you to know
Just before you go
Where to find me in case you needed to.
It was early dawn, you were long gone
Before anybody knew"

On the recording that I have of this song from the Boon show you can hear, as Dylan delivers each line, what seems like cardio-vascular impulses from certain members of the audience. Remember those words from Dane Hauver: ‘It altered my reality, like an Elvis/Hendrix sighting or something’? Even though there was no resultant corpse, Dane had gone to heaven and had come back again.

So: why, why, why did Dylan write this entirely new verse and does it matter anyway?
Well, for a start, the actual fact is that, whether it took him 10 seconds or 10 days; whether he was in bed or in an aeroplane; whether he was alone or with company; and whether he used a biro, a pencil or a fountain pen with green ink; the actual fact is that he took some time out of his life to compose an entirely new verse to the song. To me, but perhaps not to you, it would be disrespectful, bordering upon the negligent, if I did not take full heed of, and endeavour to appreciate and understand, the composition of this new verse. In this, and please forgive me if necessary, it all boils down to the matter of ‘Art’.

There has been a new debate raging recently about what is and what is not ‘Art’. The debate has arisen from the recent publication of a book written by the renowned art critic John Carey and titled ‘What Good Are The Arts?’(2) Carey dillies and dallies about in the place that he knows best i.e. the art world in all its forms and grandeur, but he eventually arrives at the central point of the book which is in this question: ‘What is a work of art?’ Being braver than the bravest of braves that old Daniel Boone might have fired upon, Carey answers his own question as follows:

A work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art only for that one person.” Further, the reasons for considering anything a work of art will be as various as the variety of human beings. So far as I can see, this is the only definition wide enough to take in, on the one hand, the Primavera and the Mass in C, and. on the other, a can of human excrement. It follows, of course, that the old use of “work of art” as a term of commendation, implying membership of an exclusive category, becomes obsolete. The idea that by calling something a work of art you are bestowing on it some divine sanction is now as intellectually respectable as a belief in pixies.’

It is always interesting to watch the sparks fly when intellectuals fall out and on this occasion another renowned author, critic and believer in pixies Jeanette Winterson is the lady who has put a match to the orange touch paper. After becoming slightly hysterical on the subject, Winterson bitingly criticises Carey’s ideas as being “plainly bonkers”, “misplaced”, “baffling” and “idiotic”, she calms down and realizes that abuse is not the only fruit. Winterson’s main objection to Carey’s views that art is a catch-all-free-for-all-see-it-all-know-it-all medium is that Carey is cheapening the value of art which should be recognised as “something special, something real, something beyond the ordinary”. Winterson expounds this view further:

‘Real writers, painters, musicians, do what they do because they love what they do. The money is secondary. We are often dazzled by the media circus surrounding the arts, but behind all that, going on as it ever did, is the intent and endeavour of the artist, an intent and endeavour that we share when we choose to read, or look at pictures or go to the theatre, and so on. The 24-hour emergency zone that we call real life saps our energies. Art renews those energies because it allows us an experience of active meditation. The energies of the artwork cross-current into us. It is a transfusion of a kind, and if this has religious overtones, it doesn't matter. Nobody need be nervous about a connection between art and religion. All of life is connected and our deepest experiences - whether of faith or love or art - will share similar qualities. That does not mean they are the same thing, it means we are in a particular territory - that inner life that Carey finds so suspect.’ (3)

For what it is worth, my position on the subject of ‘Art’ is somewhere between the batsman and the bowler in this debate: a kind of silly-mid-on if you like: I think that art can be appreciated by anyone and everyone and that appreciation will naturally bring a sense of uplifting enjoyment. But I am not here to play cricket; my game is of a different kind. It is however something written by Jeanette Winterson that bears importantly on my order of play and something that is worth running again with:

‘But behind all that, going on as it ever did, is the intent and endeavour of the artist, an intent and endeavour that we share when we choose to read a book, or look at pictures or go to the theatre…’

Winterson doesn’t make a reference to the genre of the singer/songwriter but surely the work created by a singer/songwriter must be treated as art too. In any event, as anyone who has pondered over my ramblings for the last 20 years will know, I have often treated Dylan’s songs as paintings with real images that can be seen, albeit with eyes closed! So, to me at least, Dylan’s songs, and the way that they are performed, can be defined as ‘art’. But it is this matter of sharing with the ‘intent and endeavour of the artist’ that Winterson remarks upon but, alas, does not fully explain that brings me to the crease. When an artist creates a work of art, in whatever guise, isn’t the artist, in his or her creation, intending and endeavouring to communicate something to his or her audience? It takes a minimum of two to ‘share’ something and in my view appreciation of art is the sending of a message by the artist and the receiving of the same message by the audience. A shared communication. Of course sometimes the wires may get crossed or the message may be misinterpreted or misunderstood but provided that at least two people are at the end of each line to send and get the message, that is enough. This is why I said it would be disrespectful, bordering upon the negligent, if I did not take full heed of, and endeavour to appreciate and understand, Dylan’s composition of the new verse to ‘Tears of Rage’. If I didn’t take any notice of this verse then there would, somewhere, be a telephone that rings but who’s to answer? And, as I hate the sound of constantly ringing and unanswered telephones all I have to say is: “Hello. Are you talking to me?”.

To fully understand the new verse of ‘Tears of Rage’ you have to put it into the context of the song as a whole. And in my view the song centres around a family situation which consists of a father, mother, son and daughter. In order however to focus on the two main protagonists of the story, i.e. the father and daughter, Dylan hides the mother and the son from full view. So, in the first part of the first verse we get:

‘We carried you in our arms
On Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside
And put us on our way
Oh what dear daughter ‘neath the sun
Would treat a father so?’

It is very clever trickery for Dylan to talk, in the 5th line, about a daughter who is ‘ ‘neath the sun’ which implies that, in this family situation, the daughter is younger than the son (‘sun’) whilst the ‘we’ and the ‘us’ of the 1st, 3rd and 4th lines, must presumably denote the combination of both the mother and the father of the family. Dylan doesn’t sing ‘I carried you in my arms’ but rather, ‘We carried you in our arms etc.’ So, in this interpretation, the family set up is established.

The seventh and eighth lines of the first verse:

‘To wait upon him hand and foot
And always tell him ‘No’ ’

do not make a great deal of sense because, on the one hand, you have a daughter who is totally subservient to her father but at the same time she refuses his every request! To better understand this strange relationship, you have to look at the ways that the hands and the feet of that seventh line are used. The second verse starts as follows:

‘We pointed out the way to go
And scratched your name in sand
Though you just thought it was nothing more
Than a place for you to stand’.

So the parent’s hands are busy with their movement: pointing the way and scratching the name but, in comparison, the feet of the offspring are doing exactly the opposite: they don’t move at all, they just stand. These lines hint at a sense of opposition between the father and the daughter. Of course scratching a name in the sand is a bit pointless anyway: there is no permanency in that endeavour for the tide will soon come in and wash the name away. Like life, the presence of a name scratched in sand, is brief.

Probably the most important word of the first two verses, if not in the entire song, is ‘independence’. Indeed, Dylan draws attention to the importance of this word by making it a proper noun and giving it a capital ‘I’. I really don’t like quoting dictionary meanings to words that I use in text, because we should all know what they mean, but the New Collins English Dictionary(4) gives an example of the use of the word ‘independent’ that goes a distance to support my line of interpretation. The meanings given are as follows: ‘(1) free from control in action, judgement etc; autonomous; (2) not dependent on anything else for function, validity etc, separate; (3) not reliant on the support, esp financial support of others; (4) capable of acting for oneself or on one’s own.

Then comes the example of how the word ‘independent’ can be used in the context of meaning (4): a very independent little girl.

Why ‘little girl’ I ask myself? Why not ‘little boy’ or ‘young man’? Is there something about ‘little girls’ and ‘independence’ that has a universal resonance? Whatever, the reference to ‘independence’ in my interpretation of the song is important because I see it as having a direct link to the question that Dylan asks three times in the song:

‘Why must I always be the thief?’


December 9th 1631 was the day of the poet John Milton’s 23rd birthday and he was pretty pissed off at reaching the age of 23 without having completed any of his masterworks that would eventually make his name synonymous with ‘Paradise’. Thus, on the day of his 23rd birthday he wrote:

‘How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol’n on his wing my three and twentieth year.’

What ‘Time’ was to Milton on his 23rd birthday, so Dylan is to his dear daughter in ‘Tears of Rage’ : a subtle thief, for he wants to steal her freedom, her independence, and make it his own. In other words he wants the control that he once had over her actions, her finances and her life style and he resents the situation that the freedom he once controlled is now hers and no longer his. It is a case of letting go: she wants to but he can’t.

It matters not that, at the time of writing the song, Dylan’s mind may have been pre-occupied with family situations. He was living in Woodstock and his then wife had given birth a few months before to their second child, a daughter to the first borne brother. Dylan had also recently spent some time with his parents and indeed it was to be the last time that he saw his father alive. I say these circumstances matter not because, as has been debated many times in the pages of Freewheelin, the interpretation of art should not get bogged down with biographical minutiae. Such a practice is ludicrously reductive – to coin a phrase, and can turn what should appear as black and white into a very grey scale.

The family situation that Dylan has tapped into with ‘Tears of Rage’ can possibly be described as ‘Universal Fatherhood’: the common emotions felt by parents, and in particular fathers, with regard to their relationships with their children, and in particular their daughters. In the song Dylan centres on a key moment in that relationship which is the moment of separation, when a child, in this case a daughter, achieves independence and no longer requires parental support: she is capable of acting for herself and is on her own. Dylan senses the time of such separation and becomes so overwhelmed with the idea of the loss that ensues that he equates the act of parting with death. It is a common although misplaced notion that, at times of crisis, grown men shouldn’t cry but on this occasion the male narrator convulses with the twin fountains that flow from despair:

‘Tears of rage, tears of grief’.

Tears because of the anger that accompanies any loss of understanding as to why a tragic situation has occurred and tears because of the intense sorrow and distress at losing a loved one in death. In the final line of each verse of the song Dylan tries to bring some sort of sense to the loss he has suffered by remarking, as if to excuse himself from being a grown man who is seen to be crying:

‘And life is brief.’

The view that ‘life is brief’ anyway is introduced perhaps to lessen the impact of the rage and the grief emanating from death but in the preceding line Dylan confirms the effect of losing a companion: ‘We’re so low’ or perhaps, more appropriately ‘we’re solo’.

Dylan has of course used the image of a sense of death experienced by the living in another song. In ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ he sings:

‘Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died.’

Was one of those same slaves the one that waited upon him hand in foot in ‘Tears of Rage’? Later, in the same verse of the song Dylan paints an image of freedom with:

‘Like a bird that flew’

such an image possibly being linked to the very first time that birds fly, when they become stable enough to leave the nest and start a bird life of their own. A baby bird no more.

So how do these images of children and death sit with the wonderful new verse of the song ‘Tears of Rage’ that Dylan performed at The Holmes Center of the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina on the 7th April 2004? Let us look at the new verse again. It opens with:

"I’ve never been to Strawberry Fields
I’ve never been to Penny Lane”

For anyone who has a remote knowledge of popular music those references to ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ will be immediately recognized as titles to songs written and performed by ‘The Fab Four’. When I mention ‘The Fab Four’, I am not here referring to the line of Chelsea midfielders but rather to ‘The Beatles’, the band who ruled supremely at the head of popular music in the sixties. John, Paul George and Ringo blew every house down, both home and abroad, with their raw Mersey sound and their ‘la, la, la’s’, ‘mmmm’s’ and ‘yeah, yeah yeah’s’ until of course they heard what Dylan was doing which prompted them to fly their own nest of silly love songs.

In his book ‘Shout – The True Story of The Beatles(5) Philip Norman gives some biographical details to the songs ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ and he doesn’t only confirm that these are these real places , he also identifies their exact location:

‘On 17th February (1967), Parlophone released two new Beatles songs: ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. The tracks had been recorded late in 1966, for the album that was to surpass Revolver…..:….Strawberry Fields was the name of an old Salvation Army children’s home close to where John grew up in Liverpool. Penny Lane.... recreated with photographic clarity a part of Liverpool known to all the Beatles, on the way to Woolton and Allerton, near the bus depot where (John’s Aunt) Mimi used to see John off to Dovedale Primary, and 'Barney's', the hall where the Quarry Men played….’

These two songs thus harked back to the childhood of The Beatles in Liverpool and also brought images of young children to the fore as they referred to a children’s home and a primary school. As if to emphasize the point, the picture sleeve cover of the double A side disc was adorned with photographs of The Beatles as children:

The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever

But just as the remainder of the original verses of ‘Tears of Rage’, turn the halcyon days of childhood into something far more sinister, so the following lines of the new verse bring into focus a very nasty incident indeed:

‘But I’ve been down in the Willow Garden
And I’ve ridden on the hell bound train’.

The song ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ was written in the 1950’s by Charlie Monroe and has been recorded by many artists, notably by Art Garfunkel on the album ‘Angel Clare’ where Jerry Garcia played backing guitar. It is a song about the violent death of a ‘dear little girl’. The lyrics are as follows:

Down in the willow garden
Where me and my love did meet,
As we set there a courtin',
My love fell off to sleep.

I had a bottle of burgundy wine,
My love she did not know.
So I poisoned that dear little girl
On the banks below.

I drew a saber through her,
It was a bloody knife,
I threw her in the river,
Which was a dreadful sight.

My father oft had told me
That money would set me free

If I would murder that dear little girl
Whose name was Rose Connelly.

My father sits at his cabin door,
Wiping his tear dimmed eyes,
For his only son soon shall walk
To yonder scaffold high.

My race is run beneath the sun,
The scaffold now waits for me,
For I did murder that dear little girl
Whose name was Rose Connelly.

If Dylan wanted to emphasize the aspect of death in ‘Tears of Rage’ then the reference to ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ in the new verse of the song is like taking a steam hammer to a robin’s egg. There is death by poison, death by stabbing, death by drowning, and ultimately, for the perpetrator, death by hanging. Death, death, death and more death. OK Bob, we know what you are getting at!

Thereafter, in the new verse, after setting up those two constants of childhood and death that appear in the song, Dylan returns to his supremely abiding moment in ‘Tears of Rage’, the moment where these two constants meet: in the parting of the ways.

First there is the anticipation of separation:

‘And I want you to know
Just before you go.’

Before we get the real thing:

‘It was early dawn, you were long gone
Before anybody knew’.

There are a minimum of three things that astound me about the new verse to ‘Tears of Rage’ - in addition of course to the way that Dylan performs the song to which I have referred earlier. The first thing is the obvious care that Dylan took in the writing of the new verse: to bring oblique references to other works into the frame in order to better illustrate the sentiments behind his own original work, is nothing less than a master stroke by a true craftsman. This isn’t a throw away verse by any means, it is carefully constructed and says exactly what he means it so say. The second is that, after some 37 years of the original song being written, Dylan can still sense those emotions of loss arising from the separation of father and daughter enough for him to have written this new verse. I have to ask myself: does the hurting never end?

The third element arising from my interpretation of ‘Tears of Rage’, is that, after I heard this new verse, an entirely new image was presented me with regard to that opening line:

‘We carried you in our arms on Independence Day’

For whatever reason, the image I now see in front of me when I hear that line is not a picture of a jubilant child being carried aloft in a 4th of July parade, but rather of a badly injured and bleeding child being carried in the arms of her father as he runs away from a bomb blast in some war torn city. The father is distraught: his tears of rage and tears of grief dilute his daughter’s life blood as it drains away. You may have seen many photographs over the last couple of years that represent the image I am talking about here. Whether the child lives or dies, some kind of separation is close at hand, but it is no less real that the kind of separation that Dylan envisages in the song ‘Tears of Rage’.

There is another degree of separation, another death in the family, that arises from this article. This is the last article that I am writing for Freewheelin, a project that has been living hand in glove with me for almost 20 years, and a project that has spawned some 236 articles and the consequent hundreds of thousands of words written about Dylan’s art. A fellow Freewheeler confessed to me recently that he was on the verge of bursting into tears of grief at the passing of Freewheelin and I myself view the separation with an uneasy sense of foreboding. It seems that I have been sitting in the bell tower of an ancient church where the boom, boom bells of the words ‘It was gravity that pulled us down and destiny which broke us part’ have caused me some temporary deafness. Although non-believers would say that, in fact, it is listening to Bob Dylan for over 40 years that has rendered me hard of hearing!

But just like the blind piano tuner whose loss of sight increases the acuity of his hearing, so perhaps my temporary loss of hearing will change the way I look at things in the future. As for the past, and I see no problem with looking into the past, I want to end this utter ramble with something that I wrote ten and a half years ago. I have recently been looking at my contributions to past Freewheelins and this extract from my article that appeared in Freewheelin 109 (September 2004) seems to bring together some of the emotion that I see as having been expressed in the song ‘Tears of Rage’ together with a point of view about my near 20 years of ramblings. The words speak for themselves.

What is this Freewheelin’ thing all about anyway? We have witnessed births, deaths and marriages; open heart surgery has been performed yet, regardless, Dylan carries on his damn Never Ending Tour. But is it really about Dylan or about you and me?

If it really is about us, ourselves, then I cannot complete my contribution this month without mentioning my daughter who has left home to go to University in Leicester. Things haven’t been the same since. I'm prone to a stab at verse on emotional occasions. Just in case I want to look back sometime in the future in order to see what was occupying my heart and mind in September 1994, I attach my thoughts. There’s nowhere else for them to be but within these hallowed pages.

First I lost a child in death,
A second is lost to adulthood.
A place that once reflected light
Now just a fading shadow stood.
And I am told it’s for the good.

Were twins to me but years apart
Twins of loss to suffer by.
Now others map the road ahead
And strangers sing the lullaby
That once was promised just to I.

I fear her danger in my heart
Yet, helpless on the stairs I tread.
Unto the next day and the next
A senseless wheel from bed to bed,
With memories the axle fed.

Both too young to loose the grip
That once secured their place and line.
The hand that guided them at birth
Now pours away the victory wine.
A part of me no longer mine.

So, it was then, and so it is now. But watch out: the saints are coming through and, you never know, the best may still be yet to come!


1. Dane and Dena Hauver’s review of the concert on 7th April 2004 appears on the ‘Concert Information’ pages of Bill Pagel’s wonderful website ‘Bob Links’.
2. ‘What Good Are The Arts’ written by John Carey and published by Faber on June 2nd 2005.
3. From the article ‘No John, no John, no’ written by Jeanette Winterson and published in The Times, Saturday May 28th 2005.
4. Collins English Dictionary, 6th edition. Page 827.
5. ‘Shout!’ by Phillip Norman published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd

End Note:

Following the concert on the 7th April 2004, Dylan performed ‘Tears of Rage’, with the new verse just twice more in 2004. The first time was at the concert in Atlanta, Georgia on the 14th April 2004 and the second time was at the Dylan show in Belfast, Northern Ireland on the 26th June 2004. The song wasn’t performed again at any of the subsequent 70 or so concerts during 2004. Thereafter, at the 43rd show of 2005, namely at the concert at Kissimmee, Florida on Saturday 28th May 2005, Dylan performed the song again. I don’t know why these things happen like this but you will note from Footnote (3) above that Saturday 28th May 2005 was the date of the publication of Jeanette Winterson’s article and consequently a day when I was focusing intensely on ‘Tears of Rage’. At the time of writing I do not know if the performance of the song on the 28th May 2005 included the new verse. The song hasn’t been performed since.

Double End Note:

Just to add further fury to the moment, a somewhat extraordinary (to me) incident occurred a little while after I had completed this article. I am an ardent fan of Patti Smith and when I saw earlier in the year that she was hosting the 2005 Meltdown Festival at the South Bank Centre I scrambled to get tickets. The concert that I was particularly interested in was on Saturday 18th June 2005, which was to be a celebration of William Blake’s work ‘Songs of Innocence’ and would feature various artists apart from Patti herself. Although there was to be no apparent Dylan content in the concert, the music played to prelude the performance (and indeed during the interval) was Dylan’s ‘Million Dollar Bash’, a song which sits just half a dozen titles away from ‘Tears of Rage’ in ‘Lyrics 1962 -2001’. Two of the artists featured during the concert were Yoko One, John Lennon’s widow and Marianne Faithful, in fact the latter artist gave an outstanding performance of the Lennon song ‘Working Class Hero’ during her stint on stage. Then the extraordinary thing: the singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh, from the band The Muses came on stage and, after talking briefly about her childhood, she performed a song that was very, very familiar to me because I hade recently studied its lyrics closely and had written a few thousand words about it. The song was ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ and the lyrics were exactly as I have reproduced in this article. So, during the concert, there were the three elements that had recently occupied so much of my head and time: Bob Dylan, The Beatles and the Willow Garden. Following the last line of the song I waited for the obligatory one minute and forty five seconds of my cardio-vascular electoplasm. Nothing happened and all I can say is that I sure was glad to get out of there alive!