Dylan Can’t ‘Stay in Mississippi’ Long Enough for True Fans

To the astonishment and gratitude of serious fans and to the ambivalence of lesser ones, Bob Dylan has played Mississippi for more than ten concerts in a row.  Prior to this he had only played it on a few (?) occasions shortly after its 2001 release on Love and Theft.  There are also two lovely versions of it on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8.  Both Sheryl Crow and The Dixie Chicks have covered it.

A friend of mine was in an argument with an ill-informed girl who said with an assured arrogance typical of the ill-informed that she didn’t listen to any Dylan post-1966 (a year in which she was not even alive).  He sent her not even the song, but just the lyrics to Mississippi and she quickly changed her tune.

It contains couplets that measure with some of the best verses in Dylan’s peerless body of work.

I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

As someone who was raised in a small isolated community and still misses his old life, still dreams of his old friends whether I want to or not, and has suffered plenty of  metropolitan heartbreak, this line will always be particularly resonant for me.

But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Not only a beautiful line, but this is refreshing for long-time fans to hear.  The Dylan of the late 80s certainly gave the impression of having a weary, heavy heart.  The Dylan of the early 90s was a confirmed alcoholic.

The second line is also such a warm and generous remark from a person who has long been accused of being aloof and leery of hangers-on, manipulators, etc.  Here we see the warmer incarnation of Bob’s spirituality, as opposed to his End Times a Comin-style evangelical masterpieces like Blind Willie McTell or Slow Train Comin’.  This is an older, wiser, kinder Bob.  I’ll take ten.

Sung live, I see that affection line as a good replacement for this applause-generator in Spirit on the Water:

You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time

It’s like Bob, who has previously said that he’d have to retire if people stopped showing up to his concerts, is offering an appreciation to the effect of:  “Hey you’re still here; I got nothing but affection for you!”

So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

This simple message of forgiveness, one of the most concise and beautiful lines Bob’s ever written, is delivered with heartbreaking pathos on the official releases (some might argue:  because Dylan could still sing then) but in 2011, live, it’s delivered in the fashion of a mentally insane children’s performer.  The too being practically yodelled like many, many octaves higher than the pure gravel of the preceding lyrics.   A critical listener might sneer and say, “Uh, is it meant to be funny Bob?”

Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now

Yet more built-in encouragement for we fans who aren’t going anywhere no matter how funny/weird/scary Bob sounds.

And things getting “interesting right about now,” is fascinating given the time period in which the song was written—immediately preceding the glorious comeback years of 1997 through 2003 (it’s debatable in which year the purest glory of this comeback ended).

Maybe he’s singing Mississippi again because he’s confident he’s on the verge of yet another reinvention/resurgence.

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way

A possible admission that Bob understands he’s lost something [like his ability to sing melodic notes (except in that bedeviling White House performance{below})]?

So, as said above, serious fans are counting down the days to whichever show they hold tickets for, hoping this song remains in the setlist.  Fickle fans who only hope to hear Like a Rolling Stone are murmuring “Is this one of his new ones?”

What’s important is that Bob has another collection of ingenius lines to play with in his inimitably fun way.   It’s probably not a huge deal to Bob what anyone thinks anyway—say anything you wannna, the bard has heard it all.