T for Tom

Day 9 – Nashville Skyline – 1969

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 1, 2016


There isn’t a lot of immediately searchable text for what Bob Dylan was doing in 1968, because he doesn’t turn up since 67’s John Wesley Harding until April of ’69, nearly two years later, with the release of Nashville Skyline. And the answers are not present in this latest record.

As if on cue, from possibly the success of John Wesley Harding, the fact that his two most recent albums were recorded in Nashville, or simply that he still didn’t have the energy to be public again after his near-death motorcycle accident in ’66, Nashville Skyline is simply an attempt at country music. With songs about “Country Pie,” spending some time with “Peggy Day,” and even reimagining “Girl From The North Country” in a duet with Johnny Cash, there is little to dig around for outside of the new voice.

About that voice – I’ve never had a problem with it. For those who have even just a cursory knowledge of Bob Dylan, everyone is quick to judge and notice the different vocalization, something akin to country music as it was known in the late ‘60s. That its so well known is thankful to the success of the one endearing song taken from the album, “Lay, Lady, Lay,” still a favorite today by most fans of Dylan’s music. I’ve never been to much in tune with it outside the wonderfully panning steel guitar present at the end of each line.

I think the difference, for the first time, is that Dylan is not intentionally obfuscating anything here, that we know of. There is no underlying meaning to be taken from the lyrics, because they never venture into anything resembling metaphor. The only obfuscation is why he would make the record in the first place, and the only mystery that exists is that he doesn’t appear to be trying to say anything at all. And that comes as the emptiest feeling of all.

After all, I’m looking to this man now as a source of inspiration, truth, and hypothesis, and I can only imagine what people wanted of him then.

The Beatles had just gone from Sgt. Pepper’s to the white album to Yellow Submarine, and were recording Abbey Road. The Rolling Stones just dropped Let It Bleed with the leading track “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Everyone was wrapped up in “Crimson and Clover” and Dylan went with “Nashville Skyline Rag,” seemingly wanting no part in the frenzy of the summer of ’69.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had just been shot. Richard Nixon promised to retain American involvement in Vietnam, and the moon landing was still three months away. Everything that Dylan had warned against was coming true, and nothing but cynicism existed for the future ahead.

And so I think, and I can’t be the first to think it, that Dylan was trying to tell the public to look the other way. He didn’t have the answers, and no one before had listened. When he disappeared into a basement in ’67, simply to explore music and feel alive because he had nearly died, he emerged with John Wesley Harding, an album for his own sake. And somehow the people loved it.

Nashville Skyline is Dylan telling the world he doesn’t need its love.

Song: Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You

This song is the most rock’n’roll on the album, and has a way of saying that Dylan can’t get too far from rock even if he tries. It’s a slow blues drag. But the pedal steel is more reserved, the voice isn’t bouncing as much, and the kick drum hits hard. It could be mistaken for the early roots of outlaw country and the rise of Waylon Jennings, but mostly it’s just a damn good song.


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