Triangulating “Marching to the City”

Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs is an extraordinary album of outtakes and oddities. I could wear out my keyboard telling you why the album is so amazing, but I probably couldn’t explain it any better than this guy. (Mr. Finnegan and our friend Mr. Burrell both gave it good reviews, too.) Anyway, this song is one of many mindblowing tracks from the album. There are a couple of things worth pointing out about the song. 1. The refrain is taken from an old negro spiritual; 2. Some of the lyrics appear in two other Dylan songs released on Time Out of Mind. So, apparently, Dylan made this song and for some reason didn’t quite like it or set it aside and forgot about it, but took pieces of it and made them into two other quite different songs. I like all three songs, but most of all I like taking them as a set, the fascination of seeing Dylan’s process laid bare, and the surprise of this diamond falling like a crumb from his table. And Tell Tale Signs collects a bunch of other diamond-crumbs as well.

Well I’m sitting in church
In an old wooden chair
I knew nobody
Would look for me there
Sorrow and pity
Rule the earth and the skies
Looking for nothing in
Anyone’s eyes

Once I had a pretty girl
Did me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Snowflakes are falling
Around my head
Lord have mercy
It feels heavy like lead
I been hit too hard
Seen too much
Nothing can heal me now
But your touch

Once I had a pretty girl
She done me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Loneliness
Got a mind of its own
The more people around
The more you feel alone
I’m chained to the earth
Like a silent slave
Trying to break free
Out of death’s dark cave

Once I had a pretty girl
Done me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Boys in the street
Beginning to play
Girls like birds
Flying away

I’m carrying the roses
That were given to me
And I’m thinking about paradise
Wondering what it might be

Once I had a pretty girl
She done me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Go over to London
Maybe gay Paree
Follow the river
You get to the sea

I was hoping we could drink from
Life’s clear streams
I was hoping we could dream
Life’s pleasant dreams

Once I had a pretty girl
But she done me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Well the weak get weaker
And the strong stay strong
The train keeps rolling
All night long
She looked at me
With an irresistable glance
With a smile
That could make all the planets dance

Once I had a pretty girl
She did me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

My house is on fire
Burning to the skies
I thought the rain clouds
But the clouds passed by
When I’m gone
You’ll remember my name
I’m gonna win my way
To wealth and fame

Once I had a pretty girl
But she did me wrong
Now I’m marching to the city
And the road ain’t long

Comments

  1. Jonathan Webb says

    The man never disappoints, in one way or another. Sounds like a real gift for the hardcores.

    That would be you.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    I don’t know how you can listen to “Not Dark Yet” and not reflect on mortality in the gravest possible way. There are no adjectives for the man.

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