un-understandable dylan


I'm Not There (1956)

Someone wrote in a post to r.m.d.:

Don't mean to put a damper, but not only are those lyrics [at My Back Pages] not official, they're not even close. I don't think anyone has a definitive set of lyrics for this song.

Don't mean to defend myself, but I would say that there are no definitive lyrics to that song. Even if it were possible to transcribe all the sounds that he makes (and even that is tough), it would still be hard to turn it into a coherent text which you can analyse and understand.

In that sense "I'm not there" is Dylan's most musical song: Music is the cultural production or activity that comes closest to language both in medium (sound) and in complexity of structure, yet at the same time the one that least obviously can make claims on a conceptual meaning. This is what gives it the impression of saying something, without actually doing so. The meaning is veiled in the same way as the meaning of an utterance in a language that one does not understand is veiled: there seems to be a meaning there, but it is hidden.

Regarded this way, music is experienced in ways that are analoguous to other kinds of experiences that are not understandable, that go beyond the intelligible, but where a meaning is often desired: matters of faith, death, life, emotional and physical experience.

This is where the greatness of I'm not there (1956) lies, since the snippets of intelligible words and phrases that float by, play into this sphere of things of the deepest importance (just the refrain: I'm not there, I'm gone...), and combines and recombines in ways that become a play with the boundaries of meaning. I'm not saying that it would not have been a better song hat it been finished - I think it would (or might) - but the charm of the existing version lies in the "almost-but-not-quite-graspability" of a meaning that gives the impression of being profound, and profoundly important.

Oh well, maybe I am defending myself after all.


source: dylanchords.info

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