Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Depart from Me This Moment": Bob Dylan and the NECLC Dinner

"As I Went Out One Morning" is a song written by Bob Dylan, released on his 1967 album John Wesley Harding. He has only performed this song live once, in the early phase of the Bob Dylan and The Band 1974 Tour:

As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine's
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains

I offer'd her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm.

"Depart from me this moment"
I told her with my voice
Said she, "But I don't wish to"
Said I, "But you have no choice"
"I beg you, sir", she pleaded
From the corners of her mouth
"I will secretly accept you
And together we'll fly south".

Just then Tom Paine, himself
Came running from across the field
Shouting at this lovely girl
And commanding her to yield
And as she was letting go her grip
Up Tom Paine did run
"I'm sorry, sir", he said to me
"I'm sorry for what she'd done".

Copyright © 1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music


The lyrics to "As I Went Out One Morning" tell about a man who offers a hand to a woman in chains, but realizes that she wants more than he is offering, and that "she meant to do [him] harm." A character identified as Tom Paine then appears and, "command[s] her to yield" and apologizing to the narrator for the woman's actions. Tom Paine as a figure may represent common sense or civil liberties, which the historical Tom Paine championed. However, it is also likely that this song references the prestigious Tom Paine Award that Dylan received in 1963 from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC). Dylan delivered a rambling acceptance speech and was booed and rushed from the stage when he claimed to have empathy for some of Lee Harvey Oswald feelings.It is thought that afterward Dylan wrote the song on a paper napkin.

More on the NECLU dinner and context here

In a convoluted, poetic, surreal way, he addresses many of the same issues supported by the organization granting him the award. Challenging limits on freedom to travel. Freedom to speak. To think. To speak while thinking. To speak without thinking. But Dylan does so by exploring, intentionally or subconsciously, the limits of the NECLC's own sense of freedom of speech and thought. The artist as a young man who gets under their skin, and rather than just accepting the award in a self-congratulatory way, he manages to blow the whole thing wide open, inadvertently upending the premise of the awards dinner, as those present who are protecting free speech, boo him for HIS free speech. Just as he would be booed for exploring new musical realms. The artist, motivated by his own spirit, subconscious drives and energies, speaks, perhaps not in an heroic manner, whatever that means, but authentic and true to himself.  To speak, perchance to dream.

Forever overturning boundaries and rolling expectations and assumptions into the ditch. Forever young.
-Tony Napoli, Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

1 comment:

  1. Excellent insightful analysis and historical context. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete

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