Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: ‘Cross The Green Mountain





I cross the Green Mountain
I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamed a monstrous dream
Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free

Full version:

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Quotes
  3. Lyrics
  4. Live versions

@#99 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Known studio recordings:

Scream Studios
Studio City, California
23 July 2002

Produced by Jack Frost.

Musicians:
  • Bob Dylan (piano & vocal)
  • Charlie Sexton (guitar, violin)
  • Larry Campbell (violin)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Benmont Tench (organ)
  • George Recile (drums & percussion)

Released on the soundtrack Gods And Generals, Sony Music Soundtrax, February 4, 2003.

Released on TELL TALE SIGNS: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 8 RARE AND UNRELEASED 1989-2006, Columbia, October 6, 2008.

Released digitally on the iTunes collection RARE TRACKS FROM THE VAULTS, August 29, 2006.

Live:

  • Never been performed live.

The video:

Quotes

And in the same spirit Dylan delivered an eight-minute song that features neither bridge nor chorus, but was instead an unrelenting account, verse by pitiless verse, of a world turned upside down. This time around, though, there is no suggestion that he has overdone it, for the song is as remorseless as war, as unforgiving as the heat of battle. The soldiers’ tenuous hold on mortality drips from every line of a song set up in classic ballad fashion, as if ’twas but ‘a monstrous dream’: Across the green mountain, I sat by the stream, Heaven blazing in my head, I dreamt a monstrous dream, Something came up out of the sea, Swept through the land of the rich and the free.
The songsmith is in his element, happy to reveal an immersion in civil war lore that had already informed parts of “Love and Theft” (going on to imply in Chronicles that he read all this stuff back in 1961). Both civil war poet Henry Timrod (whose ‘Charleston’ provides the opening line of verse three, Along the dim Atlantic line’) and Herman Melville are drafted to the cause.
Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, Gods and Generals recounts the events that took place prior to the decisive 1863 Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. The film focuses on the Southern strategist Stonewall Jackson (Stephen Lang) and lasts more than three hours. Dylan’s song, “’ Cross the Green Mountain,” evolves over eight minutes. It is a magnificent folk ballad dominated by the organ played by Tench, the rhythmic part played palm mute by Sexton, Campbell’s violin, and, especially, Dylan’s excellent vocal. The song recalls the sacrifice on both sides, but at the same time Dylan might have written it about the present: “It’s the last day’s last hour of the last happy year.”
Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Michel (Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track)

Written for the soundtrack of Gods and Generals, a Civil War TV series, this finely crafted extended ballad finds Dylan inhabiting the mind of dying soldier. The crepuscular mood is brilliantly evoked by his band, subtly invigorating each verse in a way that evokes the job the Nashville cats did on Sad-Eyed Lady. A major work, it deserved a better fate than to be tucked away on a rare-and-unreleased anthology. But then so did Blind Willie McTell.
Richard Williams (Twenty favourite Bob Dylan songs – The Guardian)

The song marks a return to subject matter that has always been dear to him. He writes revealingly in Chronicles Volume One of his responses towards the American Civil War but had he not done so we would still have those two adjacent songs on the solo acoustic album of a decade earlier, World Gone Wrong, ‘Two Soldiers’ and ‘Jack-a-Roe’, which he sings with such intense empathy and such alert interest.
– Michael Gray – (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)

The disc [Tell Tale Signs] closes with the greatest moment on the whole set: “‘Cross the Green Mountain,” from the Gods and Generals soundtrack. Veteran Dylanologist Larry Sloman claims in his truly brilliant and incisive liner notes that this “might be his finest hour as a songwriter.” The amazing thing? It’s not just hyperbole.
Thom Jurek (allmusic.com)

Historian Sean Wilentz points out in his book, “Bob Dylan in America”, that in “‘Cross the Green Mountain”, Dylan incorporates lines from various sources such as Hermann (“Moby Dick”) Melville, W. B. Yeats and Henry Timrod. the so-called poet laureate of the Confederacy. Indeed, Wilentz goes on to state that the song contains images and lines from sources that range from Henry Lynden Flash’s “Death of Stonewall Jackson”, Nathaniel Graham Shepherds’s “Roll-Call”, Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish’s 1934 jazz standard “Stars Fell on Alabama” to, a nice touch this, Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”!
– John Murray (Bob Dylan and the American Civil War)

‘Cross the Green Mt was written for the 2003 civil war film,Gods and Generals, and Dylan’s video for the song is arguably better known than its lyrics. It takes place in a civil war camp and Dylan wears a fake beard and wig that transfigure his face into an ageless inscrutable creature oddly unrecognizable despite millennial Bob Dylan’s customary ageless and inscrutable appearance. Dylan then wore this getup onstage at the Newport Folk Festival. Of all places. He always tells his story more cleverly than we can, but we press on anyway.
eruke @ gardenerisgone.com

Lyrics

I cross the Green Mountain
I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamed a monstrous dream
Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free

I look into the eyes
Of my merciful friend
And then I ask myself
Is this the end?
Memories linger
Sad yet sweet
And I think of the souls in heaven who will be

Alters are burning
The flames far and wide
The fool has crossed over
From the other side
They tip their caps
From the top of the hill
You can feel them come
All brave blood do spill

Along the dim
Atlantic line
The rapper’s land
Lasts for miles behind
The lights coming forward
And the streets are broad
All must yield
To the avenging God

The world is old
The world is great
Lessons of life
Can’t be learned in a day
I watch and I wait
And I listen while I stand
To the music that comes
From a far better land

Close the eyes
Of our Captain
Peace may he know
His long night is done
The great leader is laid low
He was ready to fall
He was quick to defend
Killed outright he was
By his own men

It’s the last day’s last hour
Of the last happy year
I feel that the unknown
The world is so dear
Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot

The bells
Of evening have rung
There’s blasphemy
On the end of the tongue
Let them say that I walked
In fair nature’s light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right

Serve God and meet your full
Look upward beyond
Beyond the darkness that masks
The surprises of dawn
In the deep green grasses
And the blood stained woods
They never dreamed of surrendering
They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama
And I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams
Whoever you are
Chilled as the skies
Keen as the frost
And the ground’s froze hard
And the morning is lost

A letter to mother
Came today
Gunshot wound to the breast
Is what it did say
But he’ll be better soon
He’s in a hospital bed
But he’ll never be better
He’s already dead

I’m ten miles outside the city
And I’m lifted away
In an ancient light
That is not of day
They were calm they were gloomed
We knew them all too well
We loved each other more than
We ever dared to tell

Live versions

Never played live.

Sources

 

-Egil

5 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: ‘Cross The Green Mountain”

  1. It was the first song that Dylan wrote, published and recorded after “9-11”. Just use your imagination and it is all about 9-11. That is no coincidence or flight of fancy. I think it is Dylan’s great masterpiece.

  2. Some corrections:

    I dreamt a monstrous dream
    And I think of the souls in heaven who will meet
    The foe has crossed over
    From the other side
    More brave blood to spill
    The ravaged land
    Lasts for miles behind
    The world is old
    The world is grey
    I feel that the unknown
    The world is so near
    There’s blasphemy
    On every tongue
    Serve God and be cheerful
    Look upward beyond
    Chilled is the skies
    Keen is the frost
    They were calm they were blunt

    A lot of these lyrics were lifted from the works of poets, including Whitman.

  3. IT should have found a place on Modern Times, where it would have enhanced the atmosphere created by Ain’t Talkin’ and Workingmans Blues II and Netty Moore, it could have easily replaced one of the Blues songs that drag the album down, especially those two that he did not even care to rename, and where the repitition of two lines is for me just not fit to Carry a song that lasts longer than three minutes.

  4. This song is a MASTERPIECE! I have listened to this song so many times and I cry every time! I wish he would play this in concert. It sums up our Civil War so perfectly!😭. I just read the lyrics and the years come to my eyes. I think this and Working man Blues #2 are the best songs Bob has done this century. I am so lucky to have shared a world at the same time as this genius! What an absolutely beautiful, heartbreaking song!

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