Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Tryin’ To Get To Heaven





The air is getting hotter
There’s a rumbling in the skies
I’ve been wading through the high muddy water
With the heat rising in my eyes
-Bob Dylan (Tryin’ To Get To Heaven)

Environment affects me a great deal,a lot of the songs were written after the sun went down. And I like storms, I like to stay up during a storm. I get very meditative sometimes, and this one phrase was going through my head: ‘Work while the day lasts, because the night of death cometh when no man can work. ‘ I don’t recall where I heard it. I like preaching, I hear a lot of preaching, and I probably just heard it somewhere. Maybe it’s in Psalms, it beats me. But it wouldn’t let me go. I was, like, what does that phrase mean? But it was at the forefront of my mind, for a long period of time, and I think a lot of that is instilled into this record.
-Bob Dylan – about “Time Out Of Mind” (to John Pareles, Sept 1997

The life here is drained, vampire-like, from a whole slew of blues songs, it’s title probably taken from the American Folk Song “The Old Ark’s A-Moverin”.. This is “Blind Willie McTell” with a hangover, a picture of the old south, “riding in a buggy with Miss Mary-Jane” and shaking the sugar down.
There is an extraordinary harmonica break, like the best of Dylan, where it carries on the sense of the lyrics into a place where language no longer works.
-Brian Hinton (Bob Dylan Complete Discography)

Studio version:

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Lyrics
  3. Live versions

@spot #160 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

From Time Out of Mind, his 30th studio album, released on September 30, 1997

Known studio recordings:

Criteria Studios
Miami, Florida

January 1997

Time Out Of Mind sessions.
Produced by Daniel Lanois and Jack Frost
Sound Engineer: Mark Howard

Musicians:

  • Bob Dylan: vocals, guitar, harmonica
  • Daniel Lanois: guitar
  • Duke Robillard: guitar
  • Cindy Cashdollar: slide guitar
  • “Bucky” Baxter: pedal steel guitar
  • Augie Meyers: organ
  • Jim Dickinson: keyboards
  • Tony Garnier: bass
  • Jim Keltner: drums

 

Live:

  • First known live performance: Pavilhão do Atlântico, Parque das Nações – Lisbon, Portugal – 7 April 1999
  • It has been performed only 182 times live – last performance: New York, New York, Beacon Theatre – November 25, 2017.
  • Top years 2017 with 26 performances each.

“Trying to Get to Heaven” is a rock ballad whose spirit echoes that of Phil Spector or Bruce Springsteen. Dylan performed his song from a certain distance, giving the impression that he is commenting on a film. The result is hypnotic, and the little “plus” comes from his simplistic harmonica part (in A-flat) that requires several hearings to appreciate. Of the mix, Dylan asked Howard, “Hey, Mark, d’ya think you can make my harmonica sound electric on this one?” Howard recalls, “So I said, yeah, sure, and I took the harmonica off the tape and ran it through this little distortion box, and I played it, and he said, ‘Wow, that’s great.’”
-Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Michel. Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track

Lyrics

<original>

The air is getting hotter
There’s a rumbling in the skies
I’ve been wading through the high muddy water
With the heat rising in my eyes
Every day your memory grows dimmer
It doesn’t haunt me like it did before
I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

When I was in Missouri
They would not let me be
I had to leave there in a hurry
I only saw what they let me see
You broke a heart that loved you
Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore
I’ve been walking that lonesome valley
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

People on the platforms
Waiting for the trains
I can hear their hearts a-beatin’
Like pendulums swinging on chains
I tried to give you everything
That your heart was longing for
I’m just going down the road feeling bad
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

I’m going down the river
Down to New Orleans
They tell me everything is gonna be all right
But I don’t know what “all right” even means
I was riding in a buggy with Miss Mary-Jane
Miss Mary-Jane got a house in Baltimore
I been all around the world, boys
Now I’m trying to get to heaven before they close the door

Gonna sleep down in the parlor
And relive my dreams
I’ll close my eyes and I wonder
If everything is as hollow as it seems
Some trains don’t pull no gamblers
No midnight ramblers like they did before
I been to Sugar Town, I shook the sugar down
Now I’m trying to get to heaven before they close the door

At times it seems like the entire song has been dipped in the lexicon of gospel and blues, thanks to Dylan’s penchant for forming whole lines out of well-known traditional song-titles like ‘Going Down To New Orleans’, ‘I Been All Around This World’ and ‘Going Down The Road Feeling Bad’. He also rather brazenly ends the song with a tip of the hat to both Elizabeth Cotton’s variant of ‘Shake Sugaree’ (the album’s starting point) and Woody Guthrie’s rendition of ‘This Train (Is Bound For Glory)’
-Heylin, Clinton. Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 1974-2008

Live versions

Live debut..

Pavilhão do Atlântico
Parque das Nações
Lisbon, Portugal
7 April 1999

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • David Kemper (drums & percussion)

Nothing from the autumn 2000 shows, though, comes close to the debut live performance of the song, eighteen months earlier, in the port of Lisbon. Dylan, for once, is not content simply to strum along behind the band. Scratching out a highly effective acoustic guitar lead, he completely reinvents the song, all the while retaining its spiritual core and plaintive tune. Providing an utterly magnetic way to kick off one of the finer latter-day legs from the Never Ending Tour, the vocal has that gospel quality he was already bringing to songs of salvation like ‘Satisfied Mind’ and ‘Halleluiah I’m Ready To Go’ (both recently introduced into the set)..
-Heylin, Clinton. Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 1974-2008

Halle D
Wiener Stadthalle
Vienna, Austria
30 April 1999




Guildhall
Portsmouth, England
25 September 2000

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Charlie Sexton (guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • David Kemper (drums & percussion)

The Palladium
Worcester, Massachusetts
16 May 2008

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & keyboard)
  • Stu Kimball (guitar)
  • Denny Freeman (guitar)
  • Donnie Herron (violin, mandolin, steel guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • George Recile (drums & percussion).


Wang Theatre
Boston, Massachusetts
15 November 2009

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & keyboard)
  • Stu Kimball (guitar)
  • Charlie Sexton (guitar)
  • Donnie Herron (violin, mandolin, steel guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • George Receli (drums & percussion)


Le Zénith
Lille, France
16 October 2011

New York, New York
Beacon Theatre
November 25, 2017

Sources

-Egil

One thought on “Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Tryin’ To Get To Heaven”

  1. In honor of this past Saturday being International Holocaust Remembrance Day I can’t think of a better line:
    People on the platforms
    Waiting for the trains
    I can hear their hearts a-beatin’
    Like pendulums swinging on chains

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