Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Isis





I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong

[about Isis] Hm… Well, it’s kind of like a journey, you know, like sort of a journey type trip. I wrote that with another person and I think half the verses were mine and half the verses were his, and it just sort of ended up being what it was. I don’t really know too much in depth what it would mean.
-Bob Dylan (Rockline Interview, Hollywood, California – June 17, 1985)

The only reason that ‘Isis’ was chosen as the song to work together on was that we were at my loft apartment and Bob didn’t have a guitar with him… but I had a piano, and ‘Isis’ was the one song that he had started to write on the piano… We are sitting at a piano together and we are writing these verses in an old Western ballad kinda style.
-Jacques Levy

Vimeo:

Spotify:

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Lyrics
  3. Live versions

Isis is @ #21 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Wikipedia:

Isis” is a ballad written by Bob Dylan in collaboration with Jacques Levy, in July 1975. The song is the second track on the Bob Dylan album Desire.

The song was written and recorded during a time of separation and reunion in Dylan’s own marriage; consequently, for fans and critics the temptation to interpret it as an allegory of Dylan’s own marital difficulties is irresistible, especially since the Desire album contains the song “Sara” which is openly about their marriage and separation. Dylan was known to include autobiographical hints in his previous songs. “Isis” draws upon mythological themes of a male hero separating from his wife, going on adventures, and returning to the marriage, going back to the Odyssey.

Known studio recordings:

Recording Studio
Columbia Recording Studios / Studio E, New York: July 31, 1975

Technical Team
Producer: Don DeVito
Sound Engineer: Don Meehan

Musicians
Bob Dylan: vocals, piano, harmonica
Scarlet Rivera: violin
Rob Stoner: bass
Howard Wyeth: drums
Sheena Seidenberg: tambourine

One of the strangest and most complex songs Dylan has written, “Isis” is a song rich in imagery, although it is hard to make literal sense of it as a whole. Seen by most critics to be referring to the breakdown of relations between Dylan and his then wife, Sara … Although the song is not as direct or involving as many on Desire, it features a great circular chord progression and some beautiful violin playing. Dylan’s vocal on the song is also terrific, singing the song as if telling someone a story. Although many regard the song as a major piece of work, its merging of confessional with the abstract is rather off-putting and jarring.
-Thomas Ward (allmusic.com)

Live:

  • First known performance: Plymouth MA October 30, 1975
    (Probably also performed @ Other End Club, NYC mid-July 1975)
  • It has been performed only 43 times live
  • Last known performance: Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, Utah- 25 May 1976.
  • Top year 1975 – 25 performances.

Lyrics

..because “Isis” is less a song and more a minstrel’s poem (to be read aloud, preferably but not necessarily accompa- nied by music). The magic is in the story and the language, and the musical accompaniment is ornamention
-Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2)

<original>

I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong

I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went in to a laundry to wash my clothes down

A man in the corner approached me for a match
I knew right away he was not ordinary
He said, “Are you lookin’ for somethin’ easy to catch?”
I said, “I got no money.” He said, “That ain’t necessary”

We set out that night for the cold in the North
I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word
I said, “Where are we goin’?” He said we’d be back by the fourth
I said, “That’s the best news that I’ve ever heard”

I was thinkin’ about turquoise, I was thinkin’ about gold
I was thinkin’ about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold
I was thinkin’ about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless

How she told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed
If I only could hang on and just be her friend
I still can’t remember all the best things she said

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice
He said, “There’s a body I’m tryin’ to find
If I carry it out it’ll bring a good price”
’Twas then that I knew what he had on his mind

The wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn
When he died I was hopin’ that it wasn’t contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to go on

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin’, I felt I’d been had
When I saw that my partner was just bein’ friendly
When I took up his offer I must-a been mad

I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer and I felt satisfied
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes
I cursed her one time then I rode on ahead

She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, not quite”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I jes might”

Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain




Live versions

Palace Theater
Waterbury, Connecticut
11 November 1975

  • Bob Dylan (vocal, guitar)
  • Bob Neuwirth (guitar)
  • T-bone J. Henry Burnett (guitar)
  • Roger McGuinn (guitar)
  • Steven Soles (guitar)
  • Mick Ronson (guitar)
  • David Mansfield (steel guitar, violin, mandolin ,dobro)
  • Rob Stoner (bass)
  • Howie Wyeth (piano, drums)
  • Luther Rix (drums, percussion)
  • Ronee Blakeley (vocal)

Harvard Square Theater
Cambridge, Massachusetts
20 November 1975>/h4>

Maple Leaf Gardens
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1 December 1975

Maple Leaf Gardens
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2 December 1975

‘Isis’ in turn became the centrepiece of the first set at every fall show, highlighting this ballad in its most dramatic guise. With no piano to chain him down, Dylan becomes the circus-master, stalking the stage, harmonica in hand, letting the momentum of the narrative build and build, until that single, explosive expletive, ‘Yeah!!’ triggers one last mad musical dash to the finishing line. (No one witnessing the footage from Montreal used in Renaldo and Clara – and as a bonus DVD to Live 1975 (Bootleg Series Vol. 5) – can avoid being blown away by the theatricality of the performance, which culminates in Dylan spitting out his harmonica and catching it in a single movement, as he heads stage-right at song’s end).
-Heylin, Clinton. Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 1974-2008

Forum de Montréal
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4 December 1975

Vimeo:
First verse missing.

Spotify:
Full version from “Side Tracks”

Madison Square Garden
New York City, New York
8 December 1975
Night of The Hurricane 1

Starlight Ballroom
Belleview Biltmore Hotel
Clearwater, Florida
22 April 1976 – Evening

  • Bob Dylan (guitar & vocal)
  • Scarlet Rivera (violin)
  • T-bone J. Henry Burnett (guitar & piano)
  • Steven Soles (guitar)
  • Mick Ronson (guitar)
  • Bobby Neuwirth (guitar & vocal)
  • Roger McGuinn (guitar & vocal)
  • David Mansfield (steel guitar, mandolin, violin & dobro)
  • Rob Stoner (bass)
  • Howie Wyeth (drums)
  • Gary Burke (percussion)

Sources

-Egil

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