Bob Dylan’s best songs: Mississippi

bob dylan mississippi

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

I’ve been criticised for not putting my best songs on certain albums but it is because I consider that the song isn’t ready yet. It’s not been recorded right. With all of my records, there’s an abundance of material left off – stuff that, for a variety of reasons, doesn’t make the final cut. ..Except on this album, for which we re-cut the song ‘Mississippi.’ We had that on the “Time Out Of Mind” album. It wasn’t recorded very well but thank God, it never got out, so we recorded it again. But something like that would never have happen ten years ago. You’d have probably all heard the lousy version of it and I’d have never re-recorded it. I’m glad for once to have had the opportunity to do so.
~Bob Dylan (Press Conference (French coverage) De la Ville Inter-Continental Roma Hotel, Rome, Italy –  23 July 2001 )

“Mississippi” is a beautiful, powerful song, something of an anchor for the album. I can easily believe that the lyrics and the melody are intended to convey majesty and heroism. Dylan’s performance of the song gets these feelings across with a lot of charm and humor and empathy.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist Volume 3: Mind Out Of Time 1986 And Beyond)

Having allowed Sheryl Crow to release her version of the song ahead of his, Dylan decided it was high time he reclaimed it. The new arrangement prompted him to claim to Fricke that ‘on the [“Love and Theft”] performance, the bass is playing a triplet beat, and that adds up to all the multirhythm you need, even in a slow tempo song’. What he no longer had was a voice he could command at will. The “Love and Theft” version, and the live counterparts he introduced in 2001, benefit from an arrangement which left any dirge-like element in the dust. But that vocal timbre had not so much diminished as disappeared beneath its crag-like remains. ‘Mississippi’ had stayed in his closet half a decade too long.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Spotify:

 

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Different studio versions
  3. Lyrics
  4. Live versions

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

Facts

Bob Dylan - love-and-theft

wikipedia

Song by Bob Dylan from the album Love and Theft
Released September 11, 2001
Recorded May 2001
Genre Folk rock
Length 5:21
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Jack Frost

Mississippi” is the second song on Bob Dylan’s 2001 album Love and Theft. The song was originally recorded during the Time Out of Mind sessions in January 1997, but was ultimately left off the album; Dylan rerecorded the song for Love and Theft in May 2001. Three outtakes of this song from the Time Out Of Mind sessions were included in Dylan’s 2008 “official” bootleg album Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006 (two versions on the generally released discs and one on a bonus disc included with the Deluxe Edition of the album). Described as having beauty and gravitas, the song features a pop chord progression and with a riff and lyrical theme similar to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”.

Dylan offered the song to Sheryl Crow, who recorded it for her The Globe Sessions, released in 1998, before Dylan revisited it for Love and Theft.

In 2009, Rolling Stone named “Mississippi” the 17th best song of the decade, calling it “A drifter’s love song that seems to sum up Dylan’s entire career, and a rambling classic that ranks up there with ‘Tangled Up in Blue’.”

It is also listed at number 260 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Dylan reverted to a methodology he had not really attempted since he was a callow youth imbued with the big city blues: take the kernel of a traditional song, and make a new song out of it. … In the case of ‘Mississippi’, Dylan’s starting point was an old prison holler, ‘Rosie’, collected by John and Alan Lomax in the early thirties, and published in their seminal 1934 anthology, American Ballads & Folk Songs.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Known studio recordings:

  • Mississippi – Alternate version #3

    Real Music Studios, Oxnard CA, September- October 1996
    Released on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006, (DeLuxe Edition), 6 October 2008.

  • Mississippi – Alternate version #1

    Criteria Studios, Miami FL, January 17, 1997
    Released on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006, 6 October 2008.

  • Mississippi – Alternate version #2

    Criteria Studios, Miami FL, January 17, 1997
    Released on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006, 6 October 2008.

  • Mississippi – L & T version

    Sony Studios, NYC, May 21, 2001
    Released on Love & Theft, September 11, 2001

    – Produced by Bob Dylan.
    Bob Dylan (Guitar, piano & vocal), Charlie Sexton (guitar), Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, violin & banjo), Augie Meyers (keyboards & accordion), Tony Garnier (bass), David Kemper (drums & percussion).

…If you had heard the original recording, you’d see in a second. The song was pretty much laid out intact melodically, lyrically and structurally, but Lanois didn’t see it. Thought it was pedestrian. Took it down the Afro-polyrhythm route-multirhythm drumming, that sort of thing. Polyrhythm has its place, but it doesn’t work for knifelike lyrics trying to convey majesty and heroism. Maybe we had worked too hard on other things, I can’t remember.
but Lanois can get passionate about what he feels to be true. He’s not above smashing guitars. I never cared about that unless it was one of mine. Things got contentious once in the parking lot. He tried to convince me that the song had to be ‘sexy, sexy and more sexy.’ I know about sexy, too. He reminded me of Sam Phillips, who had once said the same thing to John Prine about a song, but the circumstances were not similar. I tried to explain that the song had more to do with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than witch doctors, and just couldn’t be thought of as some kind of ideological voodoo thing. But he had his own way of looking at things, and in the end I had to reject this because I thought too highly of the expressive meaning behind the lyrics to bury them in some steamy cauldron of drum theory. On the performance you’re hearing, the bass is playing a triplet beat, and that adds up to all the multirhythm you need, even in a slow-tempo song. I think Lanois is an excellent producer, though.
~Bob Dylan (to David Fricke – interview for Rolling Stone – 27 September 2001)

Live:

  • first known live performance: ]ackson County Fairgrounds OR, October 9, 2001
  • It has been performed only 65 times live – last performance:  Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – November 19, 2012
  • Top year was 2011 – performed 29 times.
Dylan 2012
Bob Dylan on stage 2012

 

Album:

Bob Dylan - love-and-theft

Dylan first recorded “Mississippi” for 1997’s Time Out of Mind, but he hated producer Daniel Lanois’ busy arrangement. This version, produced pseudonymously by Dylan, has a sturdy, straightforward groove. “Polyrhythm doesn’t work for knifelike lyrics about majesty and heroism,” he said.
~Rollingstone.com

Lyrics

Love & Theft version

Every step of the way we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is pilin’ up, we struggle and we scrape
We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape

City’s just a jungle; more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin’ to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

Got nothin’ for you, I had nothin’ before
Don’t even have anything for myself anymore
Sky full of fire, pain pourin’ down
Nothing you can sell me, I’ll see you around

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well, the devil’s in the alley, mule’s in the stall
Say anything you wanna, I have heard it all
I was thinkin’ ’bout the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleepin’ in Rosie’s bed

Walkin’ through the leaves, falling from the trees
Feelin’ like a stranger nobody sees
So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

Some people will offer you their hand and some won’t
Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t
I need somethin’ strong to distract my mind
I’m gonna look at you ’til my eyes go blind

Well I got here followin’ the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now

My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waitin’ to be kind
So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Alternate version #3

I’m standing in the shadows with an aching heart
I’m looking at the world tear itself apart
Minutes turn to hours, hours turn to days
I’m still loving you in a million ways

Well the devil’s in the alley, there’s a mule kicking in my stall
Say anything you want to, I have heard it all
I was raised in the country, I been working in town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

Well I ain’t got nothing for you, I had nothing before
Don’t even have anything for myself anymore
The sky’s full of fire, pain is pouring down
There’s nothing you can sell me, I’ll see you around

Well, I got here following the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
There’s only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well I been loving you too long, I know you ain’t no good
It don’t make a bit of difference to me, don’t see why it should
I was thinking about the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie’s bed

Well I’m walking through the leaves falling from the trees
I feel like a stranger nobody sees
So many things we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

Some people will offer you their hand and some won’t
Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t
I need something strong to distract my mind
I’m gonna look at you ’til my eyes go blind

Well everybody’s moving, god knows where
But I’m still here and you’re still there
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast
I’m drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I got nothing but affection for those who have sailed with me

Winter goes into summer, summer goes into fall
I look into the mirror, don’t see anything at all
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now

My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waiting to be kind
So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine

The emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way
Only one thing that I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

..I tried to explain that the song had more to do with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than witch doctors, and just couldn’t be thought of as some kind of ideological voodoo thing.
~Bob Dylan (to David Fricke – interview for Rolling Stone – 27 September 2001)

…the speaker could be Uncle Sam (cast by playwright Dylan into the role of riverboat gambler, the very character the singer himself seems co be portraying on the cover and sleeves of this album). So I imagine Dylan maybe years back hearing (or reading in Lomax’s book) “Rosie,” and thinking to himself that “only one thing I did wrong, stayed in Mississippi a day too long” could be the stoiy of America and the tragedy of the Civil War less than a century after the glorious Revolution . . . and resolving to write his own version of this folk song. So yes, I guess I can sell myself on the Dylan-talking-in-Rolling-Stone interpretation of this inkblot..
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist Volume 3: Mind Out Of Time 1986 And Beyond)

Vague though it may be, this explanation does have a particular resonance, since Dylan’s songs have long addressed political issues through the rubric of the personal. And the freedoms that we abstractly attach to those documents and to a broader understanding of “America” have often been elusive, particularly in Mississippi. Similarly, the speaker—whose problems can be traced back to that extra day in Mississippi—is bound by an acute sense of his own mortality and temporality: the song’s opening stanza is a frank acknowledgment of the inescapability of death, and we confront overwhelming images of time “pilin’ up,” crowding the speaker and his companion such that they feel “boxed in” with “nowhere to escape.”
~Ben Child (Popular Music and Society, Volume 32, Issue 2 May 2009 , pages 199 – 210 )

Live versions

Hard to live versions of Mississippi around.. but here are two.

If anyone has a link up there sleeve.. please cough up.

Mississippi – Live 2002

Bob Dylan & Mark Knopfler – Mississippi (Berlin Oct 29th 2011)

Check out:

Sources

-Egil

4 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs: Mississippi”

  1. Well, this great, great song came out on L&T just as my marriage was collapsing, so forgive me if I dont go along with the Constitutional interpretation! I related to it just fine as a lament for the end of a relationship. In fact, my theory is that it was left off TooM precisely because it was so clearly about loss of love and thus conflicted with the ominous theme of coming death that so many people read into that album. Trickster Bob, shuffling the cards as usual.

  2. If only I had married someone else
    If only I had a different job
    If only I had finished school
    I only I had been handsome
    If only my spouse had stopped drinking
    If only I had been rich
    If only I had better parents
    If only I didn’t have a terrifying vision of a bloody figure and accidentally drive our van into the water
    If only we hadn’t been captured by cult members and subjected to a number of increasingly bizarre and surreal scenarios
    If only we’d realized we had wandered into Hell before it was too late
    If only “Mississippi” instead of “Make you Feel My Love” were on “Time Out of Mind”

  3. love minus 0 no limits
    in the spirit of Masaru Emoto Love is all there is
    and this spirit thanks you and loves you
    your love of Bob and great work is an offering to cosmic consciousness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *