RSS

Marchin’ to the City

23 Oct

I have been listening to Bob Dylan’s latest installment of previously unreleased (but now released) material — the Tell Tale Signs. It contains alternative versions to songs that made it to albums from 1989-2006 and other songs that didn’t make the cut.

These official bootlegs are a treasure trove for Dylan fans, because they unearth raw and often uncut Dylan tunes, so many which are very good. It is a two disc set and there is much to dive into, but the song I have been most drawn to is “Marchin’ to the City,” a simple blues-driven song recorded in 1997 in the Time Out of Mind sessions.

The song mutated into “‘Till I Fell in Love with You,” which appears on the 1997 Grammy-winning Album of the Year – Time Out of Mind. “‘Till I Feel…” includes some of the lyrics from “Marchin’ to the City” and just a hint at the melody, but “Marchin'” has much more biblical imagery set to a blues rhythm. According to the writer in the lengthy booklet insert that came with the discs, “you can visualize the singer storming the gates of Heaven” in this song.

Here are the lyrics with a little bit of commentary.

“Marchin’ To the City” (1997)
Bob Dylan

Well I’m sittin’ in church

In an old wooden chair

I know nobody

Would look for me there

Saw Aunt Biddy

Through the earth and the skies

Lookin’ for nothin’

Anyone’s eyes

Once I had a pretty girl

Did me wrong

I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

“Sittin’ in church” sets the context of this song for me. It is a spiritual song. The church and his old wooden chair serves as a refuge, a hide out…a place of safety and security, a place of community. Psalm 32:7 speaks of God as our hiding place. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance (NIV).

The line Lookin’ for nothin’ / Anyone’s eyes made it on the Time Out of Mind album in the song, “Not Dark Yet.” It also serves as a warning. Watch out for the pretty gals who may do you wrong by not looking for anything in her eyes. Proverbs 4:25 communicates that warning: Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you (NIV).

Snowflakes are falling

Around my head

Lord have mercy

They feel heavy like lead

I’ve been hit too hard

Seen too much

Nothing can heal me now

But your touch

Once I had a pretty gal

She done me wrong

I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

The line Nothing can heal me now / But your touch made it into “‘Till I Fell in Love with You,” but in it’s original form here, you see the context. Who is the “you” in “your touch.” In this song it refers back to “Lord have mercy.” This is a prayer for healing. Dylan, the lover/poet has been done wrong by this pretty gal and is heartbroken. He needs a touch, one that can heal what ails the poet. It is not the touch of a woman, but the touch of the Creator…Lord have mercy…please repair what is broken.

Loneliness

Got a mind of its own

The more people around

The more you feel alone

I’m chained to the earth

Like a silent slave

Tryin’ to break free

Of the death’s dark cave

Once I had a pretty gal

Done me wrong

Now I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

The pain of loneliness can take over our senses. Even in a crowded room of people we can feel out of touch and alone. We were created for right relationship with others. This is a part of the good life. But we were also created for right relationship with God. Without a right relationship with the One who made us loneliness continues to burrow deeper into our soul. Human relationships are good and necessary, but we can still feel lonely and isolated if we subtract God from the equation.

Boys in the streets

Beginning to play

Girls like birds

Flyin’ away

I’m carrying the roses

That were given to me

And I’m thinking about paradise

Wonderin’ what it might be

Once I had a pretty gal

She done me wrong

Now I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

I am glad the opening lines of the verse made it into “‘Till I Feel in Love with You”: Boys in the streets / Beginning to play / Girls like birds / Flyin’ away speaks of the classic innocence of childhood. As adults, when men chase the girls, the girls still fly like birds (Ha!).

The poet is also “thinking about paradise” in this verse. Jesus told one of the thieves on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise, a right description of heaven. He is “wonderin’ what it might be.” Not satisfied with simplistic visions of golden streets or pearly gates, he was wondering, “What is heaven really going to be like?” For every Christian, death is not the end, but the start of a new beginning. Heaven is our hope and while we wonder what it will be, we know from the lips of Jesus that it will be paradise.

Go over to London

Maybe gay Paree

Follow the river

You get to the sea

I was hopin’ we could drink from

Life’s clear streams

I was hopin’ we could dream

Life’s pleasant dreams

Once I had a pretty gal

She done me wrong

Now I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

The references to “London” and “gay Paree” appear in “Not Dark Yet.” The verse also uses the common biblical metaphor of streams and rivers. One metaphor is in Psalm 46:4-5: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [5] God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day (NIV). “Life’s clear streams” flow from the river of God’s holy place. Right relationships with other people flow from a right relationship with God. From him flow the clear streams of life.

Well the weak get weaker

And the strong stay strong

The train keeps rollin’

All night long

She looked at me

With an irresistible glance

With the smile

That could make all the planets dance

Once I had a pretty gal

She did me wrong

Now I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

What makes this a true blues song is the “pretty gal” that did the poet wrong. Proverbs warns young men from the seduction of an immoral woman with her “irresistible glance” and “smile that could make all the planets dance” (what a great line!). Proverbs 6:23-25 For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, [24] keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. [25] Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes (NIV).


The glance and smile of a woman can melt a man’s heart, which is great if the man is married to the woman. If not, then the glance and smile can mean trouble.

My house is on fire

Burnin’ to the skies

I thought the rain cloud

But the clouds passed by

When I’m gone

You remember my name

I’m gonna win my way

To wealth and fame

Once I had a pretty girl

But she did me wrong

Now I’m marchin’ to the city

And the road ain’t long

When I’m gone / You remember my name makes it into “‘Till I Fell in Love with You.”

The refrain in the song tells the story of injustice – She did me wrong. His response is not retaliation or conquest, but marching. He is marching to the city, not a city, but the city…the eternal city. The Bible describes the city with these words: [10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me THE Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

[11] It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

[12] It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

[13] There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.

[14] The wall of THE CITY had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

[15] The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure THE CITY, its gates and its walls.

[16] THE CITY was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured THE CITY with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.

[17] He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using.

[18] The wall was made of jasper, and THE CITY of pure gold, as pure as glass.

[19] The foundations of THE CITY walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, [20] the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

[21] The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of THE CITY was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

[22] I did not see a temple in THE CITY, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

[23] THE CITY does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

The city is our future hope.

The city is not a non physical heaven.

The city is that apocalyptic reality when heaven and earth become one.

The city is the place where God is worshipped, the place where the kingdom of God reigns.

I’m marching to that city.

I don’t know…

Because this song is a part of unreleased material, includes Dylan saying, “I don’t know,” just as the song fades out. Typical Dylan. It is cryptic and biblical and beautiful and still he doesn’t know. There is mystery here and uncertainly, which only makes the song that much intriguing.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 23, 2008 in Life, Theology

 

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: