The last great song on Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. The first track on the second side, it could almost actually be the best thing on the whole album (it’s not, but it’s close), which is saying quite a lot. Dylan will go on to write a whole raft of break-up songs, but this is the template for all the rest of them. These are the cool lyrics, with an undercurrent of hurt, and with the false veneer that says ‘nothing really bothers me’. This is the kind of song that most people wish they could sing when they getting dumped, but few of them actually can.
In the summer of 1963 Dylan was seeing both Joan Baez and Suze Rotolo (his longtime on-again off-again girlfriend who is hugging his arm on the cover of Freewheelin’). Baez performed this song during her set at the Newport Folk Festival, and introduced it, with Rotolo in the audience, thusly: “Here’s another Bobby song. This is a song about a love affair that has lasted too long”. Rotolo, of course, walked out. Some day someone is going to make the great Bob Dylan romance film, and it’s going to be all about the summer of 1963. I have to say, my mental of image of Baez is so gauzy and clouded with her semi-saintliness that I just can’t imagine her being cruel to someone. I probably need to snap out of that.
I should note that I haven’t written about Dylan’s break-out performance at Newport this week because I haven’t been able to watch The Other Side of the Mirror, the documentary about his three Newport performances. I ordered a copy from Amazon, and it looks now like it will arrive next week. I may wait and just review all three years of Newport shows at once in two weeks time. There’s a lot of material on YouTube, of course, but it seems preferable to just watch the film.
Back to the topic at hand: “Don’t Think Twice” is a major accomplishment for the young Dylan, an inspired and hauntingly emotional song that helps establish his range.
Having listened to Freewheelin’ every day for a week, this is how I’ve got it broken down:
Girl From the North Country
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Blowin’ in the Wind
Masters of War
Bob Dylan’s Dream
The rest of the album is fine, but not particularly memorable in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s Joan, but not from Newport. Still a great version though: