“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”



Since we’re on the subject of non-album Dylan singles from 1965, there’s also “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”. Released at the end of November 1965 as a single, although not faring nearly as well as “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Positively 4th Street”, this is almost a forgotten Dylan single like “Mixed Up Confusion” – his website indicates that he played it only once in concert.

Musically, the best part of the song is the drumming. The backing band is The Hawks (later to be known as The Band), and it sounds a bit more like a precursor to Blonde on Blonde than a song for Highway 61. Apparently they did twenty-two takes of this one trying to get it right. Here’s an alternate version (the drumming is slightly different, as is the guitar):

The whole thing is a bit forgettable, really. An inessential single. Nick Hornby wrote about it in his book 31 Songs. While saying that he isn’t a Dylan fan (though he owns twenty of his CDs), he notes that “Can You Please” is “a minor Dylan track, one of his snarly (and less than poetic) put-downs, but it is from my favourite period (electric, with that crisp, clean organ sound), and I haven’t heard it a million times times before, so it sneaks its way on to car tapes now”. I can’t really improve on that.

Jimi Hendrix also recorded this for the BBC, before he’d make “All Along the Watchtower” his very own. It’s worth a listen.

“Positively 4th Street”



One of my all-time favourite songs, not just favourite Dylan songs, is “Positively 4th Street”. Recorded in the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited, the song was not included on that album, but was released as a stand-alone single in September 1965 (with “From a Buick 6” as the b-side). Dylan never placed it on an album, though it appears on Greatest Hits and Biograph.

All my life I took this to be a sort of generalized fuck you song. One of the most bitter things ever to crack the top ten of the pop charts, I always assumed that it was about someone specifically, but to me it never mattered who it was. It was not until December of last year that I think I twigged to the fact that it was actually about the Greenwich Village folk scene. A review of Inside Llewyn Davis in the Boston Globe concluded by mentioning this particular interpretation of the song, and it all suddenly made sense: how could I have been so blind?

Certainly in late July 1965, when the song was recorded, Dylan had had it with the folkies. His UK tour had come to an end, and he had played the fateful Newport electric show – his connections with the Greenwich Village scene were being severed. 4th Street in New York was the home of Geerde’s Folk City, and the cover of Freewheelin’ was photographed on that street. The specificity of the title, and the time of its recording, make the target of the attacks clear.

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It has been suggested, of course, that the target of Dylan’s ire was even more specific. Izzy Young, who ran the Folklore Centre, is rumoured to have been the “You” of the song, as has been Irwin Silber of Sing Out!. Both were quite critical of Dylan’s development as an artist, the turn away from tradition, and the decision to go electric. Dylan began singing it live in October 1965, logically because it was a hit single by then, but it also served as an announcement of his new intentions.

To me, it doesn’t matter who it is about. It’s just such a great song to be sung at the top of your lungs when you’re feeling bitter. It’s the original song about haters. The lyrics are fantastic:

And now I know you’re dissatisfied

With your position and your place

Don’t you understand

It’s not my problem

But beyond the lyrics, it’s Dylan’s tone and phrasing that are so powerful. It’s the way that he punches the final short phrase of every verse, spitting out the venom every time. The song is just such an unrelenting bellowing of anger and spite, and it never lets up. The final verse:

Yes, I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

You’d know what a drag it is

To see you

Well, I’d hate for someone to be singing that about me. Although, maybe a few people already have….

Here’s Lucinda Williams. She’s bitter too!

Dont Look Back



“Give the anarchist a cigarette”, Dylan says as he drives away from his concert at The Royal Albert Hall in London on May 9, 1965. Basking in the post-performance glow of the penultimate show of his eight concert tour of England, Dylan is told by his manager, Albert Grossman, that the UK papers have taken to calling him an anarchist, because the protest singer is unable to offer any solutions to the problems he enumerates. Of course the papers don’t know it yet, but Dylan is no longer a folk singer. When D. A. Pennebaker’s cameras caught this conversation in the documentary Dont Look Back, Dylan would perform only one last folk concert, the next night in the same London venue. After that his next stop would be an electric set at Newport, and then a tour with The Hawks, rock star style.

It’s been almost thirty years since I’ve watched Dont Look Back. Parts of it I remembered so clearly I barely needed to see them again. Other parts made sense to me now in a way that they never would have when I was a teenager (the moment when the reporter from BBC Africa Service talks to him about Madhouse on Castle Street is only sensible because I recently watched what’s left of that BBC drama). It is still a tremendous film – the template for so very many other rock documentaries – and a very real glimpse into the private life of a certain version of Bob Dylan.

Most striking to me on this watching was Dylan’s treatment of the press. I’ve been listening to “Ballad of a Thin Man” in various versions all day, so it was definitely on my mind tonight. The initial press conferences when Dylan arrives in the UK is really oppressive. The questions are just so inane that you can immediately understand why Dylan would respond by simply toying with the reporters. His verbal sparring with Terry Ellis is a really uncomfortable scene, with a bullying side of Dylan emerging that is unpleasant to watch (that Ellis would go on to found Chrysalis Records and become one of the most important figures in British rock during the 1970s is one of those great things that maybe you only learn by reading Wikipedia after you finish watching a film like this one; it made me go back and rewatch the scene all over again). The final interview, with Horace Freeland Judson of Time Magazine is just brutal to watch. You can see how fed up Dylan has become, how bitter and uncompromising. Not surprising at all that only a few months later he would write one of the nastiest and orneriest songs ever recorded.

The other moments of great interest, of course, is the way that Dylan deals with other singers in his orbit. His relationship with Joan Baez was souring by the time of this tour, and it ended in the midst of it. She walks out the door one night while he’s typing, and while we see her one more time in the film, that was that. We never see Dylan react to her departure – or perhaps that’s all the reaction that he gave to her leaving. Hard to know. Dylan’s questioning of Alan Price (“Why’d you leave The Animals?”) comes out of nowhere, and seems to put Price in his place when Dylan tires of toying with Ellis. Finally, the scenes with Donovan. Well, amazing. Dylan’s quest to find him and learn about him, Baez’s knowing laughter when the press accuses Donovan of having betrayed his fans (“He’s only been around for three months”, she’s told), Dylan’s appreciation of Donovan in the hotel room, and then his complete and utter mastery of the room when he takes Donovan’s guitar and plays “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. The hierarchies of stardom have never seemed more clear.

For years when I was teaching Film Studies regularly I thought of teaching a course on rock documentaries: Madonna: Truth of Dare. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Shut Up and Sing. Spinal Tap. Dig! Needless to say, Dont Look Back is the one that unlocks them all. Everything else owes such a debt to Pennebaker that it can be hard to even see the film for how great it is. The beautiful flashback when the reporter asks Dylan how he got started and Pennebaker cuts to Dylan in 1963 singing “Only A Pawn in Their Game” in Greenwood, Mississippi. Less than two years had passed, and Dylan was a completely different singer – Pennebaker shows that so effortlessly. It really is masterful.

Today, the film is best known for its relentlessly ripped off opening, the proto-music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, even though that’s maybe the most gimmicky part of the whole thing. It’s too bad, because there is so very much more in there, even if we never do learn who threw the glass out on the street….