Dear Mr. Dylan: It’s Hot As Hell, Bob… But I Would Still Love A Pair Of “Boots Of Spanish Leather”

It’s a strange and magical thing when a song just pops into your head… And lo and behold, here is today’s listen.

I was looking through my songs for the album selection of the day and this started playing in my mind… I don’t know why, but I’m glad it did.

Here is an audio version of the song by the master himself.  I was going to put up the Nanci Griffith video, but I need to be in the mood to hear her… I know that sounds odd and I cannot put my finger on it… but sometimes I love and adore her voice and sometimes I just don’t… Today I needed to hear the original…

What struck me most about this song when I was a young lad… is that the title does not come in until the end… the last sentence… the last lyric… Genius…

What also struck me is how simple and stunningly beautiful this song is… the longing so real… the story told so well… and how much power there is in one man, one voice, one instrument.  This one will cut to the quick… to the bone… and into the marrow… Beauty and love run deep and pulse within our veins… What else do we need?

Bob Dylan – “Spanish Boots Of Spanish Leather”

“Oh I’m sailin’ away my own true love
I’m sailin’ away in the morning
Is there something I can send you from across the sea
From the place that I’ll be landing ?

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean.

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona ?

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’.

That I might be gone a long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’
Is there something I can send you to remember me by
To make your time more easy passin’ ?

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again
It only brings me sorrow
The same thing I want from you today
I would want again tomorrow.

I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.

Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way
I’m sure your mind is roarmin’
I’m sure your thoughts are not with me
But with the country to where you’re goin’.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind
Take heed of the stormy weather
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.”

AllMusic says this of the song:

“It is perhaps unfashionable to say so, but when Bob Dylan made his famously splashy move toward electric folk-rock and away from the solo acoustic troubadour setting that had established him as folk music’s brightest star, an enormously important facet of his talent was left on the back burner. And while his groundbreaking forays into electric music have forever changed the face of pop music, dragging it and other artists bold enough to follow — like the Beatles — to artistic heights literally unimagined at the time, Dylan seemed to shift the focus from the power and intimacy of his solitary voice and acoustic guitar. This point is set into stark relief on the Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966 — Royal Albert Concert, which, for the first time on the official release included songs from the acoustic sets from the same engagements. Dylan is simply stunning alone at the mic, holding large halls of people in complete rapt silence while he beguiles them — even with songs he had recorded electric, like “Visions of Johanna,” which makes far more of an impact in the solo setting than it does electrified (most discussions note the electrified versions of originally acoustic songs). As great as his legendary backing band is on these recordings, Dylan seems — in retrospect, with all the historical context out of the way — more intimidating by himself. Which is one reason that the love ballad “Boots of Spanish Leather” makes listeners weak in the knees.

Dylan is the romantic poet on “Boots of Spanish Leather,” albeit one who is witnessing his relationship slowly crumbling before him. The song takes the form of a conversation between seemingly young lovers — alternating verses for the alternating voices. Dylan, as singer, seems to identify most with the person being left behind by the other, who is leaving on an overseas trip and “might be gone a long time.” The one being left seems to understand what is happening. (One assumes, for the purposes of discussion, that the person leaving is a she and the person left behind a he, as sung by a male.) The two go back and forth, she asking him if there is anything that she can send back to him “to remember me (her) by.” He, increasingly insistent, declines, in brutally emotional but poetic terms: “If I had the stars of the darkest night/And diamonds from the deepest oceans/I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss/For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be owning.” But she is equally adamant, continuing to ask her lover for requests, seemingly to dissuade her guilt, perhaps in denial of the end of the relationship. Finally, she leaves and he soon receives a letter from her explaining her uncertainty about a return date. It is the nail in the coffin for the heartbroken, though not surprised, singer: “Well if you, my love, must think that-a-way/I’m sure your mind is roamin’/I’m sure your thoughts are not with me…Take heed of the stormy weather/And yes, there’s something you can send back to me/Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” The singer realizes he will not get his lover back again “unspoiled,” the only thing he wanted, so, resigned, he simply asks for the boots, the phrasing of this last line dragged out for maximum emotional impact.

Dylan’s warm husky voice, with a slight reverb, delivers the somber melody and his finger-picked guitar, in Mississippi John Hurt style, is his only austere accompaniment. The arrangement and performance on the landmark Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964) is wrenching and emotionally raw, the sort of brutal personal honesty that Dylan started to move away from with his experiments in evocative stream-of-consciousness and more oblique lyrics, but would occasionally return to, particularly on Blood on the Tracks (1975). Nanci Griffith recorded a pretty, though nowhere near as sad, version on her covers record, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). One senses more optimism in her reading of the song.”

So sit down… since I know we are all weak in the knees now… sit and breathe… just breathe…

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2 Comments

Filed under Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me

2 responses to “Dear Mr. Dylan: It’s Hot As Hell, Bob… But I Would Still Love A Pair Of “Boots Of Spanish Leather”

  1. I know what you mean about Nanci. Love her to death. We are the same age and I’ve always had a bit of a crush. First discovered her from a review of Flyer in Time and then got Other Voices, Other Rooms at the same time. Sometimes her twang (although not on Boots) seems forced. It has got more pronounced in recent years. But recent years have brought many burdens yet she soldiers on. And you gotta love her for it.

    Here’s a what if game. What if you could host a dinner party of five people and yourself and they were all women. (tip to all playing game…include your wife). I would have an all singers night. Let’s see- Nanci, Liz Phair, Patti Smith, last one tough, gotta go jazz..Patricia Barber.

    Now these ladies are all alive. If we go singers on a higher plane of existence it is going to have to be Judy Garland, Sandy Denny, Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday. I’d go with Ella but she was really shy.

  2. Dylan seems to understand women better than most men the age he wrote Boots.

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