The Seafarin' Bob Dylan
2002-10-04, Key Arena, Seattle, WA
Today’s show is a request from Paul K. Don’t forget that any Annual subscriber can request a show!
Today’s newsletter is a guest entry from Tim Edgeworth, who runs the excellent blog Talkin’ Bob Dylan. He found the spark of an idea in this Seattle 2002 show and ran with it. Though, given the subject matter, “ran” is the wrong verb. He found the idea and sailed with it, perhaps? Anyway, over to Tim for a deep dive (get it?) into Bob Dylan’s songs of the sea.
Seattle, Washington, October 4 2002: the first show of Bob Dylan’s 2002 Fall Tour. This run of shows is among the most fondly-remembered leg of the entire Never Ending Tour, and it's not hard to see why: Dylan in fine form, a great band, Bob’s dramatic and unexpected switch to the keyboard, and a setlist that included a revolving selection of surprising covers. In Ray’s interview with Larry Campbell last year, the former Dylan guitarist singled out this leg as one of the highlights of his tenure:
“Everything just felt like a smooth machine that tour. I don't know how to explain it or why, but the material we were doing, Bob's seeming contentment with everything, it just felt like we were all clicking.”
Despite all of this, the tour is probably best remembered due to someone who wasn’t onstage at all: Warren Zevon. In August 2002, the 55-year old singer-songwriter had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given just months to live. Dylan’s response to this news was to play at least one Zevon song at almost every stop on this tour. “Boom Boom Mancini” appeared once, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” four times, and the dreamlike “Accidentally Like a Martyr” was played a very respectable 22 times.
The Zevon song that was played the most, however, was "Mutineer", which appeared at 31 concerts. When Zevon performed this song as part of his final appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on October 30 2002, Dylan had played it earlier the same evening in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Mutineer" is a beautiful song by a great songwriter, but that’s not the only reason Dylan might have taken so much delight in performing it. Another reason is that "Mutineer" is a seafaring song.
The sea has been a recurring presence in the songs of Bob Dylan since the beginning of his career. However, there have been certain periods where, like a sailor who’s spent too long on dry land, Dylan has felt compelled to return to the ocean. Let’s take a look at them.
I’m Sailing Away: The First Half of the ‘60s
In the smoky coffeehouses of Minneapolis in 1960, Bob Dylan was performing seafaring folk tunes like "The Bay of Mexico" (a variation of the sea shanty "Santianna”), “Mary Ann” (eventually recorded by Bob in 1970, and released three years later on the Dylan album), Woody Guthrie’s "Talking Merchant Marine", and Blake Alphonso Higgs' "Run Come See Jerusalem" (which documents the sinking of a ship during the 1929 Bahamas hurricane). Following his arrival in New York City in 1961, Bob’s repertoire expanded to include Jesse Fuller’s "San Francisco Bay Blues", plus the seafaring traditionals "Handsome Molly" and "The House Carpenter”. Several other folk songs Bob performed in this era refer in passing to the ocean and/or sailing.
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