Episode 33. “I Shall Be Free.” Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Bunker. Week 2 of Woody Guthrie Month. October 12 2017.
“I Shall Be Free” was recorded December 6, 1962 for Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. He played it for Broadside that December and recorded a demo for Witmark (with a new verse about Reno, a horse and a divorce), which would appear on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9. They go into all those versions and the lyrical changes. He’s never played this live.
The bones of the song come from Woody Guthrie (well, Lead Belly, with an assist from Cisco too) in “We Shall Be Free” from 1944. Some lyrical debts were also paid directly to Lead Belly’s “Take a Whiff on Me” and “Talkin’ Blues.”
The song is fascinating for myriad reasons: Dylan’s inventive guitar, his verbosity, the cultural touchstones and references, its quite biting satire, its humor. For Daniel, it was a perfect chaser at the end of a perfect, if at times challenging, album. It let you distance yourself a little from the masters of war and Oxford and the death of the dreams of one’s youth – but not too far.
As mentioned, the song is a who’s who of the early 1960s (and dissected by Kelly and Daniel): President John F. Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, Willie Mays, Martin Luther King, Ola Tunji, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
They closed out the show talking about talkin’ blues. It’s not something they come across everyday, let alone a song that’s still so funny and satirical. Where that style fits into popular culture is up for debate but, like folk music in general, it’s still around but will doubtlessly never have the same cache it did in the 1960s.
Mixed Up Confusion
In addition to “I Shall Be Free,” we recorded a special Mixed Up Confusion where we look at a ton of Woody songs that Bob covered through the years, including lots of material from early bootlegs.
Kelly has been listening to You Must Remember This and Daniel has been listening to Hard Girls Floating Now, Wolf Parade Cry Cry Cry, Alex Lahey I Love You Like a Brother and the reissue of The Replacements For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986.
Kelly guessed #302, which would have been Desire (!!!) but it was instead #284, Under the Red Sky. Two albums… weird… EXCEPT Woody Guthrie Month continues through time with our first Infidels cut, “Union Sundown.”