Episode 48. 
“What Good Am I?” 
Oh, Mercy
Recorded February 22, 2018.

Context (4:30)

The song was written in the winter of 1988 while he searched for a melody into 1989 (March 7, March 29 and April 7, 1989). In Chronicles, Dylan said the song just came to him one night when he saw a homeless man. It’s been played 241 times up to 2014, so that number may well rise after recording.

Song Itself (7:00)

“Pretty sleepy… but maybe I needed this?”


The music is definitely on the sleepy side. It’s interesting because the elements of the track are strong but, for some reason, didn’t resonate. The bass is characteristic of the album on the whole and doesn’t let up here. The twinkling piano is great, as is the “Dirge” guitar that frets around the song. And there’s a rare minute of music that closes out the song. And yet…

In the context of Oh, Mercy and “Most of the Time,” the examination of the lengths we go to deceive ourselves plays right into “What Good Am I?” While being true to Dylan’s life, there’s also a comment on artistic self-worth. Daniel shared a passage from Meriwether Lewis on August 18, 1805:

This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existance, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.

That, and “What Good Am I?” are great reminders of what it takes to find courage in the face of all kinds of adversity. It dares us to ask what good we are if we ignore the wider world (which harkens back to our talk on “Black Diamond Bay”) and just how powerful forgiveness can be for your soul.

Recommendations (33:30)

Kelly recommended Good Place, Speechless, Fresh Off  the Boat, and Future Man. Daniel has been listening to Ought, U.S. Girls and Mean Jeans while reading the DeVoto edit of The Journals of Lewis and Clark.


There are 483 songs left. Kelly guessed #53, “Things Have Changed.” It’s #433. “Odds & Ends (Take 1 and 2)” next.

Published by Daniel

Occasional writer, persistent nomad; restless, moving, changing. Currently in Portland, Oregon.

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