057 – “Watching the River Flow”

Episode 57 
“Watching the River Flow.” 
Blockhouse. 
Episode 4 of Sign on the Window Presents The Lazy River Funtime Slide into Summer
Recorded June 10, 2018. 

Context (3:40)

Recorded at Blue Rock Studios in New York on March 16-18, 1971 (along with “When I Paint My Masterpiece”). With producer Leon Russell, Dylan was attempting to find a new sound after the trilogy of country rock records. Along with Dylan, Russell added Carl Radle on bass, Ed Davis on guitar and Jim Keltner on drums.

This wasn’t the single that crafted an album. It was released and peaked at #41 and, somehow, made it onto his second Greatest Hits record. He’s played this song 500 times from November 21, 1978 – then a nine year hiatus to 1987 in Eugene, Oregon and consistently since – to July of 2014.

Song Itself (8:00)

If creativity is a habit, Dylan was all but cured.

Ian Bell

Musically, it’s a competent rhythm and blues song for the era (think “Spirit in the Night”). Because of how different this was to what he was playing, people got excited about “the old Dylan” returning.

Lyrically, it’s divisive but that’s its strength. The classic interpretation is Dylan withdrawing from the music industry, watching instead of wading in. That doesn’t make sense given Dylan diving in just after this song was released. Greil Marcus warns against that interpretation: “I’ll sit here and watch the river flow. Well, that’s certainly a boring idea. It’s the implicit message of just about everything James Taylor has ever written.” Ouch. But true. Seeing this as a song about inspiration and coming back from a songwriting slump is interesting. It’s also still meditating on the same themes and ideals that New Morning set forth, so just how much a step into the future is this?

In the end, he’ll take this on the road with the Band in ’74 and try something with Planet Waves before rightly turning himself inside out for Blood on the Tracks.

Recommendations (27:00)

Kelly curated her Sad Music for Good Times playlist and watched Archer.

Daniel listened to new records by War on Women – Capture the Flag, John Prine – Tree of Forgiveness, and Charley Crockett – Lonesome as a Shadow.

Endings

From one themed suite into another: no selection this week because of the first Music Video Month. Where else could we start but with “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from Bringing It All Back Home.

1 thought on “057 – “Watching the River Flow”

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