Episode 67
“Boots of Spanish Leather.”
The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Blockhouse. 
Recorded September 23, 2018.

Context (3:30)

This song was written in Europe during the winter of 1962-63. In Scaduto’s biography, Dylan said: “Suze had gone back to the States, and that’s when I worked up the melodies of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ and ‘Girl from the North Country.'” He recorded the song on August 6 and 7, 1963 in one take each day, the August 7 take on Times They Are A-Changin’. The song is in the Norton Anthology of Poetry in the “Popular Ballads of the 20th Century.” He’s played it 298 times from April 12, 1963 at the Town Hall to November 6, 2013.

Suze Rotolo (6:00)

We’ve talked a lot about Sara this season but it’s worth getting into a major inspiration for much of Dylan’s early work: Suze Rotolo. Kelly details her life on the podcast (and you listen to her on Fresh Air. They talk about her lift after Dylan, how she is often viewed only through the lens of him, and if she knew more than she let on about the Bob Dylan we’ve come to know. (We’ll talk about her more, especially when we come to the wrenching “Ballad in Plain D.”)

 Song Itself (16:00)

We listened to the studio version, the Witmark demos from The Bootleg Series, Volume 9 and his performance at Carnegie Hall (all on the playlist). Both agree this song is a masterpiece. Kelly compared it to her favorite song of last year, “Song to Woody,” and feels like it’s jumped ahead of it.

The song is so impactful because it is so simple. It’s two lovers exchanging letters from across the ocean. It reverses your expectation but carefully. “Having led the listener to expect a ‘Dear John’ letter,” Clinton Heylin writes, “Dylan leaves the convention behind and digs instead into his own memory banks: She says I don’t know when I’ll be coming back / It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.” 

What takes this to the next level is the final verse. It’s another example of a Dylan song that can be deeply sorrowful or deeply empowering, depending on where you are in your life. They talk about that dichotomy, about the narrator at first wanting nothing from her until the end, the history of “Spanish boots” as a torture device, and what all of that means for this magnificent ending.

Playlist

Daniel and Kelly spend some time on Tallest Man on Earth’s “King of Spain,” which directly references “Boots.” Kristian is quoted: “I’m not trying to hide [Bob Dylan’s] influence on me and how it’s given me energy and inspiration to try write good songs and do good live shows since I was 15 years old.”

Welcome back to the playlist: Stormzy, Clash, John Prine (very much like “Sign on the Window”), Aretha Franklin, Every Time I Die, Joyce Manor, Cake, Tori Amos

Welcome to the playlist: Arlie, Glocca Morra (RIP), Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band (!!!Going Places!!!), Banner Pilot, Foals, Little Feat (love the artwork for Feats Don’t Fail Me Now), Tyga, Jackie Oates

Recommendations (39:00)

Kelly monitored MC Lars’ listening habits on Spotify (from Longmont Potion Castle to Black Moth Super Rainbow) and caught back up with I Love You, America

Daniel recommends Defiance, Ohio. Their 2007 record The Fear, The Fear, The Fear is back on Spotify. Also, The Dirty Nil released Master Volume and I wasn’t expecting this to be one of the best of the year. Seriously.

Endings (52:00)

There are 443 songs left. Kelly guessed #402, “She’s Your Lover Now.” Nope. It’s #344 “Went to See the Gypsy.” 

Published by Daniel

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

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