068 – “Went to See the Gypsy”

Episode 68
“Went to See the Gypsy.”
New Morning.
Blockhouse. 
Recorded September 30, 2018.

Context (3:45)

“Went to See the Gypsy” was recorded in Studio B in New York on March 3, 1970 in one take (on The Bootleg Series, Volume 10: Another Self Portrait), March 4 in five takes and March 5 in another take. It was originally intended for Self Portrait but was saved for what became of New Morning. On June 6, 1970 he put in four takes including the album cut. This has never been performed live.

Song Itself (6:00)

The rough drafts in March 1970 were likely Dylan and Bromberg working it out but the New Morning takes featured the full band. Kelly and Daniel discuss the narrative of the song – someone who went to see the gypsy, left to make a call, but when he returns the gypsy is gone so off to the river to ponder what it all means. 

Each version of the song feels unique. It seems like every lyric has this subtle change between versions that keep you on your toes but also alter the chemistry of the piece. Like New Morning: “He smiled when he saw me coming, and he said ‘Well, well, well!’” versus Another Self Portrait: “He smiled when he saw me coming, and he wished me well.” While the New Morning is excellent and has that extended outros that are rare, the Another Self Portrait organ is too awesome to contend with.

Elvis (22:30)

So just who is the gypsy? First, don’t use “gypsy” anymore. Second, it’s Elvis. Guitarist Ron Cornelius told Melody Maker in 1971 the song “was going to see Elvis in Las Vegas.” Apparently, Elvis was at the International Hotel for a four-week residency and Dylan and Co. may have been around the area in the winter of 1970. Elvis had covered Dylan songs in the past and said at one of the Vegas shows, “My mouth is so dry it feels like Bob Dylan spent the night in it.”

Michael Gray doesn’t think so:

In June 1972 Bob Dylan was ‘spotted’ attending one of Presley’s four concerts at Madison Square Garden, NYC. The idea, suggested by ‘Went to See the Gypsy’, that Dylan might have met Presley in Minnesota (a) when both were famous, (b) after a Presley Las Vegas stint and (c) ahead of the New Morning songs being recorded, is impossible, though they might have met elsewhere. That Dylan might have seen Presley in concert in Minnesota is another matter: Presley first performed in Minnesota in St. Paul, May 13, 1956; next, 15 years later, was Minneapolis, November 5, 1971

And in 2009, Dylan came clean (or did he, who really ever knows!): “I never met Elvis, because I didn’t want to meet Elvis… I know The Beatles went to see him, and he just played with their heads…” 

Elvis was truly some sort of American king. Two or three times we were up in Hollywood, and he had sent some of the Memphis Mafia down to where we were to bring us up to see Elvis. But none of us went… I don’t know if I would have wanted to see Elvis like that. I wanted to see the powerful mystical Elvis that had crash-landed from a burning star onto American soil.

Bob Dylan

This won’t be the last time Elvis shows up on Sign on the Window. One of his last recordings was a gorgeous rendition of “I Shall Be Released” where he announces at the end, “Dylan!” And Elvis’s end, as inglorious as can be, was perhaps on Dylan’s mind as well – from Clinton Heylin: “Afraid that he might never be able to do consciously what he used to do unconsciously, he perhaps feared a future as a Vegas act, playing the old hits to baby boomers with corporate credit cards. The result is his first song to address the creative drought that now had begun in earnest.”

Of course it would be that reference to that “little Minnesota town” that would reconnect Dylan with his home and drive a lot of what would be Planet Waves a few years from this moment.

Recommendations (36:30)

Kelly went to go see Jason Webley live and feels like you should too! My Dad Wrote a Porno Season 4 is in full effect – WHO IS THE SPECIAL ONE?! DOES IT MATTER? – and BoJack Horseman is still excellent in its 5th season.

Daniel realized the prolific Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and less prolific Bill Callahan are now on Spotify. Go listen. And based on a tip from the New York Times, Alien Weaponry from New Zealand.

Endings (44:00)

Only 442 songs left! Kelly guessed #133. “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” from Nashville Skyline, which would have been our first. Nope. It’s #166. “Bring Me a Little Water,” a cover released on The Bootleg Series, Volume 10: Another Self Portrait.

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