In the movie “I’m not there“, creative Hollywood artists who know Bob Dylan, and know of his singular importance in our time, want to give tribute to him. There has been no sign of his acknowledgment, of course.
It is curious, and very to the point, that the chosen title song for this movie may be the most personally significant song Mr. Dylan has ever written, and also the very one song of all of his repertoire that has not been placed on any of his albums, or posted on any of his lyric anthologies. Indeed, people cannot agree on what the lyrics actually say. The recorded version of the song very likely is an unfinished song, with filler words and phrases, to be refined later, which seems never to have happened.
Yet, it is an truly compelling and emblematic song. Written in the basement tapes sessions during his life in Woodstock, as his attempt to be a normal person, a normal husband, a normal father is slipping. He seems to be fighting and grasping with the cost of his incessant, unshakeable artistic being. The song just may be too raw, too painfully emotional for him to finish, or acknowledge, or publish.
“I’m not there” is dirge-like, with anger, blaming of others, and blaming himself. It does not resolve. There is a grinding, plodding anguish. He has five young children and a lovely wife, but he knows he can’t maintain it, knows he is going to bow out, not at all sure it will be wonderful, sensing that it will be painful, sure that others will be disappointed, and, worse, that it will be selfish. . . but he can’t help it.
Now I’ll cry tonight like I cried the night before
And I’ll feast on her eyes
But I’ll dream about the door.
I was born to love her
But she knows that the kingdom waits so high above her
I wish I were there to help her
But I’m not there I’m gone.