Recent Posts

Monday, December 28, 2009

Song of the Moment: Girl From the North Country

Bob Dylan is one of the most prolific songwriters in the history of modern popular music and so it is easy to lapse into superlatives when trying to describe any of the hundreds of great songs he’s written through the years but, all reservations aside, none of his songs have affected me quite so fundamentally as “The Girl From the North Country.” Written in 1962 during Dylan’s first trip to England the song is classic Dylan, sad, world-weary, and irrepressibly gorgeous.

Featured on Dylan’s second studio album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “Girl From the North Country” has lingered for years as a sort of peripheral track, never widely praised on its own yet used often to buoy the reputation of Dylan’s dynamic repertoire. While nowhere near as famous as it’s Freewheelin’ set-mates (“Blowin in the Wind”, “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall”, etc.) “Girl” resides in the twilit nether region of album cuts which rather than drag down the overall composition instead become part of the milieu that makes a good album great.

For my part “Girl From the North Country” can be single-handedly credited with inspiring my obsession with Bob Dylan. Prior to hearing this song I had believed Dylan too abrasive, too arcane to be understood by me. I believed him angry and detached, aloof. Where I got this bias I’m not sure, but for 15 years at least I resisted any attempt to get me “into” Bob Dylan.

And then I heard this song. From the opening finger-picked notes I knew that this was a song with the sort of depth and soul that only the greatest of pop songs possess, the ideal that all songwriters strive for when they sit down to draw out their inner-most hopes and dreams. I knew this was something special from the first seconds of that first listen, but nothing could have prepared me for Dylan’s voice. Though he doesn’t shed his distinctively ragged patois there is a weariness and, quite plainly, aged wisdom at the edges of his performance that still, every time I listen to the song, never ceases to amaze. To think that a 22 year old was capable of summoning that much complexity of thought and emotion is astounding. It’s the sort of performance reputations are built upon; the word genius not lightly tossed on the fire.

With each verse Dylan implores a nameless third party to “remember him to one who lives there,” a girl from the North Country whom Dylan has long ago left behind but still pines for. Each verse grows more desperate until finally he considers the obvious: “I wonder if she remembers me at all.” Perhaps too much time has passed, too many years lie between her and him for any sort of reconciliation. Perhaps it’s best if he just lets this old love affair die. And so, in the end, he repeats the first verse, “If you’re travelin’ in the North Country fair/where the winds hit heavy on the borderline/remember me to one who lives there/she once was a true love of mine”. Weary resignation cloaks the pain, a pain he can now only express through a long, painful, desperate note of the harmonica, the lonely call of an endlessly wandering man.


The Girl From the North Country
Words and Music by Bob Dylan

Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
when the rivers freeze and summer ends,
please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
to keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
if it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
that's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
Many times I've often prayed.
In the darkness of my night,
in the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
remember me to one who lives there.
she once was a true love of mine.

Lyrics, sadly, reprinted without the consent of the publisher. Sorry Bob.

2 comments:

patrick said...

agreed - bob's best vocal too.

The Crow said...

Absolutely. I could not agree with you more. Gives me chills ever single time I listen to it. For reals.

Hey, good luck with the CD release, if O and I can't make it. Your record really is brilliant.