Sharp Words From A Master

We recorded “Man In The Long Black Coat” and a peculiar change crept over the appearance of things. I had a feeling about it and so did [producer Daniel Lanois]. The chord progression, the dominant chords and key changes gave it the hypnotic effect right away—signal what the lyrics are about to do. The dread intro gives you the impression of a chronic rush. The production sounds deserted, like the intervals of the city have disappeared. It’s cut out from the long blackabyss of blackness—visions of a maddened brain, a feeling of unreality—the heavy price of gold upon someone’s head. Nothing standing, even corruption is corrupt. Something’s menacing and terrible. The song came nearer and nearer—crowding itself into the smallest possible place. We didn’t even rehearse the song, we began working it out with visual cues. Before the lyrics even came in, you knew that the fight was on. The lyrics try to tell you about someone whose body doesn’t belong to him. Someone who loved life but cannot live, and it rankles his soul that others should be able to live.

I wasn’t sure that [with the Oh Mercy album] we had recorded any historical tunes like what [Lanois] had wanted, but I was thinking we might have gotten close with this last. “Man In The Long Black Coat” was the real facts. In some kind of weird way, I thought of it as my “I Walk The Line,” a song I’d always considered to be there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time, a song that makes an attack on your most vulnerable spots, sharp words from a master.

—Bob Dylan, Chronicles 

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When I Worked

April 2015

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