While riding on a train going west,
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
concerning myself and the first few friends I had
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“Bob Dylan’s Dream” is an ode to youthful friendship. Once you hear it, you’ll not likely forget it. I wonder if Dylan knew what a powerful song he’d recorded in 1963, at the ripe old age of 22. He sings it with the gravitas of a 90-year-old man, something the young Bob Dylan was famous for (see “Fixin’ To Die,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”)
It’s a simple song with a simple message, sung in Woody Guthrie folk mode, and shows what the man could do with a simple tune. The rise-and-fall melody is gripping, the lyrics are moving, and his voice is appropriately cracked and plaintive.
In Clinton Heylin’s “Down The Highway,” he writes that “Bob Dylan’s Dream” was largely inspired by Dylan’s time hanging out with Hugh Romney (a.k.a. Woodstock’s Wavy Gravy) in his Greenwich Village apartment above the Gaslight Cafe in 1961 (Romney gave Dylan his first gig at the Gaslight and introduced him to Allen Ginsberg and Lenny Bruce). While this may be true, Dylan does clearly state that the song concerns “the first few friends he had.” Yet the idea of Dylan being nostalgic for his early Greenwich Village days after being caught up in the whirlwind of fame rings true as well. If that’s the case, that would make this song the flip side to the middle-finger-pointing “Positively 4th Street” (“you got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend!”)
It’s also a song he appropriated, in melody and motif, from “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” which was written in 1845 by the wife of explorer Lord Franklin after he failed to return from an arctic expedition.
“We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew”
Maybe you think that a song that so shamefacedly borrows from another is not worthy of inclusion in a list of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs. But Dylan came up in the world of folk music, where this kind of thing has been fair game for hundreds of years. It’s how he ended up with “Blowin’ In the Wind.”
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again.
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.
It’s a song that contrast the realities of adulthood, and for Dylan, the political and social upheaval of the early ’60s, with the simpler times of his youth, when moral decisions were easily made. It also transports the listener back to their own childhood, no matter what year they were born in (or whether or not they owned “an old wooden stove.”) In this way, the song is a gift.
Bruce Springsteen tread similar ground on Born In The U.S.A.’s “No Surrender,” when he sang
“Well, now young faces grow sad and old
And hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I’m ready to grow young again”
But in Dylan’s song, nobody “grows young” again. Everybody remains on the train, always moving farther from the starting point, and closer to their ultimate destination.
“Bob Dylan’s Dream” adds another color to the palate of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which contains such iconic songs as “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice,” and “Masters of War.” Peter, Paul and Mary covered it in 1967, and Judy Collins included it on her 1993 Judy Sings Dylan album.
More evidence of the impact Bob Dylan had on his peers: The Rolling Stones scrawled the title of this song on the bathroom wall which adorns the original cover of Beggars Banquet.
Dylan was such a big deal, in fact, that he named three songs after himself and no one batted an eye: “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.”