Jul 29, 2019 • 48M

091 – "When the Deal Goes Down"

"There's no song you’re listening to that’s influencing it … All you can do is hang on and hope you do it justice."

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Not the Bob Dylan podcast you need, but certainly the one you want. We explore Dylan one random song at a time.
Episode details

Sign on the Window isn't the Bob Dylan podcast you need, but it's definitely the one that you want! Each week we select a Dylan song at random, live with the song for a week (or two) and then get together to discuss. This week we follow Timrod and Scarlet Johansson to the time "When the Deal Goes Down."

Kelly and Daniel discuss the song and the Timrod connection (3:00), the song itself (7:00) and dive into the lyrics in regard to recent episodes (13:30). Playlist discussion follows (33:00), followed by recommendations for the week (38:00) and the closing of Music Video Month (45:00).

Next episode: lost in the mountains

CONTEXT (3:00)

"When the Deal Goes Down" was recorded with Modern Times in Sony Studios in February 2006. He's played the song live 148 times, as of recording — from October 11, 2006 to November 7, 2013.

In 2007, Dylan said about this song:

["When the Deal Goes Down"] demands all your attention. There's no song you’re listening to that’s influencing it … All you can do is hang on and hope you do it justice.

As to the influences, it bears a strong echo to the poems of Henry Timrod, a Charleston native who wrote during the Civil War and died at age 39 in 1867.

Who's This Guy Dylan Who's Borrowing Lines From Henry Timrod?

The debate about plagiarism and allusion, which Christopher Ricks distinguishes as "plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know," is outside the scope of this episode.


The music leans heavy on Bing Crosby's "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)" though Dylan's vocal cadences make it wholly unique.

The song is preoccupied with the "transience of life" — More frailer than the flowers / These precious hours / That keep us so tightly bound and I heard the deafenin' noise / I felt transient joys / I know they're not what they seem. It's filled with gorgeous imagery that brings a stock blues phrase — when the deal goes down — and makes it his own.

This is where Timrod appears in the song, per Clinton Heylin:

...the opening couplet of the 2006 song—“In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light / Where wisdom grows up in strife”—does appear to take imagery from Timrod’s “Retirement” (“There is a wisdom that grows up in strife”). But it is Dylan who gives it that proverbial generality—implying that only through strife are we likely to arrive at illumination. Timrod’s poem rather suggested the reverse.

There's also reflections from Timrod's “A Rhopsody Of A Southern Winter Night:

These happy stars, and yonder setting moon Have seen me speed, unreckoned and untasked A round of precious hours Oh! here in that summer noon I basked And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers

Outside the references and allusions, we gush over the language Dylan uses. Daniel ticks off all his favorite lines and how this song grew in his estimation listening to it this week.


Absolutely. Ambiguously beautiful, ambiguously spiritual too. Some of Dylan's most evocative images. It's always the beautiful things that will poke and hurt you, right?! There's a way of life embedded in this song.




Kelly recommends the Deftones' 2011 Covers record and Choker.

Daniel watched Deadwood: The Movie and listened to Good Riddance Thoughts and Prayers, Bruce Springsteen Western Stars and Bleached Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?.

ENDINGS (45:00)

There's 417 songs left. For the first time in a month, Kelly's guesses mean as much as they meant before (very little). She guesses #379. Could've been "New Pony," off Street Legal. No. It's #296 and "Time Passes Slowly."

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