Bob DylanJungian Radio (my inner playlist) has delivered another gem; ‘Not Dark Yet’, one of the jewels in the crown of Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

I was thinking of including this one in an upcoming article called 10 Songs About Aging, but the song has been pretty insistent in my head today, so it gets its own article. I may write about it again anyway, given that it is one of my favourite songs by Bob Dylan.

This is a tune about finding oneself at the latter half of one’s life, expecting the wisdom which is meant to come with advancing years, and finding it absent. In the past, Dylan’s lyrics have often been a series of red herrings, pointing a listener in one direction, and then throwing in lines which make one doubt the veracity of an initial interpretation. But this song is pointed, acknowledging that time has passed with very little to show for it except for past hurts; scars that the sun didn’t heal. There is no hiding behind imagery here. This is confession from the basement, the voice at rock bottom.

In this song we see the portrait of the well-traveled man, weighted down by years rather than nurtured or informed by them. It is a snapshot of a person who has seen a lot, but gives no indication that there remains any insight to make his life better. The exact nature of this existential quandary is not specified, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much. This is a man who is trapped, perhaps by his own expectations.

I love this song, this beautifully sad treatise on what it feels like to age, and to be disappointed with how life has turned out when you expected so much more. Who knows whether or not Dylan is revealing himself in this song. This doesn’t matter either. The point is that there is a universal sentiment described here; the fear of age and the fear of death. This is not just about the worry that life will end, but it’s about the downward journey toward that end, and the fear that the search for beauty is also about the embrace of something which is ultimately about pain. This is a sobering set of thoughts, yet beautiful in their honesty.

Check out the clip to hear this superlative song by Bob Dylan, and tell me what you think.

6 thoughts on “The Song in My Head Today: ‘Not Dark Yet’ by Bob Dylan

  1. Hey Tom,

    You’re spoiled for choice on that record. But NDY is undeniable. I also like ‘Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” which centers on a lot of the same themes. Among Dylan’s recent trilogy, I think TOoM is the strongest entry. I really like Love & Theft, and Modern Times. But that TOoM knocks it out of the park song for song.

  2. TOom is more “gut-wrenching”, and with the opening number pulls you in. I remember how amazed I was at just how much greatness Dylan still had in him.

    ‘Love and Theft’ is a more “fun” album, which made sense after all the darkness of TOom. ‘Missisippi’, ‘Summer Days, ‘High Water’, and ‘Sugar Daddy’ are highlights for me, but like its predecessor it is consistent throughout.

    ‘Modern Times’ is the third wheel in the trilogy, in my opinion. While ‘Ain’t Talking’ is incredible Dylan, the rest of the album never reaches anywhere near that high. It’s good, but the two previous were great.

  3. Agreed on MT being the weakest I think, although the high points are just as high as on L&T. “Ain’t Talkin’” and “When the Deal Goes Down” are undeniable too. L&T has the advantage of “High Water (For Charley Patton)” on there, which is a towering track.

    The thing which most resonates with me on this trilogy is that it feels like Dylan has arrived at a logical place musically. He started his career trying to sound experienced and wearied, and for the most part he pulls off the performance. But, you’re aware that it is a young man who is making himself sound old. And now, his attempt to sound this way is aided by the fact that he is experienced and, to some degree, wearied. As such, the songs leap out at you, completely believable, because he’s an older man sounding old.

  4. A gem for sure. This is definitely one of his most listenable albums. NDY is full of eloquence and the imagery is more “standard” than what we are used to getting from Dylan – which is why I like it, more of an easy connection.

    I’ll have to listen to it with fresh ears when I’m 80 and get even more out of the song.

  5. Hey Zaak,

    By the time we’re all 80, I hope we’ll experience the reflection of our own lives in a better light than on this song! 🙂

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