Dirt Road Blues

This second song on ‘Time Out Of Mind’ takes up and advances the ideas of the first – as do most songs on the album. Walking, hoping to continue a relationship, shadows and clouds are again all present. So is the narrator’s lethargy. If walking represents trying to find a way back to the woman, he seems to opt for the easy way out – walking, he says:

‘… ’til someone lets me ride’

And if he’s unsuccessful, he’s:

‘… gonna run away and hide’

– again, pretty pathetic.

The impression that the narrator is pathetic continues into the second verse. ‘Pacing around the room’ is hardly going to achieve much; neither is merely ‘hoping she’ll come back’.

At this point the song takes up a theme barely hinted at in Love Sick.:

‘Well I been praying for salvation
Laying around in a one-room country shack’

The laying around is true to form, but why is it salvation he’s praying for rather than the solution to his problem? Presumably ‘praying’ and ‘salvation’ are both being used metaphorically by the narrator.  He means no more than that his hoping a resolution to his situation will come along. Nevertheless, salvation – being healed spiritually – is a religious notion, and the writer at least seems to be suggesting that the narrator is in need of such healing.

The narrator’s lack of commitment to finding a solution to his problem is again emphasised in the third verse:

‘Gon’ walk down that dirt road, until my eyes begin to bleed
Til there’s nothing left to see’

His behaviour seems ostrich-like – pretending there’s nothing to be aware of if he manages to make himself not see it. In Love Sick we learnt he had apparently blinded himself to his lover’s distress, though this was now starting to affect his conscience. Here he is continuing to delude himself.

He goes on to compare himself to a prisoner in chains, waiting helplessly:

‘Til the chains have been shattered and I’ve been freed’

It’s difficult to see how the prisoner metaphor might be appropriate, since (on the evidence of Love Sick) no one’s preventing him from taking positive action. In fact he just seems to be putting the blame elsewhere for his continuing misery. There’s no hint that he’s trying to escape from the chains.

As in ‘Love Sick’ his listlessness is represented in the fourth verse by shadow-watching. Again, it doesn’t immediately seem to be the positive action required. Here it’s his own shadow, though, so the suggestion might be that he’s at least beginning to achieve self-knowledge. Also the clouds which are weeping in the earlier song have become ‘colours up above’. This too suggests a more positive outlook,  suggesting the narrator is prepared to accept that there’s hope. The nature of the hope is unclear, but there’s a further hint at incipient salvation in the final verse which begins:

Lord, gonna walk down that dirt road…’

This seems more like a genuine apostrophising of God, as if the narrator is at last looking beyond just himself. No substantial progress is made until the third song, Standing In The Doorway however. Here the song ends with his putting  the onus for action on the woman as he waits for her  to ‘holler out my name’.


Minor adjustments 2.3.17

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