I’ll Keep It with Mine from Stena James on Vimeo.

Elwood, Melbourne. Some years ago.

Dylan is all about cuts. He communicates in versions.

He is the magpie, the bowerbird, the blue jay. Bob Dylan collects words. He rephrases his music again and again. So many histories and time capsules winding themselves unreservedly across space. Dylan expresses his way into a song as easy as putting on a coat.

I’ve seen him close his eyes, forgetting an audience momentarily as band members look at him for cues. He is both a mix of emotional purpose and improvisation.

I’d discovered I’ll Keep It With Mine sung by Judy Collins, who had released it in 1965, sometime in the 1980s. Later I’d listened to Nico’s version on Chelsea Girl and Sandy Denny singing it for Fairport Convention. All of them were ok.

But from the very second I heard this reverence in song from The Bootleg Series I was captivated and weepy:

Everybody will help you
Discover what you set out to find
But if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine

This take begins somewhere in the second verse as if the conversation was already going. Producer Bob Johnston is on speaker, saying, ‘What you were doing’ straight after the line, can save you any time. Dylan asks, ‘Ready?’ right before the train leaves at half past ten. I can’t hear any other version of this song without saying those words automatically where the void is left for them to be spoken.

We get to breathe particular renditions of a song. Know them intimately. Al Kooper’s organ joyfully curving along all the Cs and Fs, Rick Danko’s bass grounding every moment, Robbie Robertson’s guitar intensifying the mood, Bobby Gregg’s brushes on the drums and Dylan’s piano lamenting throughout the whole song.

Every time I hear It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry I expect to hear I’ll Keep It With Mine followed by the irrepressible She’s Your Lover Now. It becomes a blueprint and an expectation. We get to know whole sides of an LP or a run of tunes on a disc. It’s as if one song is just one limb and we crave the whole body.

After finishing this take he apparently asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ to the others. He didn’t include it on Blonde on Blonde. His performances of this song are sparse.

I often think of Dylan the night before this session as he went on New York’s WBAI FM radio show called Radio Unnameable, hosted by Bob Fass. It was the 26 January, 1966 and Bob Dylan was taking talk back calls. He was chatty, free forming and seemingly having fun.

Caller: Did you ever share a TV dinner with anyone?

Dylan: No.

After minutes of back and forth…

Bob Fass: Unless you can say something other than ‘TV dinner’ we better move onto another call…

Dylan: Why don’t you come in here and set your lipstick on fire?

He often spoke and wrote in abstractions. Yet many of his lyrics were personal and visceral.

I can’t help it if you might think I am odd
If I say I’m not loving you not for what you are
But for what you’re not

 There are many interpretations of this song: about searching for what we can’t have, offering advice as someone older and more experienced or carrying someone else’s pain as your own so they don’t have to. Or of course, it could be none of those things.

My interpretation is clouded.

I was in my early twenties, living near the beach in Elwood, in love, playing music and this song, with its optimism and tone, opened me up to heartbreak and passion completely.

Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine


The Bootleg Series, V