YOU’RE A BIG GIRL NOW
Dylan / Cameron Crowe
“Blood On The Tracks was another one of those records we went in and did in three or four days,” Dylan commented, “I had the acetate. I hadn’t listened to it for a couple of months. I didn’t think I’d got this song off. The record still hadn’t come out, and I put it on. I just didn’t – I thought the songs could have sounded differently, better so I went in and re-recorded them.”
This first version of You’re A Big Girl Now is one of six songs that Dylan later re-cut with a Minneapolis band. By that time, the lyrics and mood of the song had changed. ”You’re A Big Girl Now, well, I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that. I mean it couldn’t be about anybody else but my wife, right? Stupid and misleading jerks sometimes these interpreters are – I mean I’m always trying to stay one step ahead of myself and keep changing with the times, right? Like that’s my foolish mission. How many roles can I play? Fools, they limit you to their own unimaginative mentality. They never stop to think that somebody has been exposed to experiences that they haven’t been. Anyway, it’s not even the experience that counts, it’s the attitude toward the experience. There is so much misunderstanding by people who are caught up in their own little worlds laid on you – contrary to what some so-called experts believe, I don’t constantly “reinvent” myself – I was there from the beginning. I’m also not any seeker or a searcher of God knows what, had it all together awhile back and can go any kind of way. There’s nothing in any of my songs to ever imply that I’m even halfway searching for some lost gold at the end of any great mysterious rainbow. Propaganda, that’s all that is – never have considered myself as an outsider looking in, everything I do is done from the inside out, you know. I’m a mystery only to those who haven’t felt the same things I have. You can’t take my stuff and verbalise it, like I don’t write confessional songs. Emotion’s got nothing to do with it. It only seems so, like it seems that Laurence Olivier is Hamlet. Well, actually, I did write one once and it wasn’t very good – it was a mistake to record it and I regret it, back there somewhere on maybe my third or fourth album.”
A sequel to Just Like A Woman. The phrase is ironically patronising to anyone but a child. Rarely has his singing been more openly emotional. His stresses on the interjection “oh” reminds me of the screaming mouth of the sufferer in Edvard Munch’s painting. The narrator, “back in the rain”, is singing through tears, and going out of his mind with “a corkscrew to my heart”. The irony is that the woman feels liberated while the narrator suffers. In the Biograph notes, Dylan rants at the suggestion this was about his wife. “I’m a mystery only to those who haven’t felt the same things I have.”
When Dylan is really hot, he creates a new sound not just with every album but with every performance on the album. You're A Big Girl Now is startling in the originality of its musical structure as well as in the raw power of Dylan's lyrics and the way he sings them. Each verse of this song is a separate monologue, as if Dylan were an actor stepping to the back of the stage and then coming forward again as he thinks of something else he wants to say to the lady. Dylan complains in the Biograph notes about "stupid and misleading jerks" (critics) who have suggested this song is "about my wife." Let us say, then, that it is a song sung by an imagin¬ary person whose present relationship with the person he is singing to is not altogether unlike the performer's relationship with his own estranged spouse (which perhaps is why the performer can throw himself into the song so passionately). Likewise Shelter From The Storm is about another invented character who once had a woman do for him something not unlike what Sara Lowndes did for Robert Zimmerman back in 1965 or so. And in a typical clever Dylan inversion, Shelter From The Storm comes along much later in the album sequence, although the first verse of You’re A Big Girl Now ("I'm back in the rain") establishes it clearly as a sequel to Shelter From The Storm.
Dylan's harmonica solo at the end of You're A Big Girl Now is a fine example of how effective his shoot-from-the-hip, primitive, ballsy approach to music-making can be. He and the band reach for and brilliantly achieve something that could never have been described if he had tried to tell them or himself beforehand what he had in mind.
Richard Hell – Mojo 100 Greatest Dylan Songs #77
Talking about Dylan is too complicated for just a few words. You can see why everybody writes books about him. It seems that anybody who likes him at all has a relationship with him, whether they admit it or not. He has been that useful, meaningful and exasperating all your life long. No wonder he resents his fans. And this song is the one for me that is the most revealing of his bewildering powers because it is the one that has the greatest distance between its emotional impact and its actual words. How does he make those silly words so affecting? “Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast”. Where is the poetry in that? The metaphor is obvious and the observation commonplace, but in the song, it breaks your heart. I think maybe it is something about both his openness and the way his mind skips around in his condition, somehow indicating the shape of everything, and I mean everything. It is how the lines turn into each other. For instance, the whole beginning of that stanza goes, “”Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast / Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last / I can change, I swear”. No one line is much more than banal, but it is how they follow from each other that makes that “I can change, I swear” choke me up every time. Or is it his delivery? Or the melody? Or the weird way saying, “You’re a big girl now” is inherently sarcastic, when obviously what is going on is he wants her more than anything? It is all the currents, in something apparently so simple and ordinary. There is no explaining it.
One of six songs Dylan recorded in New York in September 1974 which he re-recorded later in 1974 for Blood On The Tracks. You’re A Big Girl Now is a return to a theme common to Dylan’s work in the 1960s, and which ran, subtly, even though his brighter work of the early-1970s – abandonment. And while each of Dylan’s releases of the song is different – as if he cannot make his mind up on the whole messy subject – the portrait of a man romantically, spiritually and physically bereft is always clear enough.
Perhaps taking its cue from Hank Williams’ I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You), another song in which the narrator observes from afar his former girl moving on to new romantic vistas, Dylan’s leading man in You’re A Big Girl Now is haunted by the realisation that her instincts were correct. The songs share some lyrical qualities as well. Compare Williams’, “Today I passed you on the street / And my heart fell at your feet / I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you” with lyrics from You’re A Big Girl Now, “Out conversation was short and sweet / It nearly swept me off-a my feet / And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh / And you are on dry land / You made it there somehow / You’re a big girl now”.
You’re A Big Girl Now is one of many songs from Blood On The Tracks in which Dylan pulled down the masks that had previously obscured the line between his song’s narrators and their author. Peter Hamill, in his Blood On The Tracks liner notes, quotes Irish poet WB Yeats (“We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel wuth ourselves poetry”) in portraying the songs on Dylan’s masterful collection as the confessional product of a man searching for the emotional truth at the core of human interaction. It is a quarrel that can be heard in lines like, “I can change, I swear, oh, oh / See what you can do / I can make it through / You can make it too”. And it a quarrel that can be observed on every great work – be it a panel on the Parthenon frieze or In The Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra’s assemblage of introspective, brokenhearted ballads. Sinatra did not even write any of these songs, yet it is obvious that he chose them for the same reasons that Dylan settled on the final track-list of Blood On The Tracks – they are songs that ut to the marrow.
Dylan always denied that the tortured, agonisingly vulnerable songs on Blood On The Tracks were autobiograpgical, but somehow the denials could never ring true. When speaking of You’re A Big Girl Now in the liner notes to Biograph, he observed, “I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that. I mean, it couldn’t be about anybody else but my wife, right? Stupid and misleading jerks sometimes these interpreters are. Fools, they limit you to their own unimaginative mentality. They never stop to think that somebody has been exposed to experiences that they haven’t been. Anyway, it’s not the experience that counts, it’s the attitude towards the experience.”
Okay, so call us stupid.
A song overflowing with remorse, You’re A Big Girl Now was first performed with the 1976 version of The Rolling Thunder Revue as Dylan sang it as though he was both chiding his soon-to-be ex-wife Sara and still pining for her big-time – an odd but strangely effective contradiction. Dylan kept the song close by for some shows during the globe-trotting 1978 tour but did not return to it until one 1987 concert with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. A frequent Never Ending Tour inclusion, You’re A Big Girl Now was performed in the late-1980s and throughout the 1990s, but rarely in the early-2000s.
Published lyric/s: Lyrics 85; Lyrics 04.
Known studio recordings: A&R Studios, NYC, 16 September 1974 – 1 take; 17 September 1974 – 2 takes [BIO - tk. 2]; 19 September 1974 – 1 take; Sound 80, Minneapolis MN, 30 December 1974. [BoTT]
First known performance: Hattiesburg, MS, 1 May 1976.
“I had a couple of years there where I went out to be by myself quite a bit of the time, and that's where I experienced those kinds of songs on Blood on the Tracks. I'll do anything to write a song. I used to anyway.” Dylan to Lynne Allen, December 1978
If the New York recording of Tangled Up In Blue ultimately failed to satisfy its author, the version of You're A Big Girl Now recorded the same week seems to have made him plain uncomfortable. The first of a punnet of ultra-personal songs now entered in the notebook, it would be one of only three which would make the album. You're A Big Girl Now was pain personified, that pain remaining red raw when he cut the exquisite New York version originally intended for the album (only released ten years later, on Biograph). It is to just such a recording that Blood On The Tracks engineer Phil Ramone is surely alluding when he suggests, “Emotionally he was in a state of revealing his life, and most writers don't want to tell you they're writing their autobiography, but it's there in the atmosphere, as you hear the songs unfolding.”
In You're A Big Girl Now, Dylan is writing from the vantage point of someone who, having reached the top, discovers he is really “on the bottom”. Without any secrets to conceal, he discovers a brutal honesty in the pain of loneliness (“I'm going out of my mind / With a pain that stops and starts”). He also finds an inner strength. As he told the sympathetic Julia Orange in 1978, “There's strength in that loneliness. You must have that kind of strength coming from an unbearable place to remain focused. Everything else must go. If there's anything in the way, it will interfere.”
Here, nothing is allowed to interfere. Even on its entry into the notebook, barely a word is out of place. But time not only heals, it sometimes deceives. And when Dylan's brother convinced him that the album was a little too pared-down (to the bone) it was this song, along with Idiot Wind, that he decided to re-record the two most naked, searing expressions of hurt on the whole album. On a radio show, shortly after the album's release, Dylan expressed mystification that, “People tell me they enjoy [Blood On The Tracks]. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, people enjoying that type of pain.” The strength that had led him to write and record this song had drained away by the time he entered Sound 80 Studios on 27 December 1974, to be replaced by a ghostly memory of its all-consuming hurt.
Not surprisingly, the song went unattempted live after he and Sara became ostensibly reconciled. Only on the second leg of The Rolling Thunder Revue, in the spring of 1976, did he remember why he wrote it, playing it long and hard enough to warrant inclusion on the Hard Rain album. Though there have been subsequent restorations, he has not returned to said “unbearable place” since (save perhaps for the Rundown rehearsal version from 1 February 1978). Throughout 1978 and the GE Smith era of the Never Ending Tour (1988-1990), as Dylan waved a fond farewell to Love Minus Zero / No Limit, it acquired a nonchalance not altogether befitting such a baring of the soul.