Call it Justified Anger. Call it Righteous Indignation. Call it what you will, but when we are angry, an almost serene sense of calm can surround us as we realize we are angry, and that we have every right to be angry. The other person (whoever that other person might be) did the wrong thing (whatever that thing was), and our anger is justified. Time to take a deep breath. Everything will be OK.
This sense of serene calmness is beautifully reflected in Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The cover for the album shows Dylan walking down the snow covered streets of Greenwich Village in New York, barely keeping warm in a threadbare jacket, huddling close his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who he was living with at the time.
During the recording sessions for the album, Rotolo left to study in Italy, and Dylan soon came to realize their relationship was coming to an end.
Though still best known for his political songs, such as “Blowin’ in The Wind” and “The Times They Are a Changin’,” Dylan was certainly no stranger to harsher music that challenged the listener not only with difficult messages but also music that could be harsh, heavy and bluesy. On “Freewheelin” alone were songs such as “Masters of War” and “Down the Highway.”
Looking at the lyrics, “Don’t Think Twice” maybe should have been a heavy blues song, with Dylan angrily lashing out at the woman who left him behind. But the music is gentle. Welcoming. Inviting. Soft acoustic arpeggios lull us into what may feel like a false sense of sweetness and love. We soon realize the words being sung are not so gentle and sweet.
“It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m travellin’ on
Don’t think twice it’s all right”
Dylan is hiding behind lyrics in plain sight. I am moving on, and it’s your fault. The message is there, laying low behind the inviting music, and steeped in harmless country and folk music tradition and cadence, but the anger is there, seething just beneath the surface. There is nothing here to save, even if we tried.
“Still I wish there was something you would do or say
To try to make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talking anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right.”
There is nothing left to fight for, there are no more arguments to be had. Dylan now digs deeper. Not only is he now done working on the relationship, it was a waste of his time to begin with. Goodbye.
“I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice it’s all right.”
NPR music critic Bob Mason writes “(“Don’t Think Twice” is) perfectly constructed, the rhymes and chords and emotive qualities of Dylan’s voice melding perfectly in a sad song of lost love. Yet when placed in the context of Rotolo/Dylan story, one can see it as a perfect mirror image—an inversion—of genuine love and genuine longing, rather as a way of showing off one’s sensitivity and plaintively expressing how hurt one is, yet blaming that hurt on someone else.”
Though I could not find an acceptable video of Dylan singing this song, I am sure he is just as fond of this version by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard as I am.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”
Written and Performed by Bob Dylan
Released August 1963