Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

October 19, 2008

New Dylan Mystery: What Happened in "Mississippi" Anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:14 pm

Okay, he’s put no less than 3 (!) versions of this song on the new bootleg series. Three versions! I’ll admit I have only the two on the two-disc CD set because the third, as most fans know costs upward of a hundred dollars, and I just don’t feel comfortable asking for a press freebie. (“An’ here I sit so patiently tryng to find out what price/You have to pay to get outta/Goin’ through all these things thrice”).

Maybe those of you who have the third version are in on the secret. Maybe it’s all explained on the magic Third Disc. And maybe you want to to keep it a scret having paid so dearly for it. I don’t blame you, I guess.

But what I want to know is why this song above all others. Yeah, I like it, I’d even call it a neglected classic. (originally recorded for 1997’s Time Out of Mind. But more importantly what’s the metaphoric resonance of that haunting line: “Only one thing I did wrong/Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”

It’s kind of rueful, a wry acceptance of fate, not a lot of regret, or wishing he weren’t the kind of guy who’d have done whatever “stayed in Mississippi a day too long” means to him. Mississippi could refer to the political engagement of his early civil rights work, or to the swampy romantic entnaglements of his later songs.

One way or another he got in too deep. But he wouldn’t necessarily do it differenty. At least that’s how I hear it.

But I wonder what “it” is. Any thoughts?



  1. Those lines are haunting, and haunted. They’re adapted from one of the songs Alan Lomax collected at Parchman prison farm in Mississippi back in the 1940s, “Rosie.”

    That begins, “Ain’t but one thing I done wrong / Stayed in Mississippi just a day too long…” It’s the reference point for Dylan’s lines “I was thinking about the things that Rosie said / I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie’s bed,” too.

    The prisoner in “Rosie” doesn’t give specifics on what he might’ve done either. Just his situation and a feeling that can be pretty much universal–and it becomes a seed of Dylan’s very great song. Dylan chases that dialectic of isolation and love right down to the end, “cold as the clay,” verse after amazing verse. I think the version on the first disc is especially fine and compelling.

    And I think you’re spot on with your interpretation of the song (I thought the same) but maybe “Mississippi” the metaphor doesn’t come so directly out of his life, as out of the vast culture Dylan carries with him.

    (By the way, I didn’t get the three-disc set either but I’m told that it does have some alternate lyrics on that third “Mississippi.” Maybe someday!)

    Comment by Fred Mecklenburg — October 20, 2008 @ 12:12 am | Reply

  2. I’ve been obsessed with this song since my first wife bought me “Love and Theft” as a birthday gift in September 2001, a few days before 9/11 and three years before our marriage went bust. The wistful tune on the first “bootleg” disc seems to me a great improvement over the somewhat overproduced album version, and, never a small consideration with Dylan, the lyrics are one hell of a lot easier to understand.

    The resonances of the song seem largely personal to me. “So many things that we never will undo/I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too” is quite a note of regret coming from he who once snarled sarcastically to a lost lover, “you just kinda wasted my precious time, but don’t think twice, it’s all right!” And I’ve never heard obsession over lost love, which in real life gets pretty tiresome, expressed with such lovely poetry as in the couplet, “I was thinkin ’bout the things that Rosie said/I was dreamin I was sleepin in Rosie’s bed.”

    While many other interpretations are possible, I’ve always read “stayed in Mississippi a day too long” as a metaphor for remaining mired in emotional and spiritual poverty, as Mississippi is one of the poorest and most backward states of the Union.

    On a related note, I wonder whether we Dylanologists should be looking for “Tell Tale Signs” of a Shakespearean “Dark Lady” young Bobby Zimmerman left behind in Minnesota, now that “the girl from the Red River shore” has joined the “Girl from the North Country” in the oeuvre. Any thoughts?

    Comment by Martin Berman-Gorvine — October 20, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  3. I don’t know what it means, but it set me thinking about that whole side story in the last third of BD’s Chronciles, Volume One, where he describes heading out of New Oreleans with his wife and running into Sun Pie. I just picked it up and read it again; it’s very nice.

    Comment by Jemmy Button — October 20, 2008 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  4. Billie Jo MacCallister jumped off the Tallahachie Bridge

    Comment by charlie finch — October 21, 2008 @ 10:35 am | Reply

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