Certain Songs #108: Bob Dylan – “High Water (For Charley Patton)”


Album: “Love and Theft”.

Year: 2001.

“Love and Theft” famously came out on September 11, 2001, making it the second most important thing to happen that day but forever intertwined from a pop culture standpoint. As a matter of fact, some of the commentary surrounding the album made it seem like Dylan kinda knew what the post 9-11 zeitgeist was going to be as he was making the record. Which was insane, but went to the doomy quality of a song like “High Water (For Charley Patton)”.

Filled with eerie backing vocals, drums that imply a beat more than play them, and eternally riding upon a doomy combo of banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar, “High Water (For Charley Patton)” certainly sounds post-apocalyptic enough. 

So when Dylan sings:

Things are breakin’ up out there
High water everywhere

you definitely want to start heading for higher ground.

But like much of “Love and Theft,”  – which is easily Dylan’s funniest album since Highway 61 Revisited – the takeaway from “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is this:  apocalypse is coming, and man is it funny! Which accounts for great verses like this one:

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
“You can’t open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view”
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff,
“I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don’t care”
High water everywhere

Message: I used to not care, but things have changed. 

Fan-made video for “High Water (For Charley Patton)”

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