HONEST WITH ME
Another Chicago style blues, and indeed set there, though rarely do the likes of Muddy Waters sing about a woman with a face 'like a teddy bear'. More medicine show imagery – “the Siamese twins are comin' to town” – or is this warring Tweedledee and Tweedledum again? There is one joke that you get only if you read the song in Lyrics. “I'm going off into the woods, I'm hunting bear” is re-spelt “hunting bare”, picking up the “stark naked” of the previous line. This new song plunders wholesale lines from an Old Civil War ballad supporting the south. And the Armageddon awaiting the USA is again prefigured: “when I left home the sky split open wide.” “Some things are too terrible to be true.”
A confrontational, me-to-you song in the spirit of mid-1960s excess, Honest With Me features some Michael Bloomfield-style guitar pyrotechnics courtesy of Dylan right and left-hand guitar men from the latest editions of The Never Ending Tour, most notably Charlie sexton and Larry Campbell, who did wonders with Honest With Me when Dylan began performing it as an encore in his fall 2001 concerts in support of Love And Theft.
In that slot, Honest With Me was the uptempo highlight of the show’s finale segment and featured passionate slide work by Campbell and the fury of a man in an ugly world. “Well, I’m stranded in the city that never sleeps, “ Dylan snarls, “Some of these women they just give me the creeps.”
As with some of the songs in his back pocket, Dylan draws on the notion of memory to highlight Honest With Me. In Mr Tambourine Man, he wanted “all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves” so he could “forget about today until tomorrow.” More recently, on Million Miles, he was “drifting in and out of dreamless sleep, throwing all my memories in a ditch so deep.” And still, the past brings nothing but pain. “These memories I got they can strangle a man,” he sings on Honest With Me, because “some things are too terrible to be true.”
On an album dripping with the deep south, Dylan then defiantly quotes the traditional Civil war song, I’m A Good Old Rebel, “I’m not sorry for nothing I’ve done / I’m glad I fought, I only wish we’d won.”
And he has not given up the fight, “I’m here to create a new imperial empire,” he proclaims, “I’m gonna do whatever circumstances require.”
He will even try a sly seduction, “You say my eyes are pretty and my smile is nice,” he offers, “Well, I’ll sell it to ya at a reduced price.”
Poking deeper for reference, fans of Dr Junichi Saga’s book, Confessions Of A Yakuza, might recognise how the original’s “I won’t come any more if it bothers you” becomes, in Dylan’s song, “Some things are too terrible to be true / I won’t come here no more if it bothers you.”
A final note – the version of Honest With Me released on Grammy Nominees 2002 was recorded by Dylan and his band at the rehearsal for the show.