Bob Dylan + the Band, “Going Going Gone” (1974): Across the Great Divide

A song like this speaks to why Bob Dylan got back together with the Band for 1974’s Planet Waves, so perfect is their musical reaction to the frayed, scarifying lyric on “Going Going Gone.” Robbie Robertson’s suffocated retorts find plenty of room to move around in Levon Helm’s skeletal cadence, creating a sound (as Tim Riley rightly noted) that approximates a rope tightening around Dylan’s neck.

At least, at first.

He’s lost in despair; his heart’s in pieces. You can almost hear the claw marks, as he descends inexorably downward. Bob Dylan has rarely sounded more forthright, or more abject, and Rick Danko’s keening second vocal serves to trace a deeper despair. But there’s something to cling to, it seems, in this fleeting sense of finally being free — of belatedly taking control of your own destiny, no matter how confusing that may be.

The Band brilliantly captures this sense of worry mixed with promise, as “Going Going Gone” ends with a rousing, ultimately open-ended instrumental passage. Robbie Robertson takes a worrisome and frenetic turn, even as Garth Hudson’s organ searches for a more steady purchase. If you listen hard enough, and really let this song in, that both echoes Bob Dylan’s final devastating admission of failure and brings to mind the hint of his long-hoped-for escape.

Balancing these two impulses, the need for community and the desire to make your own way in this world, would have been that much harder without the canny musical additions made by the Band. All of the evidence you need can be found in the stripped-out version above, featuring a sad and wrecked Bob Dylan singing over nothing more than a searching acoustic. All of a sudden, “Going Going Gone” is far less enigmatic — and far less effective.

I love the mystery of Dylan’s expanded take with the Band, part of a tough and instinctive six-session run to complete Planet Waves; I love that it can give you a different answer each time. I love that it leaves you at an emotional crossroads we’ve all been to — where the certainty of past failures meets the promise of what might come next.

Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso