Closing Time: Bob Dylan and Going Out in Style
Bob Dylan could teach a master class in dropping the mic. He has a longstanding tradition of concluding albums with songs that rank among his finest and be they funny, sweet, or epic, they serve as punctuation marks in the man’s career and life.
The final cut from every album was not always a monster (that mid-career fallow period was brutal at times), but the tradition was established early with his self-titled first album. “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” was written and recorded by Blind Lemon in 1928 and was recorded by many blues artists before Dylan covered it. His take is noticeably darker than Blind Lemon’s in melody and vocal tone, which is weird because the lyrics are incredibly dark (the apparent mismatch could be blamed on the dominant style of the time; you can hear a church influence in Lemon’s singing and playing.).
If ever there was a criticism to be levied against Dylan as a musician, it was that voice. It’s certainly not good on “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” but it stands out as one of his more evocative performances. He’s desperate and he pleads and reaches into the gut to pull off some of these lines. Dylan sings with a commitment that would abandon him in a few short years (he does stifle a laugh at the 2:20 mark though). It’s a treat to hear him sing before cigarettes destroyed his voice.
He was only 20 when the song was released and he’s still got some of that baby fat on the album cover. The fun thing is that this is the last moment before there were any of the personas that he created for himself or and none yet to rebel against. This era is the most pure folkie Dylan. Next up: the protest era.