Thanks to Bob Wilson for referring me to the nice version of Bob Dylan’s heart-rending song “I Believe in You” by Alison Krauss. She’s performing with the house band of the Transatlantic Session TV series. Clip from YouTube below.
If one had never heard of the song before, I guess that it would come across here as a song of devotion to a lover who is strangely unpopular with everyone else; an individual who most people are warning you against. Something like a more-meditative take on the “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las maybe: “My folks were always putting him down (down, down) / They said he came from the wrong side of town / They told me he was bad / But I knew he was sad / That’s why I fell for the leader of the pack …”
Or like “Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles: “You should hear what they say about you. (“cheat, cheat”) /
They say, you never, never, never gonna be true / It doesn’t matter what they say / I know I’m gonna love you any old way / What can I do? It’s true / Don’t want nobody / ‘Cause baby it’s you”
The song it echoes most conspicuously is the old classic “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”: “They asked me how I knew / My true love was true / Oh, I of course replied / Something here inside cannot be denied.” But that song ends in unambiguous (if also aesthetically exquisite) disappointment.
Bob Dylan’s version, of-course, goes like this, at least in the first verse: “They ask me how I feel / And if my love is real / And how I know I’ll make it through / And they, they look at me and frown / They’d like to drive me from this town / They don’t want me around / ‘Cause I believe in you”
It counts as the only song on Slow Train Coming that could be heard in a completely “secular” way, if divorced from the context of that album. However, as a song of trust in a human lover, I think it would then be flawed by lines which in that reading would be a little over-the-top: “I believe in you when winter turn to summer / I believe in you when white turn to black”. When winter turns to summer is all very well, but when white turns to black you really might want to consult a marriage therapist, if not a divorce lawyer.
But it is a deeply poignant ballad, and also a really beautiful pop tune. Hearing what Alison Krauss does with it makes me wonder why it hasn’t been covered more often. It’s one that could take off, like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and suddenly you’d be hearing it everywhere, sung by every two-bit talent contest competitor and cartoon character. But then, Bob Dylan already has one of those; it’s called “Make You Feel My Love.” (Which, again, is a song that mixes the language of love with more divine themes. A powerful combo, it seems.)