I’ve just noticed that in the wake of Miley Cyrus’s popular (and genuinely quite fine) cover version of Bob Dylan’s song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” there’s been an explosion of amateur performers on YouTube who have been inspired by Miley and are clearly doing their versions of her version. It seems to be mimicking the trend where thousands of amateurs (not to mention professionals) have taken to singing Adele’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” That song has become, in effect, a modern standard, thanks to all the cover versions. It’s not as if “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was unknown before Miley Cyrus did it, but it was not anything like a standard, not like certain other Dylan songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Although it’s a beautiful song, with a wonderful tension of sadness and exuberance, there’s a certain lyrical quirkiness to it that probably kept it out of the repertoires of most singers. And by quirkiness I’m really referring to this verse:
Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
The singer is comparing his own history of bad relationships to the two French poets, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, who had a homosexual affair which ended, more or less, when Verlaine shot Rimbaud (Rimbaud was not badly injured, but Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison for the act). A lot of singers have probably figured that (1) nobody will know who Verlaine and Rimbaud are and (2) it’s probably better to keep it that way.
However, it’s a great line; it’s a great gag. It’s a key example of the exquisite balance of humor and poignancy that really defines the song. The singer is saying goodbye to someone he seems to love very deeply, a soul-mate whom he will never be able to forget, and yet he’s attempting to do it with the lightest of touches, as if deliberately chuckling in an effort to prevent the tears from beginning to flow.
Yer gonna make me wonder what I’m doin’
Stayin’ far behind without you
Yer gonna make me wonder what I’m sayin’
Yer gonna make me give myself a good talkin’ to
Dylan’s uptempo, cheerful performance—which sticks out sharply on the generally downbeat album Blood On The Tracks—cements the dichotomy between the great sadness of the parting and the sparkling humor of the farewell. Miley Cyrus’s version (from the album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan) is a tad slower, which makes the sorrowful elements harder to miss.
I suppose it won’t be accurate to call the song a standard until there are more cover versions by professional singers. I have a feeling that there will be. Miley Cyrus’s interpretation has lifted the song out of its relative obscurity, and it’s easy to see it being picked up by other singers, especially in the area of country music. So it seems that Bob Dylan owes one to Hannah Montana (and vice versa, since the exposure she’s gotten this with tune has boosted Miley’s credibility to no small degree).