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Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Seventh

August 23, 2006

7. Moonshiner—Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 - Moonshiner

On my iPod I have four versions of this traditional Irish song: one by Cat Power, two by Uncle Tupelo, and one—probably the most well-known, and the one linked above—by Bob Dylan. Each is different from the others—Dylan’s is matter-of-fact; Cat Power’s stretches out a bit more; and Uncle Tupelo’s is resigned—but all tell the same story: of a man who’s “been a moonshiner for 17 long years,” and who has “spent all [his] money on whiskey and beer.”

I’ve been a moonshiner
for seventeen long years
and I spent all my money
on whiskey and beer
I go to some hollow
and set up my still
if whiskey don’t kill me
Lord, I don’t know what will

I go to some barroom
to drink with my friends
where the women they can’t follow
to see what I spend
God bless them pretty women
I wish they was mine
with breath as sweet as
the dew on the vine

Let me eat when I’m hungry
let me drink when I’m dry
two dollars when I’m hard up
religion when I die
the whole world is a bottle
and life is but a dram
when the bottle gets empty
Lord, it sure ain’t worth a damn

Only three stanzas long, this character sketch nevertheless leaves you with the feeling that you know this moonshiner, this man who has—as I’ve heard said by some—been around the world many times … on a barstool. Nothing’s left for him but his drinks, and though he looks longingly at the “pretty women,” he knows that he’ll never have them. All this has led him to the conclusion that “the whole world is a bottle and life is but a dram.”

But, as with other tragic tales, the act of telling his story lends the moonshiner a measure—a dram, you might say—of dignity … as well as immortality, as he continues to live in the voice of Dylan, Jay Farrar, Chan Marshall, and surely many more to come.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 23, 2006 10:11 pm

    as is evidenced by your prolific and poignant postings, when the bottle is empty the moonshiner is compelled to produce seven times seventy much more than before

  2. Anonymous permalink
    August 23, 2006 10:11 pm

    as is evidenced by your prolific and poignant postings, when the bottle is empty the moonshiner is compelled to produce seven times seventy much more than before

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