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Restless Farewell / Bob Dylan Annotated
(from A Master Thief)
by Will Brennan

This last song off of “The Times They are a Changin’” was written as a response to an
article on Dylan that appeared in Newsweek, November 4th, 1963. The article called Dylan out on general fabrications about his past and his denial of contact with his parents, who were in fact in New York to see him play at Carnegie Hall. Dylan had paid for their airfare and hotel. The rumor in the article that stung him most, though, was that he hadn’t written “Blowin in the Wind,” but had bought it from a New Jersey high school student for $1000. The student, Lorre Wyatt, later denied any such dealings, and admitted that he’d made the whole thing up, and had in fact learned the song from a “Sing Out” pamphlet before it was recorded by Dylan, then played it at his high school assembly with his folk group, The Millburnaires, claiming he’d written it. Not unlike the 16 year old Bob Zimmerman, who claimed authorship of  “Little Buddy”  by Hank Snow, publishing it under his name in his camp newsletter.  

The Newsweek article itself was mainly true, though, and not especially vicious – it was more curious and probing with an occasionally harsh tone – the writer seems gleefully baffled that this young prophet of all things truthful and righteous would twist the truth in such incredible ways that were so easy to discover. Dylan appears to have been especially thin-skinned in the whole affair, perhaps because he’d received such accolades and adulation and now here he was partly naked, at the mercy of his own myth-making.

"Restless Farewell" was taken very liberally from the traditional Irish song, "The Parting Glass," a drinking song often sung at the end of the night in a pub. Dylan learned it from The Clancy Brothers, and barely changed it for "Restless Farewell," though, depending on your viewpoint, Dylan’s lyrics are superior. They are certainly edgier and more compelling than those of "The Parting Glass." "The Parting Glass" is sadder and more poignant, wistful – "Restless Farewell" is caustic - the singer turns his back on his past and heads on down the road, because he’s got to keep moving or he’ll be brought down by the forces of his foes.

Comparing the first verses of each, the tone is nearly identical, the content slightly changed. The melody is extremely close in both.

Restless Farewell

Oh all the money that in my whole life I did spend
Be it mine right or wrongfully
I let it slip gladly past the hands of my friends
To tie up the time most forcefully
But the bottles are done
We’ve killed each one
And the table’s full and overflowed
And the corner sign
Says it’s closing time
So I’ll bid farewell and be down the road

The Parting Glass

O, all the money e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that ever I've done,
alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
to mem'ry now I can't recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all.

The same can be said for the second verses of both, the emotional similarity is very close and the story likewise – "The Parting Glass" includes comrades with the girls, "Restless Farewell" doesn’t.  

Restless Farewell

Oh ev’ry girl that ever I’ve touched
I did not do it harmfully
And ev’ry girl that ever I’ve hurt
I did not do it knowin’ly
But to remain as friends
And make amends
You need the time and stay behind
And since my feet are now fast
And point away from the past
I’ll bid farewell and be down the line

The Parting Glass

O, all the comrades e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts e'er I had,
They'd wished me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be with you all.

It’s here that Dylan breaks free of his source song, feeling the need to explain himself to the world.

Oh ev’ry foe that ever I faced
The cause was there before we came
And ev’ry cause that ever I fought
I fought it full without regret or shame
But the dark does die
As the curtain is drawn and somebody’s eyes
Must meet the dawn
And if I see the day
I’d only have to stay
So I’ll bid farewell in the night and be gone

Oh, ev’ry thought that’s strung a knot in my mind
I might go insane if it couldn’t be sprung
But it’s not to stand naked under unknowin’ eyes
It’s for myself and my friends my stories are sung
But the time ain’t tall, yet on time you depend
And no word is possessed by no special friend
And though the line is cut
It ain’t quite the end
I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again

Oh a false clock tries to tick out my time
To disgrace, distract, and bother me
And the dirt of gossip blows into my face
And the dust of rumors covers me
But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick
So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn

The word damn has perhaps never sounded so final or spitting, exccept perthaps coming
out of Clark Gable's mouth in the last line of Gone With the Wind. Whether or not Dylan is referencing that movie is hard to tell, but it's certainly possible. There's no uncertainty about the hard stand he takes, one Dylan would repeat over and over throughout his life – a lone man confident in what he is doing on this earth and in what he needs to continue to do, turning his back and walking away from where he was and follow whatever it is he sees as his ongoing path. This is a continuing pattern, observable in his actions again and again – going electric at Newport, becoming a country squire, embracing born-again Christianity, casting it aside, making records that stand apart from musical trends, being true to whatever he believes at any particular time, then changing. Walking off alone.

Many people wonder why he would want to continue going on his never-ending tour regimen, when he’s got all the money he could ever want, all the fame he could ever need,
all the awards and accolades a man could possibly rack up in one lifetime. The answer,
I believe, is in this song, in those last three lines - what surely has become Bob Dylan's never-ending credo. He needs to move, it's become an ingrained way of life - me I'm just on the road, heading for another joint... Dylan keeps the world at his back, because whatever is coming next is what matters.

So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn

Crawdaddy Magazine