March 07, 2016

Bob Dylan - Boots of Spanish Leather (1964)

Lyrically, the song below is rumored to have been inspired by the separation of Bob Dylan and his girlfriend of the time, Suze Rotolo. In June 1962, Rotolo left New York and traveled to Perugia, Italy with her mother to study art for six months at the University of Perugia. Besides the song below, the separation of the two is also said to have inspired the songs “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “One Too Many Mornings,” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.”

Later in 1962, Dylan traveled to England to fulfill contractual obligations. Once his obligations had been completed, Dylan traveled to Italy, hoping to find Rotolo. Unfortunately, she had already returned to New York- to the apartment they shared together- around the same time that Dylan had left New York bound for England. It was in Italy, alone, where Dylan wrote the song below.

And although Dylan and Rotolo would be reunited in 1963, fate was not kind to their union. In 1963, Rotolo became pregnant, but had an abortion. Between this, Dylan’s affair with Joan Baez, and Dylan not getting along with Rotolo’s family (whom she was quite close with), the couple ended their relationship. The breakup resulted in Dylan’s bitter song “Ballad in Plain D.”

Musically, the song below borrows its melody from English folk singer Martin Carthy's arrangement of the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair.” Lyrically, it tells a tale loosely inspired by the events above, in which a woman is leaving her lover; and, in an effort to cheer him up, offers to purchase him a gift from where she’s going. Her lover responds by telling her that all he’d like is for her to return to him. But, as time goes on, she informs him that she may not return. And, presumably becoming bitter, he asks her for the expensive “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.”

The first six verses of the song alternate between the dialogue of the man and the woman, beginning with the woman leaving. The last alternating verse (the sixth), as well as the seventh, eighth, and ninth verses, are all from the man who has been left.

album art

Bob Dylan - Boots of Spanish Leather (1964)

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Oh, I’m sailing away, my own true love
I’m sailing away in the morning
Is there something I can send you from across the sea
From the place that I’ll be landing?

No, there’s nothing you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothing I’m wishing to be owning
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona

But if I had the stars of the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishing to be owning

That I might be gone a long, old time
And it’s only that I’m asking
Is there something I can send you to remember me by?
To make your time more easy passing

Oh, how can- how can you ask me again?
It only brings me sorrow
The same thing I would want today
I would want again tomorrow

Oh, I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a’sailing
Saying, “I don’t know when I’ll be coming back again”
“It depends on how I’m feeling”

If you, my love, must think that a’way
I’m sure your mind is roaming
I’m sure your thoughts are not with me
But with the country to where you’re going

So take heed- take heed of the western winds
Take heed of the stormy weather
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather