Bob Dylan's 'When the deal goes down - lyric analysis- Part 1
Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 1
1. What does ‘when the deal goes down’ mean?
This song was written by Bob Dylan in 2006 for the album ‘Modern Times’. The melody is reminiscent of Bing Crosby's staple hit, "Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” The whole interpretation of the lyrics of this song very much depends on how you interpret the refrain of each of the 4 verses of the song: “I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down”. Before we can start analyzing the verses of this song in more detail, we first need to have more clarity on this key line in the song. Who is this ‘you’ that the poet will be with when this deal goes down? Is this some other person, a woman perhaps? Or even God? And what is this ‘deal’ exactly? Is this some sort of business deal, a deal with a woman, or some kind of obscure agreement? And what does it mean when a deal ‘goes down’?
First of all, I think that the 60 minutes CBS television interview Bob Dylan gave in 2004 might give us an important clue on how we should interpret this song. In this interview Dylan is asked why after so many years he still out there on stage, performing all of his songs on tour. After emphasizing that he doesn’t take any of it for granted, Dylan gives the following reply: ‘’It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end’’. On the question what his bargain was Dylan answers: ‘‘to get where I am now”. And asked whom he made that bargain with he answers: “With the Chief Commander, in this earth and in a world we can’t see”.
How should we interpret this statement? From this statement, it seems obvious that the ‘Chief Commander’ must be Jesus or God. However, some people on the internet have argued that Dylan had sold his soul to Satan, and that he had Satan in mind when he talked about the Chief Commander. Some have even scrambled or distorted his 60 minutes interview to make it look that way. In Matthew 28: 18 Jesus says about Himself: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. So there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dylan meant Jesus or God with whom he made that deal with a long time ago.
Earlier in the interview it is said that he knew even then that he was destined to become a music legend. "I was heading for the fantastic lights," he wrote in the Chronicles. "Destiny was looking right at me and nobody else." How does Bob Dylan describe the word "destiny"? Dylan says: "It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true,".
A ‘bargain’ is defined as ‘an agreement, especially one do to something in return for something else’. A ‘deal’ may be defined as ’an arrangement to the advantage of both sides, often in business’. In this sense these two words – ‘bargain’ and ’deal’ are quite synonymous.
We learn from this interview that Dylan once made a bargain, or a deal, with God. But one may ask the question if a human being – in this case Dylan himself – is in a position to make a ‘bargain’ or a ’deal’ with God? Usually a man makes a bargain or a deal with one’s peer, one who is equal to you. But does the Almighty God make a deal with a mortal human being?
To answer this question we first need to introduce another word here. This word is closely related to the word ‘bargain’ or ’deal’. It is the word ‘covenant’. A ‘covenant’ is defined as ‘a formal solemn agreement between two or more people or groups’. The word ‘covenant’ is often used in the Bible. In Genesis, Chapter 17, we read that God has made a ‘covenant’, a ‘deal’ with Abraham. Abraham’s part (obligation) of the covenant with God was to ‘’walk before me and be blameless’’ (Genesis 17:1). God from his end promised Abraham that he will be multiplied exceedingly and that Abraham will be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4). A deal that has gone down, and has been put into effect. In the song ’Covenant Woman’ – released on the album ‘Saved’ – Dylan once said: “I’ve got a covenant too”.
‘To go down’ has various meanings. When used in combination with the word ‘deal’, ‘to go down’ means: ‘to put into effect’. Let me give an example to clarify this. One may say "When the deal goes down, I'll be waiting for the merchandise in the alley!” In this example drugs are exchanged for money. The drugs deal has been put into effect. Both parties can now separate from each other because what was agreed and promised has been delivered. The drugs deal has gone down.
Having said this, let us now try and apply this more specifically to what Dylan might have had in mind when he says: “I’ll be with you when the deal goes down”. When his deal with God will have been accomplished he will not be separated from God but he will stay with him: “I’ll be with you”. What was Dylan’s part of this ‘deal’’ exactly?
His answer to that question is a little enigmatic and typically Dylanesque: “to get where I am now”. I feel it as a missed opportunity that the 60 minutes interviewer Bradley did not dwell on this subject and asked Dylan in reply to this:” What do exactly you mean by that?”.
’To get where I am now’ in my opinion means that Dylan feels he follows the path, he walks the line. Apparently God has a plan for Dylan and Dylan sticks to the roadmap God has made for him. That is supposed to be Dylan’s part of the deal, the bargain. ’To get where I am now’ is as if Dylan says: “ So far I have followed the roadmap God has made for me a long time ago, and if I had not held up my end of the deal, I would not be here at this point, at this stage of my career. I do what I have to do. Being here proves that I am holding up my end of the deal. At the same time it implies that there is still a road ahead of me. Nobody knows how long this road is going to last, I take nothing for granted, but when I die the deal will have been fully accomplished, and then the deal will go down. And if that happens, at the end of the trail, I’ll be with You in heaven”.
It all seems to demonstrate that Dylan doesn’t do anything at random. He feels there is a divine purpose, a plan behind everything he does as an actor. He seems to believe that his songs, his shows, the set lists, the albums, all are a part of some sort of ‘a perfect finished plan’, a carefully selected process for which he has guidance from above. He feels that as an artist he officiates as ‘watchtower’ to warn people, in some sort of a way like the old biblical Prophets once did, that this world is doomed. This idea is supported by the fact that the song ‘All along the watchtower’ has run like a continuous thread through almost all of his shows for so many years. As per today’s date there have been more than 1900 performances of this song.
Also the fact that the background décor, - the all-seeing ’eye’- looms large on audiences all over the world, in the so-called Never Ending Tour, might give us an important clue. Somebody wrote: ‘the eye represents the watchful state of those who serve in constant vigil of a most pivotal event in earth history, and one that which must surely come to pass. The crown represents the regal countenance of the King who has been foretold by prophecy, and who is still yet to come. The lightning that is all about the symbol realizes the circumstance in which the King will be recognized, and as seen coming though the ethereal sky, and through that of time and space’.
To sum this up, I think that if you wish to understand what Dylan means when he says in this song: ‘When the deal goes down’ , you simply cannot ignore what Dylan said in the 60 minutes CBS Television interview in 2004 about destiny and about the bargain ,the deal, he said he made with the Commander in Chief, God. Next time we are going to take a further look at the individual verses of the song. Your comments will be appreciated. Please follow the link ‘reacties’ below.