On July 3, 1975, Bob in a casual black leather jacket, reportedly with some reluctance, hopped on the stage of Bitter End (then temporarily renamed “Other End”) and poured his heart out with the world premiere of ‘Abandoned Love.’ I was not there so I cannot tell a more moving story than Joe Kivak: “. . . Their first song was ‘Pretty Boy Floyd,’ with Bob singing harmony and his guitar buzzing right along. Then Jack [Ramblin’ Jack Elliott] started ‘How Long Blues.’ After the first verse, he looked at Bob in a way that seemed to ask him to sing a verse. Bob simply shook his head and mouthed something inaudible. When the song finished, however, Dylan began strumming his guitar. But since it was still buzzing, he asked Jack to trade instruments with him. At that moment, everyone in the room was in a trance; it’s not every day one gets to hear an impromptu Bob Dylan performance in a tiny club. After a couple of lines, we realized he was performing a new song, with each line getting even better than the last. . . . As Bob sang, the nervousness so evident earlier vanished completely. . . . After he finished, he returned to his seat near the back of the club and quietly watched the rest of the show.” – Joe Kivak.*
That would also be the only time Bob performed the song in public. Nicely put by Clinton Heylin, ‘Abandoned Love’ is a deeply personal narrative “no less haunting and lovelorn than the songs on [Blood On The Tracks].”** And for that reason and my own protection, I have been refraining myself from thinking about this song for a while. As for the story behind the song, indisputably, Bob was mourning the loss of his marriage with Sara Lownds, and that is all we need to know:
“I can hear the turning of the key
I’ve been deceived by the clown inside of me
I thought that he was righteous but he’s vain
Oh, something’s a-telling me I wear the ball and chain
My patron saint is fighting with a ghost
He’s always off somewhere when I need him most.
The Spanish moon is rising on the hill
But my heart is telling me I love ya still.
I come back to the town from the flaming moon
I see you in the street, I begin to swoon.
I love to see you dress before the mirror
Won’t you let me in your room one time before I disappear?
Everybody’s wearing a disguise
To hide what they’ve got left behind their eyes.
But me, I can’t cover what I am
Wherever the children go I’ll follow them.
I can’t play the game no more, I can’t abide
by their stupid rules which kept me sick inside
They’ve been made by men who’ve given up the search
Whose gods are dead and whose queens are in the church.
I march in the parade of liberty
But as long as I love you I’m not free.
How long must I suffer such abuse
Won’t you let me see you smile before I cut you loose?
Send out for Saint John the Evangelist
All my friends are drunk, they can be dismissed.
My head says that it’s time to make a change
But my heart is telling me I love ya but you’re strange.
So step lightly, darling, near the wall
Put on your heavy make-up, wear your shawl.
Won’t you descend from the throne, from where you sit?
Let me feel your love one more time before I abandon it.”
Can’t you hear his heart aching?
* Johnson, Tracy, ‘Encounters with Bob Dylan: If You See Him, Say Hello.’ Humble Press, 2000.
** Heylin, Clinton, ‘Still On The Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 1974-2008.’ Constable, 2010.