I’m Not There is another previously unreleased gem from the 1967 The Basement Tapes sessions recorded by Bob Dylan and the Band in the basement of the Big Pink in Woodstock. The song was part of the bootleg copies that circulated amongst Dylan fans for a number of years and when The Basement Tapes were released officially in 1975, the song, among others were not included.
It wasn’t released officially until it featured as the title track in Todd Haynes 2007 unconventional biographical film of Bob Dylan – I’m Not There. This song has grown on me over the years and seems to uncover more mystique upon each new listen.
No I don’t belong to her
I don’t belong to anybody
She’s my prize-forsaken angel
But she don’t hear me cry
She’s a lone-hearted mystic
And she dain’t carry on
When I’m there she’s alright
But when she’s not when I’m gone
As aforementioned I’m Not There is part of a huge outpouring of songs from Dylan in the first half of 1967, which were by and large recorded with the Band. These songs are an extraordinary mixture of pieces and shows Dylan at his creative best, not just for each individual song, but for the incredible variation in all the songs. How Dylan almost threw I’m Not There away is staggering. Here is a song he just tried out once and moved away from. “Improvising on the spot” is the phrase Heylin provides for this masterpiece from Bob Dylan – a song that apparently Dylan could never understand why others loved so much.
It is clear this is a song Dylan wanted to try out for the Band and it takes time for them to get into the song and got to grips with what is going on. Because of the source material and that Dylan has never been captured playing the song in concert, the lyrics are something of a mystery.
Regarding the song’s meaning Untold Dylan gives the following description:
‘…in essence it seems to be the reflection of a man who was not always there when needed by the woman who has the toughest of experiences and who really needs his support. He recriminates with himself for his failure but doesn’t ask for forgiveness. He just blames himself and tells it how it was.’