Is Your Love in Vain (1978) – Bob Dylan

Is Your Love in Vain is another unheralded gem from Dylan’s massive music catalogue. It comes from one of Bob Dylan’s most misunderstood and underrated records – Street Legal. I wrote in the post about the record’s opening track – Changing of the Guards – if I had to choose just one album from Dylan to take with me on a Desert Island, it would be Street Legal. Just an aside, if you listen to the beginning of Is Your Love in Vain it has an uncanny resemblance to a Spanish song, I wrote about called Eres Tu (It’s You). Coincidence or Love and Theft? Anyhows, both are great songs.

Do you love me
Or are you just extending goodwill?
Do you need me half as bad as you say
Or are you just feeling guilt?

I’ve been burned before and I know the score
So you won’t hear me complain
Will I be able to count on you
Or is your love in vain?

Is Your Love in Vain has always been a closet Dylan song that I hold dear, but I have noticed it has its detractors in the fan realm. This song was hammered for its supposed misogyny. Dylan wrote in this: ‘Can you cook and sew, make flowers grow, Do you understand my pain?‘ Like his song Abandoned Love I always felt this song represented more Dylan’s inner turmoil, conflicting emotions and outreaching. It’s as though he hasn’t had time to process his feelings and so it is raw, lucid, and candid and may be construed in a variety of ways.

I perceived Is Your Love in Vain as Dylan desiring to settle down to a normative life with someone who truly loves him and provide him a base of security and routine. Many others have always seen a problem here with this song, and indeed interpreted the whole album Street-Legal as somehow faulty. For that reason, I wrote above, the album to me at least is misunderstood. I’ll leave the last words to the author of Untold Dylan:

Dylan is no longer the bright boy on the block describing the freak show and the strange world around him, as he did in the era of Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde.  Now he’s the man who has been divorced and hurt and left.  So, just as we might expect, the music plods along in a classic Dylan style of the descending bass, starting on E flat and travelling down, rising up suddenly to the infamous “cook and sew” line. The melody is far more interesting than in many Dylan songs, and it works perfectly around the lyrics and their meaning. 

1. Untold Dylan – Bob
2. Street-Legal (Album) – Wikipedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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6 comments on “Is Your Love in Vain (1978) – Bob Dylan
  1. Badfinger (Max) says:

    Another one I haven’t heard in forever… I just read about his Rolling Thunder Revue with the tour manager. That was a wild tour with many moving parts.

  2. fjodor says:

    Thanks for this post! Agree to how brilliant Street Legal is, containing several gems. I think “Changing of the Guards” is brilliant, also “Senor”. I love “Love in Vain”. Like “Abandoned Love”, I think it works on several levels. Next to the longing for a human companion, it could also be the voice from within that has to wait from incarnation to incarnation, until one person finally listens to her and gives her room to unfold.

    • All love all of Street Legal especially those you mentioned even ‘New Pony’ and ‘No Time to Think’. I think it’s his most cohesive record at least to my ears. I couldn’t agree more on your reflections of “Abandoned Love’.

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