"Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" dissected!

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Apr 10 2012, 2:33

Dylan has rarely sounded as obstinate, indiscreet, disgruntled and frighteningly aware of his own mortality as he does on "Infidels", an album that to me echoes strong lack of hope, yet doesn't reflect a willingness to succumb to the evils of the world he so mercilessly and boldly criticises.

The love song "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight", direct and street-smart, closes the album and provides a further glimpse into Dylan's soul. After somewhat fierce attacks that clearly showcase his stances towards church ("Sweetheart Like You", if you listen closely enough, is really about church), war, consumerism and humankind in general, the utterly dismayed Dylan turns to a woman in hopes of having someone to share his concerns with on a more intimate level. He is no less pessimistic than he is on the rest of the album, excluding perhaps "Jokerman", the most well-known song from "Infidels" where he again shows signs of having the power and confidence to resist demonic outside forces. And yes, I have no doubt in my mind he is referring to himself in "Jokerman"; I would say the line "You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing" indicates this. Feelings of hopelessness become evident with the very first lines of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight":
Just a minute before you leave, girl
Just a minute before you touch the door
What is it that you’re trying to achieve, girl?
Do you think we can talk about it some more?
You know, the streets are filled with vipers
Who’ve lost all ray of hope
You know, it ain’t even safe no more
In the palace of the Pope
Along with the striking use of the word viper it's a definite indication of his disappointment regarding the surrounding world and people who have occupied it, now reigning it with their poison and terror. Having apparently abandoned sermonizing, he has simply decided to corner himself and, as a last resort, clutches on to someone dear and close in hopes of receiving support at a period of such disheartenment while still remaining somewhat didactic. Fearing forlornness, he is annoyed by the fact she still has the will to thrive and survive on the streets and among people who, with their violent actions, dishonesty and cruel behavior have, without even knowing Dylan, have led him to - basically - become a viper himself in terms of losing all ray of hope.

Come over here from over there, girl
Sit down here. You can have my chair
I can’t see us goin’ anywhere, girl
The only place open is a thousand miles away and I can’t take you there
I wish I’d have been a doctor
Maybe I’d have saved some life that had been lost
Maybe I’d have done some good in the world
’Stead of burning every bridge I crossed
Frankly, a lot of cowardice and unconfidence here. Dylan has no problem admitting he's weak in terms of both will and mentality, questioning his capabilities as a partner, and more importantly, quite blatantly addressing his regret about his role in society and having become a musician, something that appears almost insignificant to him - which is odd given his incalculable importance as a creator of poetry and song. Another interesting aspect of the song, of course, is his more direct and simple writing here. Anyone who has heard, for example, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", knows that even his most description-reliant compositions are things of incredible beauty. This is a fascinating approach, albeit not an original one - "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from 1967's "John Wesley Harding" and many other songs of his focus more on communication than description, but this time around he's not only expressing love but also rather painfully trying to persuade her to just forget every prospect of victory, because he knows an easier way out - one that she, stronger and sturdier, has thus far refused to take.

I ain’t too good at conversation, girl
So you might not know exactly how I feel
But if I could, I’d bring you to the mountaintop, girl
And build you a house made out of stainless steel
But it’s like I’m stuck inside a painting
That’s hanging in the Louvre
My throat start to tickle and my nose itches
But I know that I can’t move
I find the line "I ain't too good at conversation, girl, so you might not know exactly how I feel" somewhat confusing. Theoretically speaking, there's a slim chance he's suggesting that the only value he sees in his self-expression is his literary skill and his ability to craft beautiful poetry; that he feels weak when it comes to quickly, without hesitation, saying things as they are, in understandable language that doesn't require interpretation? I consider this a slightly plausible theory... and it would definitely be quite ironic given how straight-forward he is in this very song. I think it would be more appropriate to say that he's simply admitting he is tired of talking and attempting to convince (again ironic), which in turn would connect to his "I wish I’d have been a doctor" stance from the previous verse. "But it's like I'm stuck inside a painting that's hanging in the Louvre" always takes me back to his Mona Lisa observation from "Visions of Johanna", even though these two songs are lightyears apart in terms of both quality and nature.

Who are these people who are walking towards you?
Do you know them or will there be a fight?
With their humorless smiles so easy to see through
Can they tell you what’s wrong from what’s right?
Do you remember St. James Street
Where you blew Jackie P.’s mind?
You were so fine, Clark Gable would have fell at your feet
And laid his life on the line
In the "Infidels" song "Man of Peace" Dylan conclusively says that "sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace", an idea that is quite similar to the paranoid suggestion that no one is really trustworthy. The Clark Gable line is a nice touch, perhaps foreshadowing Dylan's tendency to incorporate (obscure) film dialogue into his lyrics in the '80s, which he would later extensively do in the following two albums - Bob has always been interested in both making (which he has unfortunately almost always failed at) and watching films. In this verse, he's most likely hinting that he feels there's no need to seek the opinions or give in to solicitations of others as long as you have been gifted with external and internal beauty, more than often a source of personal confidence - but who knows, perhaps he's just abruptly moving on to playful description after giving a fair warning about the deceitfulness of outsiders.

Let’s try to get beneath the surface waste, girl
No more booby traps and bombs
No more decadence and charm
No more affection that’s misplaced, girl
No more mudcake creatures lying in your arms
What about that millionaire with the drumsticks in his pants?
He looked so baffled and so bewildered
When he played and we didn’t dance
Excluding chorus, these are the last lines of the song and "Infidels", providing a brief glimmer of hope, hinting at a blissful possible conclusion - the woman is destined to become as beguiling as all the people around her unless she shows a desire to evolve and efficiently move forward. At the same time, the now almost drifting narrator Dylan is completely weary from not only the trickery of others, but also partly hers and even, alas, himself. Something about it strikes me as slightly Biblical - perhaps getting beneath the surface waste is a metaphor for becoming cleansed. Hence they would have to both become free of sin, decadence, misplaced affection. Even the "mudcake creatures"; an obvious reference to babies, to me suggests getting dirty and smeared. The lines about the dancing show that money and tremendous material fortune isn't really a distraction to either of them, that she isn't greedy and easily accepts his views. "Dancing" is a mutual activity demanding partnership, and seeing that they both refused to dance to "the millionaire's drum" suggests she perfectly levels with him, even if she's difficult to convince and persuade. So, despite their certain differences and his weakness, there is some moderate groundwork in this partnership - in the end, that is all that matters, and there is some drive left - once they pursue to get beneath the surface waste, to "dance to a different drum", there will be happiness ... and possibly redemption (for his uncalled for observations and asinine views on the album, I hope!).

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That concludes my analysis of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight"!
And don't get me wrong - I like "Infidels" a lot.

Written by an Italian poet from the 13th... I mean, Ralf Sauter
2012

Bob Dylan
Infidels
Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight

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