I Can't Leave Her Behind

Album: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 (1966)
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  • Dylan's so good that even many of his throwaways had the potential to be great songs. This was proven both by "Wagon Wheel" and by this here song of interest, "I Can't Leave Her Behind," which was never completed by Dylan and never officially released on an album. In both cases, it was up to artists of the future to mine the gems and give them final form. The manners of their manifestations were rather different, however, as we will soon see.

    Dylan performed this song (along with "On a Rainy Afternoon," "If I Was King," and "What Kind of Friend is This") on May 19, 1966, in the North British Station Hotel in Glasgow, Scotland. Dylan, still relatively early in his career, was late into his now-infamous European tour, which featured a confrontational audience that taunted him and called him "Judas" (referring to the fellow who sold Jesus out to the Romans in the Bible). This friction has largely been attributed to Dylan's "going electric" and getting away from his folkie acoustic roots, but that's really an oversimplification. The real issue was deeper, namely that Dylan's electricity and his deviation from his earlier, overtly social-justice-themed songs were seen as betrayals of the progressive and socialist counterculture that Dylan had made a mouthpiece for.

    During that drama-filled European tour, Dylan would often fill the time between shows playing along with Robbie Robertson, leader of what would soon be The Band but which at that point were calling themselves The Hawks. Dylan and Robertson weren't playing this song to be recorded, but documentarian DA Pennebaker happened to be traveling along with them, as he'd done in the 1965 British tour with his film Don't Look Back. Pennebaker filmed the whole tour to be released under the name Something is Happening, but never released it. Snippets of his coverage did make it into Eat the Document, which was edited by Dylan himself and which also never saw publication (though it's been screened at small shows). That footage then made it into Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home.

    Bootlegs of the Glasgow sessions snuck out to the public, as Dylan bootlegs are wont to do, but it wasn't until June 2021 that a gentleman going by the moniker Swingin' Pig edited the disjointed rehearsal bits into a finalized song.
  • As the title suggests, the song is about being unable to leave a lover behind. In the Glasgow performance, it feels as if Dylan is hashing through lyrics on the spot, more interested in fleshing out the song than presenting any finalized words. His singing is very evocative, however, swelling with emotion that sounds powerfully real and raw.

    It feels like a song that could have been very good, maybe even great, but Dylan just forgot about it. The same thing happened with many other songs, including "Blind Willie McTell," which many Dylan hardcores consider to be among the greatest songs he ever made.
  • According to Clinton Heylin's Revolution in the Air, Dylan did consider the song to be substantive enough to copyright it. In the original Glasgow session, this song sort of blends into "On a Rainy Afternoon," so much so that the latter can come across as an evolution of the former. They are actually two different songs, though.
  • Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo recorded a version of this for the soundtrack of I'm Not There, the surreal 2007 Dylan biography by Todd Haynes.


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