Silvio

Album: Down In The Groove (1988)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • "Silvio" has Dylan contemplating his own past and future. He's gotten himself into a rough spot in life, but refuses to get down about it or to whine about his ordeal. The song is summed up by the last two lines of the fifth verse:

    Since every pleasure's got an edge of pain
    Pay for your ticket and don't complain


    An interesting aspect of the song is that the chorus ("Silvio, silver and gold won't buy back the beat of a heart grown cold") suggests poverty isn't the problem Dylan is dealing with. It may be the exact opposite, in fact, as the "silver and gold" threaten to make him lifeless and cold.
  • The natural assumption is that "Silvio" is the person Dylan is embodying in this song, but the chorus makes it clear that Silvio is actually the person he's addressing. Dylan (or whoever Dylan is speaking as in the song) is telling Silvio he (Dylan) has got to go. No details about Silvio are given.
  • Dylan composed the music to this song while Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the words. It's one of two Down in the Groove songs featuring that collaboration, with the other being "Ugliest Girl In The World."

    "Ugliest Girl" is the first track on Side 2 of the album. "Silvio" immediately follows.

    In his book of collected lyrics, A Box of Rain, Hunter mentions this collaboration with a simple parenthetical message, stating, "Bob Dylan released this is as a single in 1988."

    In 2009, 21 years after releasing Down in the Groove, the pair worked together on nearly every track on Dylan's album Together Through Life.
  • Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Brent Mydland sang the backup vocals on this one.
  • "Silvio" is generally considered the best song on Down in the Groove. It's also included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3, released in 1994.
  • Nathan East played bass on this one. A first-call session player, others to use his services include Earth, Wind & Fire, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Michael Jackson. East played on Diana Krall's 2015 album Wallflower, which was named after Dylan's song of the same name.
  • The second verse of "Silvio" contains the lines:

    I'm an old boll weevil looking for a home

    The boll weevil, scientific name Anthonomus grandis, is a beetle that eats cotton buds. Hunter's inclusion of it here is a reference to blues legend Leadbelly and his 1934 song "Boll Weevil," which includes the opening verse:

    Well the boll weevil and the little black bug
    Come from a-Mexico they say
    Came all the way to Texas
    Just a-lookin' for a place to stay
    Just a-lookin' for a home, just a-lookin' for a home


    The lyrics are accurate in saying that the boll weevil came from Mexico. The insect was a major pest to American cotton crops, particularly in the 1920s.

    Leadbelly's song grew out of a 1908 song by Charley Patton titled "Mississippi Boweevil Blues."

Comments: 2

  • Dave from New JerseyNot sure if this is true but I heard this story, that Bob Wier told if I remember right. Not sure where it was but the Dead had this big jar on a table that was full of pieces of folded up paper with Robert Hunter lyrics/poems written on them. Dylan was there one day, prob all sitting around getting high haha, and Dylan reached in, grabbed one, read it and put it in his pocket. Wier saw this and told Hunter and his reply was "So? What are you going to do?? It's Bob Dylan!"

    That song ended being Silvio. I can totally see this being true. Love the story.
  • Allst8e from Virginia"Going to find out what only dead men know".... this seems easy to me. If there is an afterlife. The lyrics easily could apply to Jesus, especially when he goes down to the valley and listen to the echo.....
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Chris Rea

Chris ReaSongwriter Interviews

It took him seven years to recover from his American hit "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," but Chris Rea became one of the top singer-songwriters in his native UK.

Harold Brown of War

Harold Brown of WarSongwriter Interviews

A founding member of the band War, Harold gives a first-person account of one of the most important periods in music history.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin GayeFact or Fiction

Did Marvin try out with the Detroit Lions? Did he fake crazy to get out of military service? And what about the cross-dressing?

David Bowie Lyrics Quiz

David Bowie Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

How well do you know your David Bowie lyrics? Take this quiz to find out.

Ed Roland of Collective Soul

Ed Roland of Collective SoulSongwriter Interviews

The stories behind "Shine," "December," "The World I Know" and other Collective Soul hits.

Narada Michael Walden - "Freeway of Love"

Narada Michael Walden - "Freeway of Love"They're Playing My Song

As a songwriter and producer, Narada had hits with Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Starship. But what song does he feel had the greatest impact on his career?