by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


In 2004, Howard Bilerman, the producer/engineer of albums by Silver Mt. Zion, Arcade Fire, British Sea Power, Basia Bulat and many more, wrote one of Said the Gramophone's first guestposts. In the midst of praising Bob Dylan's "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", he called "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" "the weakest lead off track to ever grace a masterpiece". More than five years later, he wrote to me with a correction.

Bob Dylan - "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" [buy]

a few years ago, I wrote about blonde on blonde for this blog, and while doing so, I called "rainy day women" some unflattering things. I am currently preparing to interview bob johnston, producer of said song, and after listening again, I would like to say I might have missed the point. I confess, I got caught up in the novelty of the song...the laughter....the inside jokes...the seemingly meaningless title. I also confess, I got hung up on the chorus, taking it literally. not being someone who endorses drug culture, "everybody must get stoned" was not something I could get behind. this was further soldified by going to see Dylan, and having everyone around me chit-chat during "it's all over now baby blue", but leap to their feet in sing-along fashion to the chorus of rainy-day women. but, I realized, this is no drug song. the anthemic chorus exclipsed the verses, but the verses tell us about getting stoned, ie: "cast the first stone". and after listening this weekend, I hear dylan telling a much different story. one about people being judgemental...one about being under scrutiny...one about being misunderstood. and, ironically, in terms of this song, I am guilty as charged on all counts. this song is just as much about small-mindedness and oppression, as it is about getting high. i am loathe to try to get inside dylan's mind, but in the wake of the judas-heckling "dylan goes electric" period, "they'll stone you when you're playing your guitar" takes on a whole new meaning. and so, with this new found perspective, i listened again. and what i hear are a bunch of people in a room...just playing together. it has a "realness" that, despite me still feeling is a bit "nudge nudge, wink wink", is honest in ways you rarely hear on record anymore. to place it as the leadoff track announces the mission statement of the recording. this is what happens when people gather in a studio, and make music. it's about documentation, not magic tricks. I wrote this song off...I was wrong.

Howard Bilerman will be interviewing Bob Johnston (who produced not just Dylan, but Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash) this coming Friday, October 2, as part of Pop Montreal. The presentation is completely free and takes place 4-6pm at McGill's Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke Street West.


Pop Montreal 2009 starts today. (My guide here.) See you out there!

Posted by Sean at September 30, 2009 10:17 AM

the first time i heard that song, i thought it was just about getting high. the second time, when i actually paid attention to it, i noticed how much more was going on there...

all it takes is actually listening to the words :)

Posted by Feller at September 30, 2009 1:28 PM

no offense to howard - i respect your work as a producer - but i don't understand how any music critic/blogger/thoughtful listener could hear that song and not realize its true meaning. sorry if it seems like i'm stoning you. har har.
i'm glad you came into light.

Posted by mandrew at October 6, 2009 9:44 PM

I'm with Howard on this in that I've also misinterpreted the meaning of this song over the years.

To the comments above, perhaps it's worth appreciating that many of us have different ways of hearing music. Some hear words and vocals as instruments, tones, textures and rhythms as opposed to a collection of lyrics.

There's an interesting passage in Geoff Emerick's book, "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles" where he talks about this.

Posted by dmcm at October 7, 2009 9:29 PM

Ah, I'm happy Howard came to the realization, and I found his analysis thoughtful and interesting. I admit I never really analyzed the lyrics, and accepted the drug culture aspect because of its play on words, however he hits home (both Howard & Bob, heh) with that a-group-of-people-in-a-room-playing-music, which is what I get happily lost in every time I hear it. But the fact Howard felt obliged to came back over 5 years later and correct himself is the best part. Awesome. Thanks, all!

Posted by Luke at October 15, 2009 2:56 PM

Count me in as another one who only recently "got it" with this song.

Posted by mslou at October 24, 2009 2:56 PM

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This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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our favourite blogs
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Back to the World
La Blogothèque
Weird Canada
Destination: Out
Endless Banquet
A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe)
Ill Doctrine
A London Salmagundi
Words and Music
Petites planétes
Gorilla vs Bear
Silent Shout
Clouds of Evil
The Dolby Apposition
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Matana Roberts
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews
i like you [podcast]
Nicola Meighan
radiolab [podcast]
CKUT Music
plethoric pundrigrions
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
The Clear-Minded Creative
Torture Garden
Passion of the Weiss
Juan and Only
Horses Think
White Hotel
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin)
Uno Moralez
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad
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The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
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st-viateur bagel
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le pick up
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drawn + quarterly
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blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
passovah productions
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pop pmontreal
yoga teacher Thea Metcalfe

Cult Montreal
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