behind my back

My Back Pages

"My Back Pages" is a Bob Dylan song from the album Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964). It is stylistically similar to his earlier protest songs, with only a solo acoustic guitar. However its lyrics and in particular the refrain ("Ah, but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now.") seem intended to mark a rejection of much of Dylan's earlier personal idealism, and disillusionment with the "protest scene" with which he was associated.


Dylan's disenchantment with "the movement" had surfaced in a ranting speech he gave in 1963 when accepting an award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC) in New York. Mike Marqusee writes: "No Song on Another Side distressed Dylan's friends in the movement more than 'My Back Pages' in which he transmutes the rude incoherence of his ECLC rant into the organized density of art. The lilting refrain ... must be one of the most lyrical expressions of political apostasy ever penned. It is a recantation, in every sense of the word."

Others have not fully agreed with Marqusee's interpretation, instead seeing the change of Dylan's philosophy as part of a slow transition. Pointing to the fact that Dylan still performed many of his earlier songs after "My Back Pages" was written, and in fact still does. In an interview with the Sheffield University Paper in May 1965, Dylan himself made the following comments on the situation;

Q: Your songs have changed a lot over the last couple of years. Are you consciously trying to change your style, or would you say that this was a natural development?

A: Oh, it's a natural one, I think. The big difference is that the songs I was writing last year, songs like "Ballad in Plain D", they were what I call one-dimensional songs, but my new songs I'm trying to make more three-dimensional, you know, there's more symbolism, they're written on more than one level.

Q: How long does it take you to write a song? Say a song like "Hard Rain"?

A: Well, I wrote "Hard Rain" while I was still on the streets, I guess that was the first three-dimension song I wrote. It took me about - oh, about two days.

Also in early 1966 Margaret Steen wrote the following for The Toronto Star after interviewing Dylan in late 1965;

"...But though his words are new he was still writing in old musical forms - and why was this any less artificial than singing dated lyrics? I mean the way-out electronic Space Age sound was the natural next step - electric music is what's happening today, it's sheer 20th-century. "Before," he says of his first protest songs, leaning forward with one of his rare stares right at me, "every song had to have a specific point behind it, a person, a thing. I would squeeze a shapeless concept into this artificial shape, like, like...." Like 'With God on Our Side, his ironic commentary of three years ago on how people justify fighting, which ends with the lines:

The words fill my head And fall to the floor, If God's on our side He'll stop the next war.

"Yeah! Yeah! Like that one," says Dylan, excited that I'm catching on to what he means. "It's a good song, I'm not putting it down; but this thing I wanted to say, I had to jam it into a very timed, rigid stylized pattern. "Now!....Well for one thing, the music, the rhyming and rhythm, what I call the mathematics of a song, are more second-nature to me. I used to have to go after a song, seek it out. But now, instead of going to it I stay where I am and let everything disappear and the song rushes to me. Not just the music, the words, too. Those old songs I used to write, everyone is imitating them now. What I'm doing now you can't learn by studying, you can't copy it, someone else can't say he's writing a song 'like that'.""

Dylan also added later in later in the same interview;

" There is silence for a few moments while I think of some of the more intriguing lines from his songs. What, I asked him did he mean by:

Ah, but I was much older then, I'm younger than that now.

"My God, did I write that line?" He smiles. "I was in my New York phase then, or at least, I was just coming out of it. I was still keeping the things that are really really real out of my songs, for fear they'd be misunderstood. Now," with another smile, "I don't care if they are." Like, he had all the answers, then. If we can get rid of the Bomb nobody will fight any more. If we integrate the schools every one will love one another. It was so simple, he as so much older then.

"No, I'm not disillusioned. I'm just not illusioned, either. The civil rights and protest songs, I wrote when nobody else was writing them. Now everyone is. But I've found out some things. The groups promoting these things, the movement, would try to get me involved with them, be their singing spokesman - and inside these groups, with all their president vice-president secretary stuff, it's politics, all politics. Inside their own pettinesses they're as bad as the hate groups. I won't even have a fan club because it'd have to have a president, it'd be a group.""

Cover versions

The song has been covered by numerous artists including The Byrds, who in 1967, had the most popular version of the song, The Ramones, The Hollies, The Nice, Eric Johnson, The Box Tops, Carl Verheyen, Marshall Crenshaw, Keith Jarrett and Steve Earle. A memorable live version was performed by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty during Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert celebration in New York City, October 1992. The recording includes vocals from McGuinn, Tom Petty, Young, Clapton, Dylan and George Harrison (with guitar solos by Clapton and Young).

A Japanese-language cover by The Magokoro Brothers is included in the soundtrack of the Dylan film Masked and Anonymous.

The Byrds version was the closing song of the "Forever Blue" episode of Cold Case in 2006.


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