With no time to do anything, I can't listen to the new Dylan Bootleg CD Tell Tale Signs (Or Ani DiFranco's new CD Red Letter Year either) but I did sneak a listen to the early version of "Most of the Time." (You can listen to the version that made it on the album here. Ani did a version with a banjo too--when she opened for Dylan in 1997 actually-- but it's only available as a bootleg).
I've always liked "Most of the Time" because it's the song of a narrator kidding himself. It's a plea screaming out from behind an attempted act of defiance. The narrator is trying to say he's stopped thinking about this woman but all you can hear through the song is "I can't stop thinking about this woman." He has forgotten her so completely he's written a song about her. It's half hidden and yet not hidden at all.
I've also always liked the song because it reminds me of "If you See Her Say Her Say Hello," which touches on the same themes, though in that song the narrator is more open about his longing. Maybe one is chapter one and the other is chapter two.
If you look at the lyrics of the two versions you can hear the clear influence of the producer Daniel Lanois who helped out on the album Oh Mercy. The bootleg version is old-style Dylan: Just him and his guitar. It's fast, which doesn't really suit the song. The final tempo of the album version is just right for the material. (Unfortunately it's a little too produced for me. Very 80s feeling. I feel like there's a fog machine in the background somewhere. (I prefer this version better)
I love this bootleg, as I do all bootlegs, because we get to see and hear the choices the artist makes those fine little refinements made in the later stages. It's where we see hard work and hard thinking. It's not creativity that comes from just "inspiration." (Sometimes the revisions are better, and sometimes I prefer the original and sometimes the two are totally different songs that are both viable like the two versions of "Went to See the Gypsy" or "Forever Young" on Planet Waves).
Most of the time
My head is on straight,
Most of the time
I'm strong enough not to hate.
I got enough faith and I got enough strength
Keep it all away way beyond arm's length.
I don't build up illusion 'till it makes me sick,
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind.
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.
The final lines are much more vivid, particularly the replacement of the faith and strength line. Those are generic, boring ideas. The new line is much more in keeping with the narrator's illusions and the song's message. The point is that yes, in fact, he does build up illusion and it makes him sick. This is not a song of whimsy. The guy's working out a considerable problem in his life. The second line isn't as strong but at least he's shed the arm's length cliché.
(Okay, I lied about the Ani disk, I've been listening to it while I was writing this. It's good, at least the first part I've been listening to).