Trying To Get To Heaven ;-)

Words and music by Bob Dylan
Tabbed by Eyolf Østrem

Note: This is a version with textual commentaries on the lyrics. If you're just looking for the chords (incl. the 2000 live version), you can walk down this lonesome valley.

The air is gettin' hotter, there's a rumblin' in the skies.
I've been wadin' through the high muddy waters, [1]
But the heat riseth in my eyes.
Everyday your memory goes dimmer,
It doesn't haunt me like it did before.
I've been walkin' through the middle of nowhere,
Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door.[2]
When I was in Missouri, they would not let me be.[3a/3b]
I had to leave there in a hurry, I only saw what they let me see.
You broke a heart that loved you, [3c]
Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore.[4]
I've been walkin' that lonesome valley,[5]
Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door.
People on the platforms, waitin' for the trains. [6a/6b]
I can hear their hearts a-beatin', like pendulum swingin' on chains.
When you think that you've lost everything,
You find out you can always lose a little more.
I'm just going down the road feelin' bad, [7]
Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door.
I'm goin' down the river, down to New Orleans.
They tell me everything is gonna be all right,
But I don't know what all right even means.
I was ridin' in a buggy with Miss Mary Jane, [8]
Miss Mary Jane got a house in Baltimore.
I've been all around the world boys,
I'm tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door.
Gotta sleep down in the parlor, and relive my dreams.
I close my eyes and I wonder, if everything is as hollow as it seems.
Some trains don't pull no gamblers,
No midnight ramblers like they did before. [9]
I've been to Sugartown, I shook the sugar down,[10]
Now I'm tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door.

[3a] From a post to r.m.d. from Rob Lake:

I may have missed it but I don't think anyone has posted the connection between the line in "Tryin' To Get To Heaven" and this opening verse from a blues called "Turn Your Money Green":

I was in Missouri, would not let me be
I was in Missouri, would not let me be
I could not rest content, till I came to Tennessee

I have this song on a Tom Rush album called "Take A Little Walk With Me" where the songwriter is credited as Ric Von Schmidt.

(note: Ric Van Schmidt is one of Dylan's early influences in his first New York period. He learned the song "Baby let me follow you down" on his first album from Von Schmidt. EØ.)

[1] A later verse goes:

I looked over muddy waters, believe I spied dry land
I wade muddy waters, trying to reach dry land
I said if you don't love me, lets shake hand in hand

which may be a source for the earlier line about high muddy water.

This is the Tom Rush album that has a musician called Roosevelt Gook playing piano on the "electric" side 1. At one stage it was thought that this might be Dylan, because he is mentioned in the liner notes as visiting the studio during the sessions, and Dylan refers to Roosevelt Gook during one of the interviews in the 60's (Bob Fass phone in if my memory is correct). I think Al Kooper, who plays electric guitar on the album, later admitted Roosevelt Gook was him - perhaps credited under a different name for payment reasons?

The album also includes Statesboro Blues ("turn your lamp down low"), a song called Suger Babe, and another Ric Von Schmidt tune "Joshua Gone Barbadoes" which Dylan performed as part of the basement sessions.

The album has some similarities with BIABH, with an electric "rock and roll" side and an acoustic side, and signalled Tom Rush's move to performing songs by contemporary songwriters with electric arrangements. It's well worth a listen.

Incidentally, does anyone know if the Dylan/Von Schmidt tape listed in Tangled Up In Tapes (based on an article in Telegraph #44) ever emerged?


[8] From a post to r.m.d. from Seth Kulick:

As a followup to Peter's earlier posting, here are the lyrics to "Miss Mary Jane", from "The Folk Songs of North America" (Alan Lomax).

Ridin' in the buggy, Miss Mary Jane
Miss Mary Jane, Miss Mary Jane
Ridin' in the buggy, Miss Mary Jane
I'm a long way from home

Who moan for me?
Who moan for me?
Who moan for me, my darlin'?
Who moan for me?

Sally got a house in Baltimo',
Baltimo', Baltimo'
Sally got a house in Baltimo'
And it's three stories high

Sally got a house in Baltimo',
Baltimo', Baltimo'
Sally got a house in Baltimo'
An' it's full of chicken pie

From a post by spjohnny:

This may be obvious, but is it reasonable to assume that Miss Mary Jane's got a "house" in the sense of "House of the Rising Sun"? And that because he is "tryin' to get to heaven," the singer is going to "sleep down in the parlor" rather than sleep upstairs with a prostitute? If that is reasonable, and given all the "sun" references on this album, it seems almost as if he's learned a lesson from Frankie Lee's "soulful, bounding leap" in that "house as bright as any sun." But even though he knows the difference between a house and a home and paradise, he has no home and has to bide his time in houses.

[5] From a post by catherine yronwode

Eduardo Monteverdi Ricardo wrote:

The song below is an old Negro spiritual available at Digital Tradition. Does the John the Baptist verse reflect ambivalence about Christian/Jewish identity, do you think?

Lonesome Valley

You got to walk that lonesome valley
You got to walk it by yourself;
There's no one here can walk it for you
You got to walk it for yourself.

Some say John, he was a Baptist
But I say he was a Jew
It's written there, for all to see it
That he had the gospel too.

Though you cannot preach like Peter
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus
You can tell He died for all.

Jesus walked that lonesome valley...

Now here is my take on the "lonesome valley" line in "Trying To Get To Heaven". While the phrase "that lonesome valley" obviously invokes the old spiritual (and you really brought it home by pointing out the Christian/Jew ambiguity in the second verse!) i would like to add that the FORM of the line

I've been walkin' that lonesome valley

calls into play yet another song, "Hard Travelling'," by Woody Guthrie, in which Guthrie sings:

I've been walking that Lincoln highway, I thought you knowed,
I've been hittin' that 66, Way down the road
Heavy load and a worried mind,
Lookin' for a woman that's hard to find,
I've been hittin' some hard travelin', lord

[note to non-Americans: the Lincoln Highway (Highway 30; the old northern route) and Highway 66 (the old southern route) were travelled by "Dust Bowl Refugees" headed west during the 1930s.]

Guthrie was OBVIOUSLY quoting/rearranging the "Lonesome Valley" spiritual in his song "Hard Travellin'" – and Dylan plays with his knowledge of this by copying Guthrie's FORM, but restoring the altered Lincoln Highway lyric to the ORIGINAL Lonesome Valley lyric, while conflating his search for a woman with a search for Heaven's door.


[9] The gambler also appears in Dylan's "Trying to Get to Heaven" – in a verse that evokes the old gospel song "This train is Bound For Glory," that being the song-title Woody Guthrie chose to reference as the title of his own autobiography!

Here's a verse from Guthrie's version of "Bound For Glory":

This train don't carry no gamblers, this train,
This train don't carry no gamblers, this train,
This train don't carry no gamblers
No hypocrites, no midnight ramblers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

-- and Dylan, from "Trying To Get To Heaven":

Some trains don‘t pull no gamblers
No midnight ramblers like they did before

[7] Then there is another Dylan's line in the same song:

I'm just going down the road feeling bad

-- and again the link to Guthrie is written in concrete, not floated on the wind, for that line is also Guthrie's, from a song called "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad":

I'm going down the road feeling bad
I'm going down the road feeling bad
I'm going down the road feeling bad, Lord, Lord
And I ain't gonna be treated this-a-way.

[6a] Oh, and let's not forget Dylan's lines

People on the platforms
Waiting for the trains

Those are taken from Guthrie's "Poor Boy," in which he sings:

I'm standing on a platform
Smoking a big cigar
Waiting for some old freight train
Carrying an empty car

(Hey – that cigar belongs in "Standing In the Doorway," not "Trying To Get To Heaven" ;-)) But wait! – the very next verse of Guthrie's "Poor Boy" is

I rode her down to Danville town
Got stuck on a Danville girl
You bet your life she was a pearl
She wore that Danville curl

-- and that brings us to Dylan's "New Danville Girl" and her twin-sister, the "Brownsville Girl," who is asked to

Take me all around the world

Evidently the Brownsville Girl complied with Dylan's request, because in "Tring To Get To Heaven," he sings,

I been all around the world, boys

And that, i believe is enough "trainspotting" for this post!!!

catherine yronwode

[6b] Richard Thomas comments:

On Trying to Get to Heaven, I think spjohnny is right in connecting that house in New Orleans with the one in Baltimore. If so then why not connect

"The Rising Sun Blues" Folk Songs of North America (Lomax) p.290:

One foot is on the platform
The other one on the train,
I'm going back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

with Get to Heaven's

People on the platforms,
waiting for the trains.
I can hear their hearts a-beatin'
like pendulum swingin' on chains

[3c] Also from Richard Thomas:

The one line of "Get to Heaven" that seemed to me closer to Dylan of Blood on the Tracks, e.g., than to his remarkable folk, blues and spiritual intertexts on this amazing song was:

You broke a heart that loved you

But then I found in "Folksongs of Alabama" on the song "Golden Chain" (anyone else notice how many "chains" there are on TOOM?):

You have recked a heart that loved you
And no others bride I'll be;
Heaven's blessings rest upon you
You are nothing more to me.

[3b] By the way, on "they would not let me be" in the same verse of "Get to Heaven" Robert Johnson's "Kindhearted Woman Blues" has the line:

But these evil-hearted women man, they will not let me be

[10] From a post to r.m.d. from Jim Jenigen

Sorry I did not see the original post. But if you're referencing the line I've been to sugartown, I shook the sugar down), I have found what I think is the source.

Dylan: "I've been to sugartown, I shook the sugar down".

Song: "Buck-Eye Rabbit"
in Byron Arnold: Folk Songs of Alabama, University of Alabama Press, 1950, p. 120. This is the date of the anthology. The songs date much earlier.

I wanted su-gah ver-y much,
I went to Sug-ah Town,
I climbed up in that sug-ah tree
An' I shook that sug-ah down.

[4] Here's another.

Dylan: "Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore."

SONG: John The Revelator, third verse
From: Alan Lomax: Our Singing Country, Macmillian, N.Y.,194, p. 22.

Seal up your book, John,
An' don't write no more,
O John, John,
An' don't write no more.'

[2] Indulge me for one more.... The Best One.

Dylan: "Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door."

Song: The Old Ark's A-Moverin', verse seven
From: Lomax: The Folk Songs of North America, Doubleday,N.Y. 1960.
Heard in Negro churches in the South-West in the 1930's, this song is of Civil War vintage.

Look at that sister comin' 'long slow,
She's tryin' to get to Heaven fo' they close the do'.

Well that will do for now, though I do have more. In fact I have references to 19 lines. The ones above are the most interesting to me right now. This is an incredible song. In my opinion this song alone should be consideration for the Nobel. This writing is so very cleverly crafted it has become my favorite of the record with Not Dark Yet a close second. Even though I have a favorite track I really think this is a record that plays as a whole. I've waited a long time for this kind of record. Thanks Bob.

Peace, Jim Jenigen Richmond VA Asheville Bound

;-) (I actually intended to include only specific references, not general comments, but this one is too good to exclude:)

From "R. Bentz Kirby" to

Today, on the way home from soccer game, I slipped TOOM into the play mode right after the Dreaded Wallflowers. My 8 year old daughter commented on Trying to Get to Heaven. Her comments were something like this:

Well they better not close the door to heaven. At least not until everyone is in. [She thinks for a while and then says] Well, I guess it would be ok, as long as they open it when the next person comes. But, why would they do that. Open and close it. Close it and open it. I think they ought to just leave it open.

So do I.

Peace, Bentz