Not Dark Yet
by Bob Dylan
album Time Out of Mind
150 Favorite Songs: #89, “Not Dark Yet,” Bob Dylan (1997)
When arguing with friends about Bob Dylan — which is something that a guy like me spent no small amount of time in his formative years doing — I’ve maintained that, even if “Not Dark Yet” were the only great song he’d ever written, he’d still deserve to be remembered as a legend.
That’s hyperbole, obviously — Jimmy Dale Gilmore has written at least one song as great as “Not Dark Yet” (stay tuned!) and he’s hardly a legend — but the point of it is that, even after people have stopped listening for greatness in what a person is doing, it can still be there. This is something that’s come to mean more to me, as I’ve gotten older. Well, obviously.
The thing about “Not Dark Yet” is that it couldn’t have come from someone other than Bob Dylan in his late 50’s. It’s not the sort of song that would have been convincing if he’d written it during the 1965 string-of-perfection, not the sort of thing that sounds right if it’s sung in a young person’s voice. (On the Chimes Of Freedom collection that came out earlier this year, the Silversun Pickups prove that eloquently with a cover that sounds downright phony.) A line like, “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal” is posturing, yeah, but when Bob Dylan, years after most people had written him off as irrelevant postures that way, it taps into a person’s urge to believe it.
If “Not Dark Yet” had been the only great song Dylan had written, it wouldn’t be a great song, in other words. It sounds best within the full context of the man’s career, but within that context — of finding something new to say, and a new way to say it, when you’re firmly in the used-to-be portion of life — “Not Dark Yet” is perfect.
I used to think of it as a “waiting to die” song, like Johnny Cash singing “I See A Darkness” or “Hurt,” but that’s silly. It’s a song about changes, and phases, and seeing the next one as it comes. At a certain point, when you’re really young, maybe that looks like dying. But “Not Dark Yet” gets better with age, too.