To Ramona is a little masterpiece. Whereas most of Dylan great albums sparkle with big “important” songs, Another Side is filled with elegant gems like this one.
To Ramona tells us that the world is a complicated, sordid mess. We are only an infinitesimal speck lost within it. The song reminds me of the line Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca: “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
The song’s narrator has no answers for Ramona, or anybody else. “Everything passes/Everything changes/Just do what you think you should do.” Like My Back Pages, the song speaks of grayness, nothing is black and white. Like All I Really Want To Do, the song speaks of the pressure to conform to society’s norm: “[people] hype you and type you/Making you feel/That you must be exactly like them.”
To Ramona is full of ornate, poetic language, and brings to mind not only Spanish Harlem Incident but also Lay Down Your Weary Tune (released on Biograph), which were written and recorded in the same general time-frame.
Joan Baez writes in her wonderful song Diamonds and Rust, which deals with her relationship with Dylan, that he was “always so good with words/ and keeping things vague”. He does keep things vague, not only in his personal life but also in some of his songs. A characteristic of Dylan’s writing, which becomes even more pronounced in later years, is a frequent lack of linear narrative and an overall fuzziness about just want is suppose to be happening. In To Ramona, it is unclear just what the relationship is between the two characters. Are they lovers, friends, ex-lovers? Who knows.
Dylan give a wonderful performance on Another Side. The vocal is so tender. The listener can feel the sympathy the narrator has for Ramona. The gentle guitar accompaniment quietly supports the vocal. Dylan performs the song frequently, but I haven’t heard a version that tops the original.
To Ramona is a waltz, meaning it has three beats to the measure, with the accent on the first beat. Dylan has written a number of waltzes, including 4th Time Around, Ballad in Plain D, Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, and Winterlude, among others.
Dylan performs To Ramona in the documentary Don’t Look Back in a style similar to the recording. More recent versions transform the song by accenting the waltz beat and adding a more upbeat vocal. I’m not a huge fan.
A nice version was also released on The Bootleg Series Volume 6 – Live 1964.
Joan Baez in her early autobiography, Daybreak, claims that Dylan wrote the song about her. Could be I guess.
An interesting version by Alan Price, one-time pianist with The Animals.
Ramona, come closer,
Shut softly your watery eyes.
The pangs of your sadness
Shall pass as your senses will rise.
The flowers of the city
Though breathlike, get deathlike at times.
And there’s no use in tryin’
T’ deal with the dyin’,
Though I cannot explain that in lines.
Your cracked country lips,
I still wish to kiss,
As to be under the strength of your skin.
Your magnetic movements
Still capture the minutes I’m in.
But it grieves my heart, love,
To see you tryin’ to be a part of
A world that just don’t exist.
It’s all just a dream, babe,
A vacuum, a scheme, babe,
That sucks you into feelin’ like this.
I can see that your head
Has been twisted and fed
By worthless foam from the mouth.
I can tell you are torn
Between stayin’ and returnin’
On back to the South.
You’ve been fooled into thinking
That the finishin’ end is at hand.
Yet there’s no one to beat you,
No one t’ defeat you,
‘Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.
I’ve heard you say many times
That you’re better ‘n no one
And no one is better ‘n you.
If you really believe that,
You know you got
Nothing to win and nothing to lose.
From fixtures and forces and friends,
Your sorrow does stem,
That hype you and type you,
Making you feel
That you must be exactly like them.
I’d forever talk to you,
But soon my words,
They would turn into a meaningless ring.
For deep in my heart
I know there is no help I can bring.
Just do what you think you should do.
And someday maybe,
Who knows, baby,
I’ll come and be cryin’ to you.