Follow by Email

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Bob Dylan in Greece, 1964

I hadn't realised that Dylan's "I'll keep it with mine" was probably written in Greece, at the time when Bob was also working on a number of songs for his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Songs included "It Ain't Me Babe" (he'd also worked on this on an earlier occasion in Italy) and the lovely demo, "Mama you been on my mind" (if you prefer it, this is the Joan Baez version)

Apparently "I'll keep it with mine" was written for Nico (Christa Paffgen), who died in July 1988; she recorded a version of the song.

Commentators seem to be unable to identify the village near Athens where she and Bob are said to have stayed for a short period in May/June,1964.

Nobody can find the village near Athens called Vernilya, the location of so much creativity. It remains a mystery.

Robert Shelton calls it Vermilya in "No Direction Home, The Life and Music of Bob Dylan":

"After an appearance in London in May 1964, Dylan made a lightning trip to Paris and then Greece, where, with his road manager, Victor Maimudes, he visited the small village of Vermilya."

Victor died in 2001. The late Suze Rotola does not have good words for Bob's "buddy-bodyguard" in "A Freewheelin' Time", page 285.  Wherever Vermilya/Vernilia may be, it deserves a plaque.

David Hajdu, in "Positively 4th Street", writes that "Bob wrote nearly all the songs for his next record in about a week at the end of May, while vacationing in Greece between engagements in a one-month tour of Europe."

I once suspected that some of the verses in "Mr Tambourine Man" were also written in Greece that May. Then for a while I thought they could also have been inspired six months later by the Cacoyannis film "Zorba the Greek" (eg the lines about dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands...Let me forget about today until tomorrow- remember the reaction of Zorba after the collapse of the cable railway?). But Dylan had written the first version of the song around February 1964, or maybe as early as 1962. He recorded a version in the Columbia Studio on 9 June, 1964 (with Rambling Jack Elliott on back-up vocals). He performed it at the Newport Folk Festival (with that verse) in the summer of 1964. Zorba the Greek didn't open until December 1964 (first reviews, 18 December, 1964).

The Zorba link seemed a plausible idea, given the acknowledged influence on Dylan of Fellini's La Strada and Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. When Nat Hentoff conducted an interview with Dylan (January 1966) for Playboy Magazine (February 1966), he asked him if he had any unfulfilled ambitions. Dylan replied:

"Well, I guess I've always wanted to be Anthony Quinn in La Strada. Not always-only for about six years now; it's not one of those childhood-dream things."

The fact is that Dylan worked on many of his songs at many different times and places. I'm certainly not  a Dylanologist, and  we'll probably never know the answers to many questions, unless Dylan chooses to write about them in some future volume of Chronicles.

Judy Collins also recorded the song I'll Keep It with Mine. She has said that Bob told her that the song was written for her.

Some other notable songs with a stronger Greek connection:

Leonard Cohen, Bird on a Wire

Donovan, Writer in the Sun

Cat Stevens, Rubylove

Pulp, Common People

Someone helpfully posted a Greek translation of the first line:

Ήρθε από την Ελλάδα, είχε μια δίψα για γνώση. Εκεινη σπούδασε γλυπτική στο St.Martin 's College...


  1. I too have searched for this location - now it seems to be revealed:-

  2. Many thanks for this comment. Brilliant!


  3. You may or not be aware .. one place where Dylan mentioned the "i wrote the 4th album in Greece.." is this MAGNIFICENT 1965 interview around min. 38'

    Very nice blog!

  4. Thanks Leo! I hadn't discovered that comment; that's very helpful


  5. in the winter edtion of lettre is an articel about alexis sorbas, his wher abouts. and an part of the story goes about bob and this summer and the place and with pictures.

  6. Your are dead wrong! "I´ll keep it with mine" dates back to 1966 not 1964 as you can see in any version of "Lyrics".

    1. You may be right concerning the official publication date. That is often quite different from the date that the song-writer started composing the song.

  7. The place is called Vouliagmeni, it is just south of Athens.

  8. Hi Jim,
    for you this link, hope you´re a bit familiar with German.

    All the best

    1. My German's a bit rusty, but I read the article, which is excellent. Thank you!

    Hi Jim,
    this link for you, hope you´re a bit familiar with German