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ACROSS THE BORDERLINE

(Ry Cooder/John Hiatt/Jim Dickinson)

Ry Cooder


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Covered by Bob Dylan


A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF THE GENESIS OF THIS SONG:

(*extremely* condensed from Richard Williams, 'Across the Borderline', in: Tim de Lisle (editor), Lives of the Great Songs, Penguin Books, 1995, pp. 7-12)

1981:

British director Tony Richardson tasks Ry Cooder with providing a soundtrack for his movie "The Border" (starring Jack Nicholson). For the opening scene (a boy and a girl trying to cross the border; 3 1/2 minutes in length), Richardson wants a song.

RY COODER:
I thought, what can I do? Woody Guthrie already wrote the anthem of those people when he came up with "Deportees."(p. 8)
Ry Cooder comes up with the "chord structure of a melodic ballad." (ibid.)
RY COODER:
Then one day I was out jogging and I thought of the words for the first verse -- that yellow-brick-road thing... Once I had that scoped out, I knew I had something I could take to John Hiatt....

I drove up to his place with a guitar and an amplifier... So I set up in Hiatt's yard, plugged in and played... He said, "Play the chorus again." ...And he stuck his head out the window and sang: "When you reach the broken promised land..." The whole chorus. And I said, "That's it, I'm outta here."(p. 9)

So now... I needed a second verse, which had to take the story a little further. So I called Jim Dickinson... and played the song to him over the phone.
He gave me the poetic heart of the song... "Up and down the Rio Grande..." (p. 11)

JIM DICKINSON (ex-"Dixie Flyers"):
I wrote it in a hotel room in New Orleans...
When I heard that Dylan had done it, that was the thrill of a lifetime for me. He changes the tune and the chords a little bit. And he's the only one who really gets the meaning of the last line. Now I sing his version. I figured, who's right, me or Bob Dylan? (ibid.)
RY COODER:
To me... that borderline may be inside yourself. (ibid.)
JIM DICKINSON:
It doesn't have to be about illegal aliens... It's about people who're trapped. (ibid.)


LYRICS AS PERFORMED BY BOB DYLAN
(with TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS),
SHORELINE AMPHITHEATER, MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, Aug 5, 1986;
transcribed by Manfred Helfert.


There's a place, so I been told,
Every street is paved with gold,
And it's just across the borderline.
When it's time to take your turn,
There's a lesson you must learn:
You could lose more than you ever hope to find.
And when you reach that broken-promise land,
All your dreams flow through your hands.
You will know it's too late to change your mind.
You paid the price to come so far,
Just you wind up where you are,
And you're still just across that borderline.
Up and down the Rio Grande,
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal a secret no one can define.
That river rolls on like a breath
In between my life and death.
Tell me, who is next to cross that borderline.
And when you reach that broken-promise land,
And all your dreams flow through your hand.
You know it's too late to change your mind.
'Cause you paid the price to come so far,
Just you wind up where you are,
And you're still just across that borderline.

Yeah, you're still just just across that borderline,
Well, you're still just across that borderline,
Well, yeah, you're still just across that borderline.


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