Duquesne Whistle: First song from Tempest makes its debut

NPR has the scoop:

“Duquesne Whistle,” begins in the middle of a scene, like the fade-in in a classic Western. It’s the first song we get to hear from Bob Dylan’s Tempest, the album he will release on September 11, 50 years and six months after the commencement of his recoding career.

The music starts faintly, as if in a vintage pleasure palace, with the band — the stalwarts who’ve played with Dylan for a while and join him on the Never-Ending Tour — playing rock and roll ragtime off in the corner. The electric guitars sound almost like clarinets. Everybody’s swinging! But what’s that in the distance? Dylan himself unleashes the rubbery guitar chord change that repeats for the rest of the song, sounding just like a locomotive blast. Is he hopping that thing? Is somebody he loves on it? Both are possible. 

“Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing,” Dylan importunes, the burr in his voice recalling none so much as Louis Armstrong. “Blowing like it’s gonna sweep my world away.” The verses, co-written with old friend Robert Hunter, are typically mysterious and playful. This could be the same train Dylan took with The Band in “Lo + Behold!”: as in that song from The Basement Tapes, something strange, raucous and scary is happening. And like that older iron horse, this one runs through Pittsburgh and seems to be carrying a very attractive lady. Maybe it’s on the rails to heartbreak or disaster, or a new industrial age. Or maybe the song’s just a sly tribute to Earl “Fatha” Hines, the jazz great whose stride piano would have fit perfectly in this arrangement, and who was born in Duquesne in 1903. 

Let the Dylanologists figure out what the song’s “real” story may be. The real real story unfolds through its delicious rhythms and in that unshakeable whistle — and the loquacious vivaciousness of Dylan’s voice. He and his crew really get the floorboards rocking. We still need saloon songs like this one.

Read it all here.

Agree about the Louis Armstrong comment.  After Dylan did his radio show it is as if he’s reached back to his own original roots in music, roots like Robert Johnson.  If someone wants to try to “get” Dylan, it seems to me the road runs through Robert Johnson.

Listen to Duquesne Whistle here or here.


Duquesne Whistle
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it’s gonna sweep my world away
I wanna stop at Carmangale and keep on going
That Duquesne train gon’ rock me night and day

You say I’m a gambler, you say I’m a pimp
But I ain’t neither one
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Sounding like it’s on a final run

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she never blowed before
Little light blinking, red light glowing
Blowing like she’s at my chamber door

You smiling through the fence at me
Just like you always smiled before
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she ain’t gon’ blow no more

Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing?
Blowing like the sky’s gonna blow apart
You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going
You’re like a time bomb in my heart

I can hear a sweet voice steadily calling
Must be the mother of our Lord
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like my woman’s on board

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it’s gon’ blow my blues away
You old rascal, I know exactly where you’re going
I’ll lead you there myself at the break of day

I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed
Everybody telling me she’s gone to my head
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it’s gonna kill me dead

Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing?
Blowing through another no good town
The lights on my lady’s land are glowing
I wonder if they’ll know me next time ’round

I wonder if that old oak tree’s still standing
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she’s blowing right on time

Bob Dylan 2012