‘Boots of Spanish leather’ is one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs of all time. Its story and meaning, however, has always puzzled me but in this post I will explain my thought-out interpretations of this song- regardless of their accuracy.
For those of you who have never listened to this song allow me to give you a short insight into the lyrics;
The lyrics are a dialogue between two supposed lovers. The song, however, begins with the premise that one of the lovers is ‘sailing away in the morning’ (this lover, we later find out, is the female of the relationship). She asks her lover whether he would like her to bring anything back for him- he eventually replies ‘if I had the stars from the darkest night or the diamonds from the deepest oceans I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss- for that’s all I’m wishing to be owning’ and thus rejects her offers.
An unstated amount of time later he receives a letter from her, which indicates she is in no hurry to return to him as her ‘feelings’ are the reason for her not returning sooner.
In response to this tragic letter he turns bitter and the song ends with him asking for her to send him some ‘boots of Spanish leather’ as opposed to how before he wanted only his lover’s ‘sweetest kiss’.
I found myself in difficulty understanding this song for many reasons: and found myself with questions I now feel I have begun to work out the answer to.
What was this ‘journey’ she went on?
The most profound turning-point when puzzling this song out was when I came to the possibility that this journey wasn’t perhaps a mere sail across seas or oceans but the journey of death. After this, things just started falling into place..
Why didn’t she want to come back? Or, why did she stop loving him so after being apart?
Well, given the first interpretation we can infer that the possibility of her actually coming back was nil i.e. she was dead. But what would this mean?
Perhaps Dylan is questioning whether or not it is more satisfying to hear lies than the truth. If this is so, we can gather that the female would rather her lover think that she were alive in some exotic foreign land than dead: as this knowledge might be more of a comfort to him. (After all, she is in love with him and obviously would prefer, even if it sacrificed his respect and love for her, for him to think that she were safe and alive)
Just think back to when you were a child- isn’t it far more comforting for you to believe your parents when they said that Fluffy the rabbit went to a beautiful farm as opposed to six feet underground?
If this is the case why does Dylan go on to turn the male character bitter over her lack of return?
One reason for this could be Dylan showcasing the difficulties of coping with a harsh reality and how some people can react in such situations. If the male eventually worked out the truth behind her departure perhaps it would be a lot easier for him to deal with this truth by exerting blame. E.g he doesn’t wish to accept the truth of her death and so blames her for not returning.
Alternatively, perhaps the gift of ‘memories’ just weren’t enough for him. In this case, the female at the start isn’t offering material souvenirs but memories. And as a human he responds, understandably, with how memories just aren’t enough. But this still doesn’t give reason to his bitterness.
I can easily believe that he was just angry and regretful over his rejection to the gift of memories which he may now miss. Or it could be just emphasising the idea how memories weren’t enough when his lover wasn’t there i.e. he want’s something materialistic to replace this torment.
Just remember, this is my sole interpretation and isn’t based on any research.