I'd worn out my welcome in Bellingham by 2004, which is why The Reckoning exists. I didn't leave Bellingham until 2007, which is why Nowhere Nights exists.
Since I was a kid, I have always been enthralled by the sort of detachment Dylan exhibits throughout Don't Look Back, so the title was pulled from that film. That detachment is juxtaposed so beautifully in the film by how deeply Joan Baez seems to care for and about everything. Some go through life naked because they love the sensation of being exposed, of coming into contact with everything; others go through life naked because they carry nothing. "Don't Look Back" is about the collision of those people and the wreckage left behind. About the difference between the memories we make and the memories we manufacture.
Don't look back was, for me, a big step away from leaning heavily and unapologetically on what I had learned from other writers and a big step towards finding my own way to use language. The red sky and shades of black in the second verse are the Herald sign I could see from my friend's apartment and the two black cats who inhabited the apartment, respectively. Those are still my favorite lines in the song.
The original recording of the song, for The Reckoning, is just about exactly how I heard the song when I wrote it. Eric Ambel has always done such a great job of finding the sounds I'm struggling to describe. The second recording, for Let the Bloody Moon Rise, is more forceful and, I don't know, anthemic I suppose. It works as a showcase for what that band was capable of, less so as a vehicle to deliver the lyrics.
I lived in Bellingham nearly a decade and in that time I saw friends, relationships, scenes, communities and businesses grow, flourish, flicker and die. I thought of myself back then as more like Dylan - able to pass through that town and that time without carrying anything - but "Don't Look Back" reminds me just how exposed I was.
somebody said state street's covered in ashes / i didn't ask for a name, i knew it was you / in your bulletproof grin and your false eyelashes / you took a handful of blood and you painted the sidewalk blue / and they said, they said, you were out there raising the dead / looks like you covered up most of your tracks / they're sure they'll find something you left behind / but i know you a little better than that / you don't look back
i remember all the rules that you taught me / you said step right, kid, this city's just a game / stick to the sidestreets, you'll never get caught / but you left me on the boulevard cold and screaming out your name / and you said, you said, the sky was spitting out red / i just saw a couple shades of black / you moved like smoke / left me holding your coat / but i know wherever you're at / you don't look back
i heard your hair was a different color / that don't change how you look in the back of my mind / the older i get, the more i discover / stand in the dark long enough, something's bound to shine / and i said, i said, you'd left me for dead / there was never any truth to that / i could breathe just fine / and we both know damn well, honey, once you start lying to yourself / you're trapped / and you don't look back