“If you see her, say hello”, begins Dylan’s most emotionally bare song, and an underrated gem from his catalogue. “She might be in Tangier”, he adds hopefully, which is a hilariously specific place to seemingly just pull out of the blue, which suggests one-to-five of the following options.
a) He has thought about this a lot, and narrowed down the location accordingly, landing on Tangier as her likely place of escape.
b) Dylan’s proto-parents William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and co. would often live in Tangier for months at a time, and he suspects one of those beat-writers of having stolen her. Or suspects she is following this well-worn pilgrimage and blames himself – because Dylan is definitely the type of husband who bangs on about Kerouac a lot.
c) She left an address and a phone number behind, and Dylan knows all too well that she is there, but he isn’t chasing after anyone, as he is both the weatherman and knows which way the wind blows.
d) ‘She’ is actually poet Alan Ginsburg, last seen floating in the background of Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ clip, who Bobby misses a lot.
e) Dylan just found out about Tangier, and has began weaving it into/hearing it in conversations in that way you do when you learn a new fact/word and then see it everywhere.
Of course, the answer is a blend of b) and f) “It’s a pretty-sounding/looking word which happens to rhyme with hear and represents an exotic, far-flung location”, but whatever his reason for picking Tangier (he refers aloofly to having heard she was there, although this is clearly a lie), he never resolves her whereabouts – not that it’s too important to the story. She has left, and Dylan misses her.
This is the most personal song in Dylan’s hefty, but often emotionally-removed, catalogue. Jakob Dylan, who actually lived it, has the best take on ‘Blood On The Tracks’, the album this song is on, calling the record “the sound of my parents fighting.” If that’s the case, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ is the sound of Jakob walking into the lounge room and witnessing his father crumpled and crying holding a photo of his mum. It’s the most openly heartbroken the usually bulletproof Dylan has allowed us to see him, and it’s all the more effective when put in the context of the rest of his recording output. It’s also a rare example of his most powerful lines being the most stark. Dylan is obviously an amazing wordsmith, but this often clouds things, entire albums describing the edges of things rather than focusing in. “We had a falling-out, like lovers often will” is all he will say about the split, other than alluding to some real shit going down the night she left (lovers don’t up and leave of a night unless real shit went down). She clearly occupies most of his mind, yet he only passes along a “hello” message. You know who I say “hello” to? Most people I talk to.
He gives a resigned cap-nod to her independence too, even if that’s the very factor keeping him from being with her: “I always have respected her for doing what she did and getting free”, he sings, and I believe him. It’s heart-wrenching to hear him howl the words, “And I’ve never gotten used to it, I just learned to turn it off”, although Dylan being Dylan – aka: the Jimmy Dean/Dylan Thomas/Dylan McKay/Matt Dillon/Jack Kerouac beat poet, gun-slinging, train-hopping, whiskey-gulping maestro that he is – this song ends with an epic kiss-off, the dismissive, closing line, “tell her she can look me up… if she’s got the time.”
It’s all bluster and bluff though, we know he’d fly to Tangier (or Russia or wherever) if he had any inkling she wanted him back – but she doesn’t. She wants Tangier.