“Million Dollar Bash” was first recorded in 1967 in the basement of a house in West Saugerties, New York. The house was, of course, the famous “Big Pink,” then occupied by Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. As Robertson explains, “The Basement Tapes” started out as Dylan and The Band “just killing time”, but soon flourished into a creative outpouring of new material and inspired covers. The album was cobbled from these friendly jam sessions and officially released to the public on June 26, 1975. On “The Basement Tapes” Dylan sounds more playful and joyous then perhaps on any entry of his catalogue. It is an historical irony that this double LP ode to life’s simple pleasures came out just five months after his bleak divorce drama, “Blood on the Tracks”.
“Million Dollar Bash” stood out to me the very first time I heard “The Basement Tapes”. It seems like the spiritual summation of the entire affable affair. Dylan’s lyrics are as light-hearted as the tune is lovely. He sings as though he feels free for the first time in ages to revel in absurdity and humor just for the fun of it, as is only fitting for a song about the biggest party imaginable. But I see another side to the song that explains its curious and elusive poignancy. Over the course of two minutes and thirty-three seconds Dylan refers to no fewer than seven characters and two or three vaguely defined groups. He makes it clear that this isn’t just a big party it’s the biggest party to which “everybody from right now” is going. Near as I can tell, “Million Dollar Bash” is a little ditty about dying and heading off for a big party in the sky. It’s a song about resigning one’s self to fate, but enjoying the ride as you go and that’s what makes it so uplifting.
I suppose my theory is tenuous at best, but as such it reflects the key to Dylan’s staying power and that is his music’s tolerance for reinterpretation. Like many of his finest works, “Million Dollar Bash” stands as a blank slate for the listener’s imagination. The raw ingredients of a deeper meaning are temptingly displayed daring you to make something of them.