Thursday, January 31, 2008
Rock 'N' Roll Revisited, Vol. V
As appeared in yesterday's issue of the New School Free Press
Blood on the Tracks
Whenever I speak to fellow Dylan fans and the subject turns to Blood on the Tracks, they invariably share a story, a piece of their past, associated with the album. It's a personal record, for Dylan and his listeners.
Recorded in September and December 1974 and released the following January, Blood was famously recorded twice—one session in Minnesota, another in New York. After he recorded ten tracks, Dylan thought they were too personal and decided to re-record them with a different feel.
Dylan's recasting of the album has sparked debates since its release, with fans arguing over whether the New York version of "You're a Big Girl Now" is superior to the Minnesota recording (it is), or if Minnesota's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" packs more punch than the one recorded in our fair city (it does). Either way, it's a damn good album.
The album begins with "Tangled Up in Blue," one of Dylan's most popular songs. In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan says he learned a new style of songwriting through painting, enabling him to travel between places and times without worrying about the song seeming uneven. Almost every verse takes Dylan to a new time and place, trying to "get to her somehow."
The song includes one of my favorite lines: "We always did feel the same/We just saw it from a different point of view/Tangled up in blue."
"Idiot Wind" (Or, "Ed-e-ot Wind") blasts violently off the record. The New York version is Dylan on acoustic guitar and a light stand-up bass in the background. The Minnesota version (the one actually used on the record) is louder and more venomous: "You hurt the ones that I love best, and cover up the truth with lies/One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin' around your eyes/Blood on your saddle." Even the humor is cutting: "They say a shot a man named Gray/And took his wife to Italy."
"Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" is an eight-minute tall tale about a bank heist, peopled with characters like a novel. "Shelter from the Storm" is one of Dylan's finest compositions, with every verse ending with a woman promising to give "shelter from the storm."
Soon after Blood was released, Dylan said, "A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?" Well, when I'm down and it's three a.m., the only music I want to hear is Blood on the Tracks.