Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan
The Elder Bob Dylan
Blood on the Tracks
This is my favorite Bob Dylan album. I think it is a masterpiece, and many Dylanologists agree with me. It's highly personal and although most of the songs are serious and sad, there a few fun tracks too!
Favorite Bob Dylan Album: Blood On The Tracks
Blood On The Tracks is my favorite Bob Dylan Album of all time. Maybe it’s my favorite album of all time, period. I bought it when it came out on vinyl, in 1975. This album was something of a “come back” for Dylan, and was his 15th studio album. I remember listening, amazed at this new sounding Dylan, talking about personal issues in his own life, something unusual for him. He has a reputation for living a rather reclusive life. These are the songs of a person who has suffered terrible emotional wounds. It’s about a person at war inside over somebody he loves and himself, feeling raw and shattered about it. There is no other way to deal with it except to try to take all that emotion and turn it into something. It’s about someone who lost a love, and lost a big part of himself along with her.
He takes us through his journey to forgive himself for what he did wrong, and try to make sense of life again. Many people consider this to be one of Bob Dylan’s best works of art. He seems bewildered by this, and has been known to reply, “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean, you know, people enjoying that kind of pain?” Most people assume this album is about Bob’s divorce from his wife Sara, and their son Jakob Dylan attests to that. But I have heard other stories, and Bob himself has been known to say, “Everyone always thought it was about my wife.” Maybe he’s just being Bob, trying to be mysterious when nobody can solve the puzzle of who this person really is anyway. At any rate, when you take the album as a whole, it’s about a person who is possessed by someone he loves, and never really gets over her. This is the thread that runs through all the tracks, and some truly do have blood on them. My money’s on Joan Baez.
Tangled Up In Blue is the first song on Blood On The Tracks, and one of my favorites on the album. Nobody can tell a story like Bob Dylan, and this one is a story many of us have been characters in ourselves. You are so much in love with someone that they take your breath away, you chase them, catch them, leave them when you can't understand them, lose them, hate them, do anything to get them back, then lose them yet again. You “split up on a cold dark night both agreein’ it was best.” Or a sad, dark night. He often changes lyrics while singing a number. It’s a never-ending cycle of pleasure and pain, until finally one of you walks away for good. Or do you? Maybe for you the cycle never ends.
Some people can stand that much drama in their love lives. But some have to accept that “we always did feel the same, we just started from a different point of view” and move on. That does not mean this soul mate, this person that feels like your reason for living, ever really lets you go. The problem with soul mates is that when you look at your other half, sometimes it forces you to see things about yourself you don’t really like all that much. It gets to be too much. “So now I’m goin’ back again, I gotta get to her somehow”. You know how it is, can’t live with him/her, can’t live without him/her. Bob knows. He’s been there a time or two. Sometimes he sounds so old it’s as if he’s saying, “I’ve seen this hundreds of times, and know I’ll see it hundreds more. It’s all the same, and nothing I can do about it.” He has a fatalistic view on life.
Favorite Bob Dylan Songs From Blood On The Tracks
Why couldn’t it all just work out so both parties could be happy? “She was born in Spring, but I was born too late. Blame it on a Simple Twist of Fate.” By the time he gets to You’re a Big Girl Now, he is still trying to decide what really went wrong. “Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. Oh, but what a shame, that all we shared can’t last. Then he says, “I can change, I swear! Oh, see what you can do. I can make it through. You can make it too.” He wants to try once again.
In Idiot Wind, Dylan is angry that stories about him are circulating in the press, getting the facts wrong. He is gleeful as he launches off on a tirade about what idiots these vultures are. They live for “images, and distorted facts.” Letting off some steam makes him feel “finally free.” He sings along in this vein for a bit, but then admits, “You’ll never know the hurt I suffer, or the pain I rise above. And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness, or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry.” Just the weight of those thoughts make me want to cry.
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go is anticlimactic; she really is gone this time, although he does not want to face this awful truth. He looks for her in different cities, hoping to run into her by accident.
Meet Me In The Morning is a blues number, where he lightheartedly kids, “Honey, we could be in Kansas, before the snow begins to thaw.” But in typical Dylan style, he completely rewrites the song in a version available in The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3. In this changed one, he talks about telling the children that “Mother Took A Trip”, more in keeping with the assumption that Sara has walked out on him. Indeed, she did, and they divorce. It appears that while he was writing the material for what would become Blood On The Tracks, he stayed in touch with Joan Baez. But he has hurt her too much to allow her to make herself that vulnerable to him once again.
This CD also contains terrific alternate takes of Tangled Up In Blue where he changes around all the pronouns, an Idiot Wind where he sounds tired, weary and sad, slow and acoustic, and If You See Her, Say Hello, with many word changes in its verses. I heard this for the first time while shopping in a store called The Hippieshop, and ordered it as soon as I got home. It contains many gems, old folk and blues numbers not to be missed. Sometimes Dylan mumbles quite a bit, and when he goes acoustic again you can actually get all of the words. Of course, he will change them in another version.
Another favorite of mine from Blood on the Tracks is Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. It’s a long tale about a festival, but amidst the goings on, the Jack of Hearts is drilling a hole in the wall to rob the local bank. Big Jim is a wealthy show off who owns the only diamond mine in town, married to Rosemary, who is tired of being his wife, and likely having a fling with the Jack of Hearts. Lily is "a butterfly" who is also having an affair with the Jack of Hearts, ready to run off with him after the heist. It’s not completely clear how it all shakes out, but it appears that Lily sets Rosemary up for Big Jim’s murder, Rosemary is hung, and Lily and the other members are waiting back in town for the Jack of Hearts, who “made off with quite a haul.” I suspect he took off alone without them, but the song is fun, and by this time, you need a little comic relief.
Joan Baez covers many of Bob Dylan’s songs, and does a fabulous job on this one in her beautiful, clear voice. She also tells a story about it in her own song Diamonds and Rust. She says Dylan called her from a phone booth in the Midwest (yes, in 1974 there were phone booths, no cell phones) and read her all the lyrics to Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, right after he wrote it. She says he sounded like he was “headed for a fall” and her song is definitely an autobiography of their affair together. In a You Tube Video, you can see much younger versions of both of them together, looking happy, singing, and Joan is holding up her left hand and sporting a large engagement ring. In Diamonds and Rust, she sings, “Ten years ago, I gave you some cuff links. You brought me something. We all know what memories can bring. They bring diamonds and rust.” She also tells him if that’s what he’s offering her now, “She already paid.” This back and forth between them even in their songs continues until this day, and she often does great imitations of his "mumbling" in her songs. If you can't understand his lyrics, listen to Baez sing one of his songs, and it becomes more clear!
Diamonds and Rust
Accepting the End of a Love Affair
In If You See Her Say Hello, by now Dylan admits she could be anywhere, to tell her he’s alright—even if he isn’t. He respects her for breaking it up (whichever time) and understands where she’s coming from. He says “Look me up, if you find the time.”
Shelter From The Storm, is a tune again written for a woman that evokes this image to him, “Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm. Come in, she said, I’ll give you, Shelter From The Storm." It’s been said he rebelled against Joan’s attempts to care for him. Plus she wanted him to help in her anti war work, and Dylan had to be free to write and sing as he saw fit. I guess he's not someone who really wants to be sheltered from the storm all too much. He wants to experience everything, and can deal with the emotional fallout later. Or as Baez expresses it in her song, “You burst on the scene already a legend, the unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond, you strayed into my arms. And there you stayed, temporarily lost at sea, The Madonna was yours for free, Yes, the girl on the half shell would keep you unharmed.”
At last we come to the finale, a simple number, Buckets of Rain. “Like your smile as its on your lips, like the way that you move your hips, I love the cool way you look at me. Everything about you is bringing me misery.” And there the masterpiece ends, with Bob Dylan still feeling the pain, but maybe not quite so much now. Now he’s weathered the storm, found shelter from it, and moved on. You know, "Like a rolling stone."
*Music videos from You Tube
Certain dates taken from Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus
© 2011 Jean Bakula