bob dylan - blood on the tracks

Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks (1975)

Day 6 of the #mayvinylchallenge asks for records that go together, whether on a mixtape or just complement each other. This one may need a revisit down the road, because how do you talk about one of your favorite albums of all time, especially an album as acclaimed and steeped in mythology as Blood On The Tracks, the fifteenth album by Bob Dylan without resorting to cliché and hyperbole? What can you say that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing, so rather than try I’ll make this one brief and talk about the impressions going through my mind as I take another listen to an album I’ll never get tired listening to.

“Tangled Up In Blue” for me is the Bob Dylan song. I’d known of other songs, but this was the song that connected me to the man’s music. It was the third song on a mixtape my friend Dave made me of all the music he loved: things like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jethro Tull, Santana, James Blood Ulmer, and this song, a song about moving through life and finding someone at the wrong time and it not mattering, connecting years later. It keyed me into storytelling in a way none of my metal albums did. Same with “Simple Twist Of Fate” which could kill me with the way Dylan sounded so resigned on each faltering breath of the repeated title.

I loved the way after being so keyed into the strumming of the acoustic guitar suddenly being taken with Paul Griffin’s organ on “Idiot Wind” and the way Dylan treated the lyrics like a soapbox sermon. I remember affecting every nasal inflection with Dave and his brother Steve as we’d sing song after song driving along the road of Middletown, NY in the middle of the night, stopping for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Which brings me to another memory, of watching Dave – always the musical one – having to do an assignment for our honors Social Studies class where you had to sing a song in class that has “political merit” and instead of singing along to a cassette like the rest of the class (for the record, I sang both Testament’s “Greenhouse Effect” and Mucky Pup’s “Reagan Knew”) grand a guitar and sang all of “Desolation Row”. I remember watching every girl kind of fall in love with him, and every boy, too.

That’s kind of what memory does, though…takes you from one thing to another, even to songs that most assuredly aren’t on Blood On The Tracks. But like any great album, as soon as you’re pulled away in one direction, you’re pulled back. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” has the lilting quality of a folk dream, a song seemingly made more perfect by the slight crackle of static on my vinyl.

I love how laid back and tinged with blues “Meet Me In The Morning” is, Dylan making use of a full band sound to imbue a syrupy warmth and thickness to the track. It can sometimes be easy to forget how good the man is working with a band (or The Band, for that matter). I can lay down and listen to the twisting, labyrinth narrative of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” all day, its take of murder, robbery, and yearning for something else. It’s a wild ride, but for me it always sets up the powerhouse of the rest of the album.

If Blood On The Tracks begins with a bang, it ends with one as well, albeit one whose power isn’t loud and explosive, but quiet and deft, the small touch that lingers on your heart forever. “If You See Her Say Hello” aches with longing and regret, buried in its story. It’s the flip of “Tangled Up in Blue” for me, what the narrator, older and wiser, would think years later coming across her again. Is this a breakup album? I remember the pain and heartache of my first love at 17 and I can see that being the case, but as much pain and regret fill the songs I’m left feeling happy. Wistful, perhaps…but happy. There’s not a moment where you get the sense maybe things would have been better had they not happened. A road not taken would not have led to “Shelter From The Storm”, and I have to think despite the turns the song takes, had he had to do it all over again, he still would have come in, taken the shelter from the storm.

Whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t matter. Whether Blood On The Tracks is about Dylan’s deteriorating marriage or not doesn’t matter. What matters in the end are the memories the songs leave, the impressions they make. There is so much tied up in this album for me, stretching as far back as that mixtape in 1990 to a few weeks ago, laying on the couch with my wife listening to this in the morning and touching toes, connecting and loving despite the stories of blood and love and loss.

Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well
I’ll do it for you
Honey baby, can’t you tell?

“Buckets of Rain” – Bob Dylan

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