Friday, August 17, 2012
Monday, August 6, 2012
This is one of those songs that just sort of snuck up on me; I remember not being particularly impressed with it the first time I ever listened to me, whereas these days I think of it both as a really fantastic song and an essential part of the album (although I'm still not totally sold on the "Honolulu/Ashtabula" rhyme - but "Honalula" is kinda funny, when you stop to think about it). This is one of those songs that best benefits from hearing it in the context of the album, as a sweet palate-cleanser after all the venom of the previous song and a charming way to close out Side 1 of the album on vinyl (which is how all the cool kids listen to Blood on the Tracks these days, dontcha know). The pastoral lyrics of the song ("crickets talking back and forth in rhyme", "purple clover, Queen Anne's lace") bring to mind some of the sweeter passages of New Morning; indeed, it's not too far a stretch to imagine this song snugly nestled onto the second half of that album, maybe with some vocal gussying-up to help it fit in with the aesthetic. It's also a New York sessions song, and thus carries the intimacy and sparseness those sessions entailed, while providing a different shade of the regret that those sessions also entailed.
It also offers an actual comparison to Arthur Rimbaud, which would have boggled minds if he'd done it back in 1966 but barely passes with a shrug these days (although I have no idea how that was received in 1975, and Rimbaud doesn't quite carry the same cache as in those halcyon days of Blonde on Blonde). What's interesting is that, once he brings to mind absinthe-fueled screaming matches in Brussels, he immediately takes care to distance the relationship he's singing about from Verlaine and Rimbaud's stormy partnership: "but there's no way I can compare/All them scenes to this affair", another affirmation of how much this lost love really means to him. There's enough accusations, vitriol, and pain spread out on the album that it's kind of nice to have a moment this sweet and gentle to cushion all the blows.
What has always stuck with me, when listening to this song, is how the narrator seems to both know exactly what it is that he has and exactly what it is that he's about to lose, which is not often something that happens when you're about to end a relationship. Every verse seems to be about how his previous dalliances had always been disastrous, or "careless", or any other negative appellation you can think of - but aha, here's the exception, here's the one time that something real is happening and a woman has finally touched him in a way no other woman had. And yet there he is, at the close of every verse, singing "you're gonna make me lonesome when you go" with the weary tone of someone that knows at no matter how many times he sings it, it's not going to do one damn bit of good. He even mentions in the final verse how he'll see her everywhere, much the same way we are reminded of someone we've loved in even the most innocuous moments, as a way of saying "well, you might be leaving, but you'll never actually be leaving", a moment of vulnerability in an album awash with moments of vulnerability. It hurts to hear it, but it's a hurt we all know, and kind of comforting in that sense.
And that, of course, is maybe the greatest reason people return again and again to this album - the comfort, cold as it may be, of having our greatest songwriter tell us that which we feel but cannot express. One wishes that he hadn't had to go through that heartache to bring forth such a diamond, but that's long in the past now. Only the greatness remains. Read more!
Sunday, July 29, 2012
I don't think this is an original sentiment (though I would be hard pressed to remember who came up with it first), but on an album full of moments where Dylan made the right musical choice (not least of which was his decision to reconfigure the album's sound itself), one of the best right choices he made was to start "Idiot Wind" with his voice, band swooping in behind him, as though the song had already started and we just happened to wander in three or four verses deep. For a song so sweeping and epic in its scope, there's something brilliant about throwing us in to the deep end immediately, wondering what Dylan's on about when he sings about stories being planted in the press, shooting a man named Gray ("wait, somebody's been saying Bob shot a guy?"), until we get to the chorus and we remember that, ah yes, Bob's still angry at a woman and he's letting us know all about it. And then everything falls into place, and we can let ourselves get swept away in the rising, spiteful tide.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Author's note: When I said my posting would be more sporadic, this wasn't quite what I had in mind. Let's see if I still know how to do this...
There are still Dylan fans, I'm sure, that still think the all-acoustic New York version of Blood on the Tracks is superior to the released version that everybody knows, and if you asked them why, it would be a song like "You're a Big Girl Now". To New York faithfuls, the Minneapolis version, with its sparse and tasteful arrangement (the acoustic guitar work is a particular standout), manages to serve as a fine song without quite capturing the raw hurt of the New York version, which sounds more like a demo than anything else (maybe not on the level of one of the Bob-and-guitar-only tracks where you can hear the coat buttons scraping the back of his guitar, but close), and benefits all the more for it, like how Nebraska probably would've suffered if Springsteen had given it the full-E Street Band experience. And that rawness is the best way to hear Blood on the Tracks - nearly everything that could undercut Dylan's anger and pain stripped away, leaving us with the greatest bedside confessional album ever recorded. The official album, then, is the Hollywood version (not the Hollywood version supposedly in the works, thankfully), just enough angst sanded away to make the album palatable for the folks back home.
I've never subscribed to that theory, and not just because I greatly prefer hearing fleshed-out band arrangements to Bob and his guitar (not always, but very much so for this album). The main reason I think the released version is so perfect and the New York version is, well, not, is because the released version does not lack for raw hurt, but does not make that the album's focus. My ever-present blog companion Eyolf Olstrem, in his essay on the album for Dylanchords, sums that feeling up perfectly: "...you have 10 songs, all quite slow, mostly staying in the emotional range between sadness and bitterness". An album like that can simply wear you out without anything to take you out of that emotional low (even the aforementioned Nebraska, for all its darkness and death, contains "Atlantic City", surely one of the last century's great love songs); there must be a matching high, or at least a low that doesn't feel so low, to keep us from wanting to jump off a bridge. And that's what the released version gives us - epic canvases, sharp pain, wistful nostalgia, bitter insults, and through all of it a weird sense of optimism - that maybe, just maybe, the next album Bob records about a woman won't be so darn sad.
Which brings us back to "You're A Big Girl Now", my sneaky favorite of this album (that's for long-time readers of this blog), and one of the album's strongest compositions. To me, that sparse and tasteful arrangement helps open the song up, releasing some of the acid of the New York original, and offering something more complicated and mature in its stead. That third verse, in particular, captures everything that makes this album so remarkable in six tremendous lines, running the gamut from a longing reminiscing ("what a shame that all we had can't last") to the most heartbreaking thing Dylan ever wrote in his life ("I can change, I swear"), to a sudden and swift turn of the screw that lets out some of that bile ("see what you can do" - at least, that's how I always heard it, as a defiant re-establishing of his emotional armor after letting his guard down for once), ending with a plea for his ex to hopefully get through the heartache, as he has (or says he has). Everything you could ask for out of this kind of album is there - rage, sadness, acceptance, even a sliver of hope for the future.
In an odd way, this song also serves as a throwback to the younger, acoustic-era Dylan, the one that was still writing songs as emotionally bare as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", without sacrificing the more poetic imagery of something like "Girl of the North Country" or "Boots of Spanish Leather". This is Bob as direct as he'll ever get, going directly for the jugular with his corkscrew metaphor, even invoking the "other man's bed" scenario of "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (only this time, instead of the sighing acceptance of the latter, Dylan offers that thought with an accusatory sneer, even while saying "well, that's how it has to be, I guess" - an emotional complexity as rich as "Mama"'s was), while also imagining himself as a songbird offering his tune for his former lover. You can feel the ties that this song has to Dylan's former broken-heart classics, while also feeling like that decade in between gave him an added maturity necessary to write something like this - I truly believe that 70s Dylan could've written "Tomorrow is a Long Time", while younger Dylan never could have written this. And that's one of the great thrills of listening to your favorite artist - hearing that maturity in his singing and songwriting voice, the accrual of time shaping and melding his words into something that is recognizably the voice of Bob Dylan, while also serving as one of the many voices of Bob Dylan. Read more!