Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #38: Black Crow Blues

A quick note: Before I continue with my Another Side of Bob Dylan series, I want to make a promise to you, the readers. From the next post on, I'm declaring a moratorium on any comments on how much more enjoyable, looser, and freer this album us compared to its immediate predecessor. I don't wish to insult any big fans of that album (I happen to like a number of songs on it myself, as you may have read), and continually saying how less dark and monochromatic Another Side is will certainly be boring and repetitive to both you and I. So that is my personal guarantee.

That being said (don't you just love that phrase? It absolves me of so much guilt for what I'm about to say next), songs like this underline the major difference between this album and The Times: songs this loose and charming would have had no place on The Times. Dylan, playing the piano in the same ham-fisted style we grew to know and tolerate around Dylan's 2002 concerts, rolls through an approximation of a blues song, featuring the pining for a lover segment, references to a highway, and the well-worn "repeat the first line of a verse" technique. In a way, this song feels like a distant cousin to "Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)" - or is that the other way around? - both in its tossed-off feel and in the way they appropriate blues chord progressions to make something a little fresher and even a little funnier. And this song is funny, or at least funny's relative clever, with lines like "Well my wrist was empty, but my nerves was tickin'/Tickin' like a clock" that you can't help but like.

One thing about this song that interests me is that (and maybe I'm just attributing something that isn't there) the released take shows the effects of all that wine Dylan drank during the all-night session for the album. First of all, even granting Dylan's lifelong rudimentary piano technique, Dylan constantly makes mistakes pounding on the keys, much like you'd expect somebody with a bit of alcohol in his system. Second, Dylan's voice (to me, anyway) sounds a little thick as he rambles through the lyrics; I will say that he doesn't outright laugh like in the previous song, which to me was a sure sign that either Dylan was a little sloshed or there was a circus clown juggling for him in-studio or something. Either way, the song definitely feels rough around the edges, like it was just some rough outline Dylan had been messing around with that he decided to flesh out right then and there. We know that's not the case, but it still comes off that way, and that adds to its refreshingly DIY feel.

It's interesting that so much has been made about Dylan's mind-melting drug use during the mid-1960s, especially the effect it had on his songwriting and his album sessions (most noticeably Blonde on Blonde, which had a recording schedule impossible to get through without being right fucked up). But I always wondered why nobody has made more of a big deal about Dylan drinking his way through the sessions of Another Side of Bob Dylan. Leave aside the fact that this was supposed to be a major release from a major recording artist on a major label. We all know that drinking does funny things to a person, either in a good way ("you know, I really feel like we're brothers, man!" *weeping*) or bad ("you sat in my favorite bar stool, you asshole!" *punch*). So how is it that Dylan was allowed to bring in a few bottles of Beaujolais, pound them back during the sessions for a Columbia Records album, and be allowed to have the results committed to wax and shipped out to distributors? It makes very little sense to me; I'm not complaining with the results, but there's just something strange about the whole thing.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it; drugs and alcohol have always been part of rock and roll sessions, Dylan DID manage to complete a whole releasable album in one night without firing a gun in the studio or threatening his producer's life, and there's no denying that the drinking helped fuel the looseness that makes the album so lovable. All the same, there's something remarkable and kinda funny about the fact that Dylan can get loaded through an album session and nobody seems to either notice or particularly care. There are so many walks of life in which drinking is absolutely discouraged (the second you hear your taxi driver slur, you're getting the hell out of that taxi), it's always hilarious when there's a profession in which drinking/doing drugs is not only not discouraged, but kind of expected by society. What the hell, maybe it makes music even better.

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andrew! said...

They're coming fast & furious now. I have to admit, Another Side is one of the Dylan albums I listen to the least. I don't know, it sounds like it needs a band to bring these songs to life, & I think Dylan knew it. Check out my review of tell tale signs, if you dare...

Josh Perry said...

Where do you find out your info about recording sessions for these albmus? Thanks

Queen Jane said...

Al Kooper claimed that all the musicians, professionals as they were, had been completely sober during the Blonde on Blonde sessions.

David George Freeman said...

Well yes another well researched essay. When you have finished reading join us inside Bob Dylan Music Box and listen to all the great songs and versions.