Friday, August 17, 2012

Bob Dylan Song #178: Meet Me in the Morning

One thing that I think most everyone would agree on is that there are no weak spots on Blood on the Tracks - every song fits into the mood Dylan wanted to create, within the musical palette he wanted to use, and with the same general lyrical conceits (in this particular case, a crawling twelve-bar blues where the narrator bemoans a woman that "treats [him] so unkind" and has left him begging for a rendezvous that clearly isn't going to happen - so the subject matter of just about every blues song ever, then), so that it feels like not a single second of the album's 51 minutes and 42 seconds are wasted. That being said, there are songs on the album that people would consider highlights, as with any album both classic and dreck, and I would suggest that this song falls on the lower end of the "album highlight" spectrum. This is not me saying that the song is bad, of course; I happen to enjoy the song a good deal, especially the fuzz-tone solo that crops up in the latter half and the way Dylan sings "ship" kind of like he's singing "sheep". I also think that some songs work well to establish the album's aesthetic, and some songs rise above the album's aesthetic to become beloved standards, and this song leans towards the former description. Then again, Larry Herndon wasn't a particularly great hitter, but he had a role to play on the 1984 Detroit Tigers*, and that's one of the greatest baseball teams ever, so there's absolutely nothing wrong with being part of the aesthetic of something great.

* I was going to use the 1927 Yankees as the example here, but screw the Yankees

Another thing worth mentioning is that this song has the honor, if you want to call it that, of being the only song on Blood on the Tracks to feature a full backing band, led by Eric Weissberg of "Dueling Banjos" fame (it is an embarrassment to reveal that it is just now, while typing up this post, that I get why the backing band was called Deliverance; then again, I haven't seen that movie, so there you go). In typical damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead fashion, Dylan put together the initial pass at the album over four days and twenty-two hours, a feat that boggles the mind even attempting to think about it, and Deliverance managed to remain gainfully employed as Dylan's backing band for a grand total of one day and six of those hours, before Dylan fired most of them and cherry-picked a few lucky souls to give him the bare-bones sound we hear on the album. A few of the versions that Deliverance recorded ended up on the Bootleg Series; we'll get to those whenever I finally reach that bridge (sometime in the next 40 years, given my current writing pace). But, for the most part, the versions that Deliverance recorded have been lost to history.

Having written a number of times about the album's aesthetic (sorry, I really enjoy that word), I'd occasionally wondered how people would receive Blood on the Tracks if it had been recorded differently. I don't just mean if the New York version had been released - I mean if Dylan had brought in the Rolling Thunder Revue (which was not yet a glimmer in his mind's eye, but you know what I mean), or if he'd recorded it with The Band, or country-style or New Morning style just to screw with us, or in any sort of recording style other than the early-70s Harvest-like style presented here. This is obviously purely speculation, as there's no way to ever know how a different version of Blood on the Tracks was received, but we've always known (or believed, at least) that the strength of the album lies in the songs, and it really wouldn't matter if Dylan had performed them all with just his guitar accompanying him (although it probably wouldn't be quite as beloved today; Another Side contains some of his greatest songs, but is generally not considered one of his best albums) or if he'd recorded them with the Neil Diamond-esque flashiness of Street Legal (now there's a thought). Nor should it, honestly - if Rumours, or Sea Change, or any other number of breakup albums have taught us, there's no wrong way to lay out your tales of heartbreak on tape, so long as the songs stand up on their own.

And, ultimately, there is a treasure trove of evidence that shows us that the album could have been recorded just about any way short of death metal style and still been considered a masterpiece - by which, of course, I mean his live performances of eight of these songs (funny enough, this song was only performed by Dylan's band with Jack White on vocals, and that damn live performance of "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" is going to turn up sometime, right?) over the last forty years. I've linked to the glorious World of John Hammond performance of "Simple Twist of Fate" before, but I'm also thinking about the RTR solo acoustic performance of "Tangled Up in Blue" (we didn't need THAT close a close-up on Dylan's face, right?), or the gutbucket rock-n-roll muscular versions of "You're A Big Girl Now" from Interstate '88 (still one of Dylan's finest tours), or any of the drawn-out versions of "Tangled", "Simple Twist", and "Shelter" (the first two of which I saw personally) that have been immeasurably strengthened by Larry Campbell (maybe Dylan's best live band guitarist) and his ever-crack touring band,  or most especially the messy churn of Hard Rain's "Shelter from the Storm", which says "fuck this subtlety noise" and shoves Dylan's anger right in our faces via one of his greatest, shoutiest vocal performances and some hilariously amateurish slide guitar (and we thought his piano playing was simplistic). And, in all those performances, all those different recording styles, with all those different players breathing new life into words now nearly 4 decades old, we can still hear the genius of those original lines, and know that Dylan was almost certainly always going to get it right.
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Monday, August 6, 2012

Bob Dylan Song #177: You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

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!

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