Steeped in heartbreak and loneliness, Blood On The Tracks is considered among Bob Dylan’s best. Released after the dissolution of his marriage to Sara Lowndes, Dylan claimed in his autobiography, Chronicles Vol. 1, that the songs were inspired by Chekhov stories. Rule #1: Never take what Bob Dylan says at face value.
I enjoy Bob Dylan’s music, and I love reading his lyrics, but it seems like the man prefers to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, covered in a self-protective veneer. His personality, I find both interesting and off-putting, which might be how he likes it — perhaps a more studied fan could confirm.
Still, when it came to mentioning an album that best fit a relationship’s disintegration, Blood On The Tracks is the one to which I turned when writing a portion of my novel. (Yes, that endlessly mentioned, still-stuck-in-editing novel.) I wanted the sort of music one needs when feeling sorry for themselves, when feeling helplessly angry; I needed a dark room and resignation.
Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
—“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
The closer to Side A, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” is my favorite on the album. Unfortunately, Dylan’s people are on top of all copyright related stuff on YouTube, and unless you want me to subject us to Miley Cyrus’ cover, you’re just going to have to turn on the album yourself. (It is available on Spotify.)
Probably the most famous song from the album, “Tangled Up in Blue,” I can share, and it is indeed a stunner.
I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue
The back cover of the 1974 album features a long note from Pete Hamill, a journalist who later received the Best Liner Notes Grammy for his contribution to the album. It is a beautiful tribute: “[B]y leaving things out, he allows us the grand privilege of creating along with him. His song becomes our song because we live in those spaces.”
Yes, that is exactly it. Bob Dylan’s music, among so many others, helped me create my own art. Even if I am not among his most ardent fans, he still made me get to work. He helped me find the words, even if I never mentioned the album by name:
When we returned home, Ian fell asleep on the sofa, headphones wrapped around his ears and the blanket pulled over his shoulders. Thom disappeared into his room. Hesitant to say anything, I took a shower, stepped over the cord running from the turntable, then fell into bed. After hours of bad dreams, I opened my eyes to the sound of Ian sitting in the desk chair. He’d cracked open the curtains, and the suggestion of another grey day cut through the room.
Forgive the lack of context, but if I were to create an appendix to my book listing the exact sections where outside elements assisted me, Blood On The Tracks and this paragraph would go together. Connections like this are among my favorite things about writing, knowing from where a particular group of words came, and what magic inspiration and creation possess.
While writing this column, my nine-year-old daughter picked up the record sleeve and asked what it was. I told her it was a Bob Dylan record, and she examined David Oppenheim’s illustration on the back cover, and Paul Till’s photo on the front and said, “I like this. It’s really cool.”
Blood On The Tracks is timeless. Its existence will continue to provide enjoyment, reflection, and inspiration, and I wonder what visual ideas are already spinning through my daughter’s imagination. What else will this album help create?