This record has been with me for well over twenty years man and boy, and I would describe it as my “Go To” album , a long player for all seasons and moods from a song writing genius at the height of his powers.
Everyone should have a slightly deranged and inspirational teacher in their teenage years. I had three, which is being greedy and Mr. Welburn, my Tutor and Geography teacher had a huge impact on my musical development by introducing me to Dylan and lending me this album (which I then copied, naughty, naughty). He was a Dylan nut in quite a scary way looking back, but I vividly remember him relating having attended a Duran Duran gig with his twelve year old daughter. A career as a stand up comic should have beckoned as we were all in hysterics by the end of it.
The lyrics hold the key to why Blood on the Tracks is such a great album as Dylan taps into, and shows an intimate understanding of the emotions that make us human beings and Bob’s obvious vocal limitations don‘t matter a fig. His delivery conveys heartbreak (If You See Her Say Hello), childish and typically male vitriol (Idiot Wind) and the devastating Simple Twist of Fate where the protagonist loves and loses by the whim of chance. Absolute raw emotion and a soul laid bare. A truly beautiful song, something we can all relate to. What if…..
Tangled Up In Blue opens the record and is Dylan as storyteller par excellence, perhaps only bettered in this aspect by 1976’s Hurricane in which he confronts America’s racist streak head on, and the album is book ended by the equally epic Shelter From the Storm in which the writer defines by allegory the reasons for his failed marriage, a re occurring theme which appears most obviously in you’re a Big Girl Now. The vocal is visceral in this song, proving it’s not all nasal whining.
I admit to the lyrics form Idiot Wind going through my head in late 2004 as I listened to a C***sultant explaining she had no idea what was wrong with me, despite a simple internet search confirming what her underling had described. But he was clearly of a lower Caste so she waved his conclusions out of court.
“You’re an idiot babe, it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”. Miaow.
Bob Dylan, along with his mentor Johnny Cash, and his successor Bruce Springsteen, stands as a colossus across modern Popular Culture and had produced a library of music which will tell historians a lot more than any self serving speech by a politician, or the pathetically hubristic rantings of reactionary so called social commentators. They are the true voice of blue collar, white America.
Dylan’s early work documents ‘Sixties America’s discussions with itself regarding Social Justice, peace and progressive politics, and his later material deals with the religious struggles that many in such an outwardly tolerant, yet subtly bigoted Society face, along with the twin threats of materialism and decadence. Yes, the choice of language is deliberate.
Desire (1976) is the son of this record, and it took until 2006’s Modern Times for the Great Man to come anywhere near the zenith of such a sparkling career.
Despite the seemingly depressing subject matter, Blood on the Tracks somehow uplifts the listener through the sheer genius on display, and is just as magnificent, aching and beautiful as music can be.