Blood on the Tracks

January 1975

Lyrics

See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_on_the_Tracks

Lyrics, and here.

Side One

1. "Tangled Up in Blue" – 5:42 (Minneapolis)
2. "Simple Twist of Fate" – 4:19 (NYC, Sept 1974)
3. "You're a Big Girl Now" – 4:36 (Minneapolis)
4. "Idiot Wind" – 7:48 (Minneapolis)
5. "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" – 2:55 (NYC, Sept 1974)

Side Two

1. "Meet Me in the Morning" – 4:22 (NYC, Sept 1974)
2. "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" – 8:51 (Minneapolis)
3. "If You See Her, Say Hello" – 4:49 (Minneapolis)
4. "Shelter from the Storm" – 5:02 (NYC, Sept 1974)
5. "Buckets of Rain" – 3:22 (NYC, Sept 1974)

Personnel

* Bob Dylan – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Organ, Mandolin
* Bill Peterson – Bass
* Eric Weissberg – Banjo, Guitar (NYC Sessions)
* Tony Brown – Bass (NYC Sessions)
* Charles Brown, III – Guitar (NYC Sessions)
* Bill Berg – Drums
* Buddy Cage – Steel guitar
* Barry Kornfeld – Guitar (NYC Sessions)
* Richard Crooks – Drums (NYC Sessions)
* Paul Griffin – Organ, Keyboards
* Gregg Inhofer – Keyboards
* Thomas McFaul – Keyboards (NYC Sessions)
* Chris Weber – Guitar, 12 String Guitar
* Kevin Odegard – Guitar
* Phil Ramone – Engineer
* Pete Hamill – Liner Notes
* Paul Till – Photo
* David Oppenheim – Illustration
* Ron Coro – Art Direction

It is a well-known story. Dylan had recorded this album in its entirey in New York then returned to Minnesota for the winter holidays, played the tapes for his brother who felt that they should not be pressed as they were. The sound was too bleak and bitter. So they decided to recut some tracks in Minnesota with local musicians that David Zimmerman rounded up. The main Minnesota players, who made-up the the "house band" for Sound 80 Studio, were Billy Peterson on bass, Bill Berg on drums, Gregg Inhofer Keyboards, Kevin Odegard, guitar, and Chris Weber, 12-string guitar. See A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard (DaCapo Press, 2004).

LINER NOTES by Pete Hamill

In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young. The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God's green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud.

And here at home, something died. The bacillus moved among us, slaying that old America where the immigrants lit a million dreams in the shadows of the bridges, killing the great brawling country of barnstormers and wobblies and home-run hitters, the place of Betty Grable and Carl Furillo and heavyweight champions of the world. And through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism. Painters lift the easel to scrawl their innocence on walls and manifestos. Symphonies died on crowded roads. Novels served as furnished rooms for ideology.

And as the evidence piled up, as the rock was pushed back to reveal the worms, many retreated into that past that never was, the place of balcony dreams in Loew's Met, fair women and honorable men, where we browned ourselves in the Creamsicle summers, only faintly hearing the young men march to the troopships, while Jo Stafford gladly promised her fidelity. Poor America. Tossed on a pilgrim tide. Land where the poets died.

Except for Dylan.

He had remained, in front of us, or writing from the north country, and remained true. He was not the only one, of course; he is not the only one now. But of all the poets, Dylan is the one who has most clearly taken the rolled sea and put it in a glass.

Early on, he warned us, he gave many of us voice, he told us about the hard rain that was going to fall, and how it would carry plague. In the teargas in 1968 Chicago, they hurled Dylan at the walls of the great hotels, where the infected drew the blinds, and their butlers ordered up the bayonets. Most of them are gone now. Dylan remains.

So forget the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhymes into dust. Remember that he gave us voice, When our innocence died forever, Bob Dylan made that moment into art. The wonder is that he survived.

That is no small thing. We live in the smoky landscape now, as the exhausted troops seek the roads home. The signposts have been smashed; the maps are blurred. There is no politician anywhere who can move anyone to hope; the plague recedes, but it is not dead, and the statesmen are as irrelevant as the tarnished statues in the public parks. We live with a callous on the heart. Only the artists can remove it. Only the artists can help the poor land again to feel.

And here is Dylan, bringing feeling back home. In this album, he is as personal and as universal as Yeats or Blake; speaking for himself, risking that dangerous opening of the veins, he speaks for us all. The words, the music, the tones of voice speak of regret, melancholy, a sense of inevitable farewell, mixed with sly humor, some rage, and a sense of simple joy. They are the poems of a survivor. The warning voice of the innocent boy is no longer here, because Dylan has chosen not to remain a boy. It is not his voice that has grown richer, stronger, more certain; it is Dylan himself. And his poetry, his troubadour's traveling art, seems to me to be more meaningful than ever. I thought, listening to these songs, of the words of Yeats, walker of the roads of Ireland: "We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry."

Dylan is now looking at the quarrel of the self. The crowds have moved back off the stage of history; we are left with the solitary human, a single hair on the skin of the earth. Dylan speaks now for that single hair.

If you see her,

Say hello.

She might be in Tangiers...*

So begins one of these poems, as light as a slide on ice, and as dangerous. Dylan doesn't fall in. Instead, he tells us the essentials; a woman once lived, gone off, vanished into the wild places of the earth, still loved.

If you're makin' love to her,

Kiss her for the kid.

Who always has respected her,

for doin' what she did...*

It is a simple love song, of course, which is the proper territory of poets, but is about love filled with honor, and a kind of dignity, the generosity that so few people can summon when another has become a parenthesis in a life. That song, and some of the other love poems in this collection, seem to me absolutely right, in this moment at the end of wars, as all of us, old, young, middle-aged, men and women, are searching for some simple things to believe in. Dylan here tips his hat to Rimbaud and Verlaine, knowing all about the seasons in hell, but he insists on his right to speak of love, that human emotion that still exists, in Faulkner's phrase, in spite of, not because.

And yes, there is humor here too, a small grin pasted over the hurt, delivered almost casually, as if the poet could control the chaos of feeling with a few simply chosen words:

Life is sad

Life is a bust.

All ya can do.

Is do what you must.

You do what you must do,

And ya do it will.

I'll do it for you,

Ah, honey baby, can't ya tell?**

A simple song. Not Dante's Inferno , and not intended to be. But a song which conjures up the American road, all the busted dreams of open places, boxcars, the Big Dipper pricking the velvet night. And it made me think of Ginsberg and Corso and Ferlinghetti, and most of all, Kerouac, racing Dean Mariarty across the country in the Fifties, embracing wind and night, passing Huck Finn on the riverbanks, bouncing against the Coast, and heading back again, with Kerouac dreaming his songs of the railroad earth. Music drove them; they always knew they were near New York when they picked up Symphony Sid on the radio. In San Francisco they declared a Renaissance and read poetry to jazz, trying to make Mallarme's dream flourish in the soil of America. They failed, as artist generally do, but in some ways Dylan has kept their promise.

Now he has moved past them, driving harder into self. Listen to "Idiot Wind." It is a hard, cold-blooded poem about the survivor's anger, as personal as anything ever committed to a record. And yet is can also stand as the anthem for all who feel invaded, handled, bottled, packaged; all who spent themselves in combat with the plague; all who ever walked into the knives of humiliation or hatred. The idiot wind trivialized lives into gossip, celebrates fad and fashion, glorifies the dismal glitter of celebrity. Its products live on the covers of magazines, in all of television, if the poisoned air and dead grey lakes. But most of all, it blows through the human heart. Dylan knows that such a wind is the deadliest enemy of art. And when the artists die, we all die with them.

Or listen to the long narrative poem called "Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts." It should not be reduced to notes, or taken out of context; it should be experienced in full. The compression of story is masterful, but its real wonder is in the spaces, in what the artist left out of his painting. To me, that has always been the key to Dylan's art. To state things plainly is the function of journalism; but Dylan sings a more fugitive song: allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and ellipses, and by 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. If we listen, if we work at it, we fill up the mystery, we expand and inhabit the work of art. It is the most democratic form of creation.

Totalitarian art tells us what to feel. Dylan's art feels, and invites us to join him.

That quality is in all the work in this collection, the long, major works, the casual drawings and etchings. There are some who attack Dylan because he will not rewrite "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Gates of Eden." They are fools because they are cheating themselves of a shot at wonder. Every artist owns a vision of the world, and he shouts his protest when he sees evil mangling that vision. But he must also tell us the vision. Now we are getting Dylan's vision, rich and loamy, against which the world moved so darkly. To enter that envisioned world, is like plunging deep into a mountain pool, where the rocks are clear and smooth at the bottom.

So forget the Dylan whose image was eaten at by the mongers of the idiot wind. Don't mistake him for Isaiah, or a magazine cover, or a leader of guitar armies. He is only a troubadour, blood brother of Villon, a son of Provence, and he has survived the plague. Look: he has just walked into the courtyard, padding across the flagstones, strumming a guitar. The words are about "flowers on the hillside bloomin' crazy/Crickets talkin' back and forth in rhyme..." A girl, red-haired and melancholy, begins to smile. Listen: the poet sings to all of us:

But I'll see you in the sky above,

In the tall grass,

In the ones I love.

You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.

-- Pete Hamill, New York, 1974

 

See Jon Landau's somewhat critical review of BOT in Rolling Stone; many critics now see it as one of Dylan's greatest albums.

 

Bob Dylan may be the Charlie Chaplin of rock & roll. Both men are regarded as geniuses by their entire audience. Both were proclaimed revolutionaries for their early work and subjected to exhaustive attack when later works were thought to be inferior. Both developed their art without so much as a nodding glance toward their peers. Both are multitalented: Chaplin as a director, actor, writer and musician; Dylan as a recording artist, singer, songwriter, prose writer and poet. Both superimposed their personalities over the techniques of their art forms. They rejected the peculiarly 20th century notion that confuses the advancement of the techniques and mechanics of an art form with the growth of art itself. They have stood alone.

When Charlie Chaplin was criticized, it was for his direction, especially in the seemingly lethargic later movies. When I criticize Dylan now, it's not for his abilities as a singer or songwriter, which are extraordinary, but for his shortcomings as a record maker. Part of me believes that the completed record is the final measure of a pop musician's accomplishment, just as the completed film is the final measure of a film artist's accomplishments. It doesn't matter how an artist gets there -- Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie (and Dylan himself upon occasion) did it with just a voice, a song and a guitar, while Phil Spector did it with orchestras, studios and borrowed voices. But I don't believe that by the normal criteria for judging records -- the mixture of sound playing, singing and words -- that Dylan has gotten there often enough or consistently enough.

Chaplin transcended his lack of interest in the function of directing through his physical presence. Almost everyone recognizes that his face was the equal of other directors' cameras, that his acting became his direction. But Dylan has no one trait -- not even his lyrics -- that is the equal of Chaplin's acting. In this respect, Elvis Presley may be more representative of a rock artist whose raw talent has overcome a lack of interest and control in the process of making records.

Presley is the only rock artist whose records have consistently failed to list a producer. When they are great, they represent the triumph of his natural ability over everything that surrounds him -- songs, musicians, recording equipment. We remember him, not the record. He creates the illusion that he can do anything he wants to, but never has to be more than he is. It is enough that he sounds like Elvis Presley. Even at his worst, his records sound complete. He defines himself.

For many years I believed that Dylan could do that too. But for many more I doubted it. Through Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's originality as a performer, singer, songwriter and presence haunted a generation -- and had an incalculable effect on my own life. But while Elvis Presley never had to rely on anything but himself to see himself through, Dylan needs his specific talents to make himself felt. Since Blonde on Blonde they haven't served him well enough to compensate for his indifference to the process of making records. And in retrospect, it now seems clear that indifference has marred much of his work.

Dylan has often said that his goal in the studio is to catch the feeling and the way he does that best is by keeping things simple: light rehearsal, a few takes and on to the next song. The artist knows how he works best, so there may be no alternative. But the shortcomings of the approach must be noted. Dylan's electric albums have often been pointlessly sloppy, sometimes badly recorded and not nearly as good as some of the material warranted. To me, Planet Waves sounds like nothing so much as a rough draft of an unfinished work, a sketch of planned painting, something to be worked on, not released.

When Dylan recorded by himself, there was something primitively satisfying about his voice-guitar-harmonica performances that made even the weakest cuts on the four purely acoustic albums sound finished. But he produced his craziest and greatest work with rock bands and I think his reputation will finally stand or fall on the basis of what he has done with them.

As a rock artist there were times when he so charged a recording session with the power of his words and voice that nothing else mattered. Coincidentally (perhaps not) these usually took place when the accompaniment was at least adequate and sometimes brilliant. I'm thinking of such personal favorites as "She Belongs to Me," "Like a Rolling Stone," "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Just like Tom Thumb's Blues," a good half of Blonde on Blonde, the singles "Positively 4th Street" and "Can You Please Crawl out Your Window?," the "Basement Tapes" and Albert Hall bootlegs, "All along the Watchtower" "Down along the Cove" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," on John Wesley Harding, "Sign on the Window" and "Went to See the Gypsy" (and maybe another two from New Morning) and a matter of taste -- but the Band itself has never sounded more lifeless and colorless. The best music on that album doesn't hold a candle to the worst music on The Band, let alone anything so majestic as "The Weight," "King Harvest" or "Stage Fright."

To bring it all back home: The paradox of Bob Dylan's reputation is that he is regarded as our greatest rock artist without having made the records -- the completed works -- that should support that reputation. When compared to people who are thought (usually mistakenly so, in my view) to have made their records in the same natural, unproduced style in which he has made his, I find him wanting: He has made no single cut to equal Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless," Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." If compared to the records of musicians whose work is thought to owe its quality to production, I find him wanting: He's made no single record to equal the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" or Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave." If compared to contemporary rock & roll bands, I find him wanting: He's made nothing to equal the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby," the Who's "My Generation" or the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" (or "Get Off My Cloud" or "Tumbling Dice"). If compared to the trash-rock of the bar lounges, I find him wanting: He's made no records to equal Gary (U.S.) Bonds's "Quarter to Three" or Joey Dee and the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist."

Dylan invented the modern singer/songwriter form and there's no question that he remains the best of the lot, but how any of them will finally stand as recording artists no one can yet say. Most of them display some of his flaws in record making, while others use production to hide a lack of substance --something no one will ever accuse Dylan of. (Only one, Joni Mitchell, seems to have solved the problem by inventing a form of production on Blue that doesn't sound like production at all.)

Consider this: Dylan is supposed to be the standard against which so many have measured rock for the past ten years. But if the reader can allow that any record by performers obviously lacking Dylan's broader artistic credentials equals or surpasses his, then his position as a premier recording artist is called into question.

It didn't matter that Charlie Chaplin may not have been a great director or a great anything else. He made great movies. But it does matter whether or not the sum total of Dylan's talents has added up to the making of great records. By and large I don't believe that they have and, if the unit of rock & roll art were only what survives on vinyl, exclusive of anything else and undivided into its component parts, then I don't believe that Bob Dylan would qualify as a great rock artist.

If Dylan isn't a great rock artist per se, he is a great artist, period. He has transcended his limitations more successfully than anyone else in rock. He succeeded in making himself indispensable. The records may be indispensable in only the first moments in which they are perceived, but they can transmit as much force in those moments as others do in hours, days and years.

Dylan considered in total -- as a man, myth, singer, writer and, yes, maker of records -- hasn't been merely immediate and urgent: He's given rock its drama. He creates tensions within his audience beyond anyone else's reach. If he isn't as good a record maker as Chuck Berry, he's a much better actor. As an actor and as a personality, Dylan hasn't handled every role with equal skill. He was unconvincing as the happy homeowner. People who criticize that phase of his work never intended to deny him the right to be exactly what he wanted to be. But they reacted to the fact that he couldn't make that experience as real as he could the emotions of anger, pain, hurt, fear, loneliness, aloneness and strength. Like James Dean and Marlon Brando, he was better at playing the rebel than the citizen, the outsider than the insider and the outlaw than the sheriff.

Much of the critical enthusiasm for Blood on the Tracks is really a sigh of relief that he's shaken off the role of contentment that Jonathan Cott also has found never rang true. But in returning to his role as disturber of the peace, Dylan hasn't revived any specific phase from the past, only a style that lets his emotions speak more freely and the state of mind in which he no longer denies the fires that are still raging within him and us. He is using elements of his past to make an album about his past.

The record itself has been made with typical shoddiness. The accompanying musicians have never sounded more indifferent. The sound is generally no more than what Greil Marcus calls "functional," a neutral environment from which Dylan emerges.

But the singing is much better than on any recent album. He turns up with beautiful lines and phrasing on "Tangled Up in Blue," "You're a Big Girl Now," "Shelter from the Storm" and "Buckets of Rain" (but the snarl that he resurrects from "Like a Rolling Stone" in order to sing "Idiot Wind" sounds like a shadow of his former self).

The writing is the source of the record's power. It's been a long time since Dylan has composed a melody line as perfectly suited to his voice as "Tangled Up in Blue," and though the lyrics are both confessional and narrative, Dylan makes it all sound like direct address. There are times when he sounds closer, more intimate and more real than anyone else.

If in Dylan's world of extremes there's room for a middle ground, that's where I place Blood on the Tracks. It's his best album since Blonde on Blonde, but not nearly as good. If it contains nothing so bad as the second version of "Forever Young," only "Tangled Up in Blue" comes even close to "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)." To compare the new album to Blonde on Blonde at all is to imply that people will treasure it as deeply and for as long. They won't.

But, for the moment, which is when this record was made for, I like everything about it; the good, the bad and the ugly. It all matters: the title "Tangled Up in Blue"; and the way that song propels itself relentlessly forward (even though it is about the past) and always winds up leaving Dylan and us standing in the same place; the lines, "I helped her out of a jam, I guess/But I used a little too much force"; the way that the song sounds so right for the Byrds of 1965; the compassion, not rage, of "You're a Big Girl Now"; the lines "I can make it through/You can make it too"; the innocence and unqualified beauty of Dylan's reprise of his folk music roots on "Buckets of Rain"; the awkwardness of the music for "If You See Her, Say Hello"; the childishness (without any redeeming childlike wonder) of so much of "Idiot Wind"; the holiness of the last verse of "Shelter from the Storm"; the extension of the apocalyptic mood of his earlier work into something still forceful, but mellower, more understanding, more tolerant and more self-critical; the indifference to the subject of women as a generality and his involvement with women and love as something specific, and above all, the arrogance -- that defiant indifference to whatever it is others think he ought to be doing. He still stands alone.

Blood on the Tracks will only sound like a great album for a while. Like most of Dylan, it is impermanent. But like the man who made it, the album answers to no one and was made for everyone. It is the work of someone who is not just seeing through himself, but looking through us -- and still making us see things that we haven't seen before.

JON LANDAU

(Posted: Mar 13, 1975)

 

See also this brief synopsis