Sunday, May 3, 2015

Blood on the Tracks: A Study of the Sublime

Released January 17, 1975
Blood on the Tracks.  In an interview Dylan once expressed bewilderment at the thought of anyone enjoying so many depressing songs, "A lot of people tell me they enjoyed that album... It's hard for me to relate to that - I mean people enjoying that type of pain."  

Perhaps Edmund Burke's study on the sublime can explain the appeal of the album: The 18th century Irishman argued we derive pleasure when observing pain at a distance. For anyone who have never experienced such feelings or for those who have, and even those who are in the middle of it - Blood on the Tracks investigates the sacred and profane of our internal lives.  Looking into the wreckage of another's soul has its unique appeal as long as it not our own.

"Tangled Up in Blue" plays with notions of linear time. The singer describes a mysterious woman he keeps running into, parting with, and running into again.  The idea of parting and then renewing the search feels like an endless cycle, as the last verse opens with, "So now I'm goin back again/I got to get back to her somehow."

"A Simple Twist of Fate" achieves a similar effect, with simpler, more haunting lyrics.  The narrator sees no hope of redemption.  Fate's left him trapped, but the search for meaning continues.

"You're a Big Girl Now" is the most direct song about the pain of heartbreak from a broken man's perspective.  Lyrics like "Time is a jet plane it moves too fast/isn't it a shame all we shared can't last" contain a multitude.

"Idiot Wind",  A full of SOUND AND FURY cry into the abyss. Raw Existential Angst to the Extreme.

"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" evokes a bitter sweet affair coming to an end, the sense of something precious being lost forever.

The bluesy "Meet in the Morning" contrasts the saying farewell vibe of the previous track to the idea of waiting for something or someone new, Dylan once again plays the put upon guy trying to make sense.

"Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" tells the story of a complex love triangle.  Unlike the other songs, Dylan stays in the third person.  All the characters in the song literally leave Blood on their tracks.

"If You See Her, Say Hello" offers noble acceptance of fate after going through yet another emotional ringer:

If you get close to her, kiss her once for me
I always have respected her for busting out and gettin' free
Oh, whatever makes her happy, I won't stand in the way
Though the bitter taste still lingers on the night I tried to make her stay.

"Shelter from the Storm" could be the distant cousin of "Tangled Up in Blue", same idea, different setting. Loss.  Redemption. Lost again. Search for Redemption resumes.

The final song, "Buckets of Rain" ends with a Joycean epiphany:

Life is Sad
Life is a Bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and do it will.

I recall reading Pete Hamill's liner notes before listening to the album or maybe as "Tangled Up in Blue" chimed in on the dashboard speakers. The writing for me encapsulated all Dylan was and what he was going to be.  I'll close with a quote from those:

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.