|Released, January, 5 1976.
After years of dismissing protest music as pointless, Dylan opened Desire with "Hurricane", an angry statement on the ingrained racism of the justice system. The song, co-written with Jacques Levy (as were seven others on Desire), relates the story of middleweight boxer Ruben Carter's murder trial and subsequent conviction under suspect evidence. Some saw "Hurricane" as desperate cry for attention, Dylan's cynical attempt to remain relevant. But there's an energy to "Hurricane", not dated in any sense.
"Joey" chronicles New York mobster "Crazy" Joe Gallo's rise and fall in the criminal underworld. Many took issue Dylan's mythologizing of a violent sociopath, notably rock critic Lester Bangs. But those objections now ring hollow, after all "Joey" plays like a precursor to Scorsese's wiseguy cinema. The background vocals of Emmylou Harris ratchet up the pathos.
"Isis" marked a venture into speculative fiction. A reckless husband leaves his wife to go off in search of treasure into a land of "pyramids embedded in ice" and returns home with nothing left except the hope Isis will take him back.
"Oh Sister" and "Sara" are clearly related. "Oh Sister" is my favorite track, a mesmerizing recording with Dylan and Harris's twining voices set against Scarlett Rivera's weeping violin are unforgettable. "Sara" like "Hurricane" is so direct and personal, a bookend to "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."
So Desire, for all its thrown together tequila fueled grasp at immortality may be just enough to get you through a dark night of the soul or inspire quiet contemplation on Saturday afternoon. All the rage against fate, happenstance, and circumstance suggest we can emerge from the other side, not unscathed, but still alive.