IN THE SPOTLIGHT, SO CLEAR

It’s a Friday night in the late nineties. Steven and I are lounging around talking shit about music. A single slice of Capricciosa sits uneasily in the grease-stained box and half a bottle of red stands on the coffee table. The pizza gets ignored; we’re either too full or too polite to take it. Not so, the wine. I top up the glasses.

Been shopping lately?

We’re talking about CDs because that was the time, that was the medium. When I bought a CD I’d divest myself of the vinyl unless there was a strong argument for retention. Historical importance, cover art, deep personal significance… these were reasons to keep. But many ended up in crates for the next Record Fair. Not Steven. His lounge—and indeed several other rooms—were lined with records. Largely ignored, gathering dust, they were silent unless drawn out of retirement by a conversation, an argument, a moment of collection-based triumph.

Went to JB Camberwell last Sunday.

JB was soulless, but atmosphere wasn’t the attraction. You went to JB for the discounted CDs in the racks lining the footpath outside the store. Quality is good; cheap is sometimes better.

Pick up much?

Couple more Dylan CDs.

I chuckle. Steven raises an eyebrow.

I bought New Morning and Nashville Skyline last time I was there.

His turn to chuckle.

Those were the two I got.

Listened to them yet?

Nah. Probably won’t, either. Don’t really like Dylan that much.

Me neither. But they were really cheap, weren’t they?

Hard to resist Dylan for a fiver.

How many of his albums have you got?

Don’t know. More than twenty.

Over a dozen for me.

We grin and clink glasses.

Imagine if we actually liked him.

Droll, Steven.

What’s your favourite? Like, one you actually pull out and listen to now and then?

I don’t play it much these days, but at the time I was deeply impressed by Highway 61 Revisited.

Yeah, I forget you’re old. 

There was often some sparring. Still is, now and then. Steven returns serve.

I guess Slow Train Coming would be your favourite?

One all.

Great sounding album. But no, my clear winner is Blood On The Tracks. God I flogged that album back in the day.

Back in the day when I was in my brief believer phase. Back when Dylan’s fans prayed for his conversion. How creepy, praying for a Jewish folk-singer to find Jesus. Kind of spiritual hypnotism by the masses. And it worked for a bit; see Slow Train Coming.

Blood On The Tracks was a precursor. The pilgrimage, the road to some kind of tangled up in blood redemption. Yet apart from “Shelter from the storm”, which becomes vividly New Testamental if you change the pronoun from female to male, Blood on the Tracks is about failing relationships, about wandering; a record of loneliness and alienation, an album of poetry and heartache and love.

If that all sounds excessively introspective, think again. Sure there are songs of loss (the superb “If you see her, say hello”) and delight (“Buckets of rain”) but Dylan the story-teller is in fine form too, as demonstrated in album opener “Tangled up in blue”.

She was workin’ in a topless place

And I stopped in for a beer

I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face

In the spotlight so clear

And later on as the crowd thinned out

I’s just about to do the same

She was standing there in back of my chair

Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”

I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath

She studied the lines on my face

I must admit I felt a little uneasy

When she bent down to tie the lace of my shoe

Tangled up in blue

The emotions of these impressionistic tales are carried on memorable melodies and supported by subtle folk-rock arrangements. Lyrically, the pictures and portraits hint rather than point, though the opposite is true of the epic story “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, the centrepiece of side two. Here Dylan embarks upon a long and sometimes convoluted story demanding real concentration if you want to follow the plot across its nine minutes and sixteen verses. Many don’t bother, preferring the plaintive symbolism of “Shelter from the storm” or the tense anger of “Idiot wind” (which I equally adore in its rocked-up Hard Rain version).

“Simple twist of fate” has a misty noir storyline infused with such tenderness you don’t register the devastating loneliness. The jaunty pessimism of “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go” is wryly engaging. Even some of the lesser songs (the blues shuffle of “Meet me in the morning” or the patronising “You’re a big girl now”) work well enough in this company. Blood On The Tracks has so many superb songs and works so cohesively as an album that more than half the tracks have been my favourite at one time or another.

‘Blood on the Tracks’ Paperback poster print available from the Standard Designs shop, details below

 

God, I loved that album back in the day. So much so that I notionally compiled a parallel Blood On The Tracks consisting of different versions of the songs. The branch-line duplication never made it to disc as the Dylan albums in my collection were insufficient. This is as far as the tracks ran:

Tangled up in blue — The Bootleg Series Vol.2 / Joaquin Antique / Live 1975

Simple twist of fate — Live 1975

You’re a big girl now — Hard Rain / Joaquin Antique*

Idiot wind — Hard Rain / Joaquin Antique / The Bootleg Series Vol.2

You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go — ?

Meet me in the morning — ?

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts — Joaquin Antique

If you see her, say hello — Hard Rain / Joaquin Antique / TheBootleg Series Vol.3

Shelter from the storm — Hard Rain

Buckets of rain — ?

*  Joaquin Antique is a bootleg LP

I’m sure there are Dylan fans out there who have undertaken—and completed—similar projects, but my attempt fell short by three songs. Mind you, I never asked Steven if he had any of the missing alternate versions. After all, he likes Dylan more than me… or has more albums, at least.

I still have my vinyl copy of Blood On The Tracks, acquired new back in 1975 when money was tight and an album was an investment. Now I’ve finished writing, I think I’ll sit down and give it a spin.

It’ll be the first time in twenty years. Might even open a bottle of red.

blog dylan is a community bob-fest organised by Danica at Living A Beautiful Life

Check out the special post at Danica’s blog for the full Bobtopia experience.

NOTE: ‘Blood on the Tracks’ Paperback poster print available from Standard Designs shop.

46 comments

  1. Have you heard the New York sessions version of Blood of the Tracks? I think I like it more than the official version – that bass-line on ‘Lily, Rosemary….’ kills the song for me, even though the rest of the album is great. I think my favourite Dylan is John Wesley Harding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the Bootleg series has a couple of those versions? Sounded lovely.

      So get tapping, Mr! Knock out a John Wesley Harding post and I’ll alert Danica for ‘blog dylan’.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the invitation (and I hope Danica doesn’t mind!). I just covered my favourite Dylan live album instead.

        https://albumreviews.blog/2017/12/16/blog-dylan-live-in-1966/

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for joining in! You’ve been added to Blog Dylan!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. […] IN THE SPOTLIGHT, SO CLEAR [Vinyl Connection, blog] […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent, Bruce. I’d been attempting to jot down some stuff for a post, but I just couldn’t get the words out. However, I would have covered this one. Such a beautiful record… each song wonderfully crafted and understated despite the weight of it all.

    I’m not mad about Dylan, but I’m enthusiastic about the albums I dig. This is top 2 or 3.

    Also, the New York Sessions are definitely worth tracking down.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks J. Yes, it’s core Dylan, isn’t it? Sounds like I should investigate those ‘alt’ sessions.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There’s still lots of time left, J! Just sayin’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe a belated / in the spirit of Blog Dylan post at some point…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A post-college roommate of mine was a huge Dylan fan. We didn’t know one another at all, I answered a bulletin board ad of his for a roommate. Fortunately music tastes never came up when I went in person to check out the place. On the day I moved in, he carefully looked through my crates. I remember him muttering under his breath at all of my Genesis, giving some grudging acceptance to my plentiful Neil Young, and raising his eyebrows in admiration for my James Taylor on Apple. But then… that moment of utter disgust when with two fingers he pulled out the Bob Dylan “Greatest Hits” album. I think he seriously regretted bringing me into the house. On the other hand, through him I heard everything. Blood on the Tracks is my favorite too. – Marty

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Terrific vignette, Marty. Though I do sometimes think that (other than Highway 61 and BotT) the 3LP Masterpiece might suffice!

      Like

  5. Certainly one of his best. Bought it when it came out and still have my copy. Mind you, up until and including Slow Train Coming I reckon all his albums are essential (even Self Portrait!) and his latter day renaissance has thrown up some gems. I’m awaiting my re evaluation of the Christian phase once I get the latest Bootleg Series release.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A true Dylan believer, Paul! Are you going to post in ‘Blog Dylan’? I know you’d be very welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very welcome, indeed! The more the merrier.

        There is still lots of time — almost 30 hours, thanks to global time zones.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. How was it (Blood On The Tracks) this time around?

    BTW – You’ve been added to Blog Dylan! 🙂

    Like

    1. Very enjoyable, Danica. Though even after all this time, I seemed so well known that I had a bit of difficulty retaining concentration. I wonder if others find that with albums they know (too) well?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There seems to be a correlation with other distractions…if the mind is clear, it can stay with the music more readily.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice memories Bruce. BOTT is clearly my #2
    Loved the poster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Steven. May have been a smidge of poetic licence in the story, but that’s memory for you! That poster is superb, isn’t it? There are a number of ‘album/libraries’ available. All excellent.

      EDITOR’S NOTE: Steven wrote the piece on Are You Experienced for Vinyl Connection a few months back and will return in a few days with the second Hendrix album of 1967, Axis: Bold as Love.

      Like

  8. I wonder if it’s shallowness that keeps me from getting deep into Dylan, that and chimes in my head that boing out ‘if only he was more like Tom Waits’.
    (And let’s put these comments down to a severe lapse in judgement).
    Nice piece tho. Thanks Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, if it’s shallowness, DD, you’ll have plenty of company down that end of the pool. Me? I’m not a big fan of Mr Waits (also a sometimes lonely position).

      Glad you enjoyed the read tho’.

      Like

  9. I like these albums when the favourite track changes over time – I think my favourite would fluctuate between a few of those side A gems!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps the fave changes as out lives roll out, Geoff? Still, you canna argue with multiple gems.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I have the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing from 2013. So wonderful.

    This story is even more wonderful though.

    Like

    1. Thank you Mr Boppin’. I keep hoping I’ll encounter that MoFi one day…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved this Bruce. Is Steven real or is he a Socratic discursive device?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See below for Steven’s own comments.

      He has appeared a few times in these pages, most notably the story Sunbury Rises.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still not convinced.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. This is also sometimes my favourite Dylan LP and that poster is just incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A discursive Soccrative device! Brilliant! Thanks for giving me a laugh in the dark hours of my soul. I guess that I’m actually both! (And excuse the overuse of explanation marks!!)

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hey Bruce! Weren’t we colleagues at the Philosophy Department at the University of Wollongong?

    Like

    1. Too much drinking after lights out, mate. It was Wooloomooloo.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Well told, Bruce. For four years I’ve been wanting to do a Stereo Stories show called something like Ink On The Tracks. If I ever get around to it, you’ll be one of the first to know…And the Steven in your story, it’s not the Stephen I know, is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He heh! Could be, but isn’t. It’s a totally different long-term musician/record collector with leftie tendencies and a love of writing. Must be the name, eh?

      Like

    2. He heh! Could be, but isn’t. It’s a totally different long-term musician/record collector with leftie tendencies and a love of writing. Must be the name, eh?

      Like

  16. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Are you serious Bruce, you hadn’t listened to that in 20 years? I recognized the reference from the post title right away as ironically, I’ve been listening to it in the past couple weeks with my mom here in Germany, as it’s one of her favorites. I read in the No Direction Home biography (I think that was the name of the book) that many of these songs map back to his divorce. I think for me, it’s the last one in his collection I really like start to finish. I hate to say that, since so much material comes afterwards, but I’ve haven’t spent as much time with the latter 70s, 80s…and so on. I’ve come to enjoy Blonde on Blonde as my favorite, I think…a lot because of the sound production/quality he got there, with the Band. Like, it really has a warm, country/blues quality I think. Not as much ‘country’ as Nashville Skyline obviously.
    But when I went through my first breakup as a teenager, this record helped me along. Doesn’t get much better. We’ll meet again some day on the avenues…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I echo the praise for/delight in that poster: sensational! Hard to believe that Blood on the Tracks is over 40 years old. It’s my favorite of his well-nigh-too-numerous-to-count offerings, and my favorite track is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”. You’ve gotta love a song cites poets Verlaine and Rimbaud, as well as good old Ashtabula, Ohio. And his delivery of the line, “You’re gonna make me give myself a good talkin’ to..” gets me every time…the way he draws out those last four syllables. Hey, it’s the little things in life, no? Idea: how about compiling an alternate BotT comprised of *covers* of each song, rather than alternate Dylan versions…?

    Like

    1. Somehow I missed this lovely response/comment, JDB. Abject apologies!
      And thanks, too, for solving the Ashtabula problem. Bin’ makin’ mondegreens of that one for years.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve been playing a lot of later-day Dylan lately, in particular, Nettie Moore & Spirit on the Mountain from Modern Times. Great songs both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t know Modern Times that well. Will drag it out and ‘feature’ those tracks. All the best of the season to you tref. Thanks for the smiles (the writing) and a fine range of bemused expressions (the photos).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To you, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. […] that I kicked it around (in broad, general terms) with my mate Steven (Hendrix aficionado and Dylan supporting character). He enthusiastically supported the […]

    Like

  20. Just counted; 22 CDs, all but three of which were picked up on the cheap in US versions of soulless JB. Only have one LP, and it is my favorite Bob: Desire.

    I go through regular, roughly annual phases of listening to Bob, but get overwhelmed at the options and so often (please forgive) opt for the digital shuffle. I do like BotT immensely and have a real soft spot for Slow Train Coming.

    All of that is beside the point, however. This was wonderfully crafted and well read. I was pulled into the room with you and Steven, and felt some resentment that I was solely spectator vice participant. Blog Dylan definitely got their money’s worth when they commissioned this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very kind, Mr VotF. And perceptive too. A dollop of sanding and polishing went into this one. Even if actions cannot be measured in dollops.

      Your mention of Desire reminds me there is perhaps a memoir story there… One more cup of coffee should do it…

      I have a soft spot for Slow Train too.

      And you’d be welcome to crack a ginger ale around the ‘talking shite about music’ campfire any time.

      Like

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