• My Dylan collection

    13 Feb 2013, 1:15

    Hey, it's not much, I've seen photos of 10 shelves worth of stuff including hundreds of Isis magazines, but I need to order most of it and I'm not exactly loaded. I'll probably start buying vinyls once I feel the CD shelf is complete enough. I actually got pretty much all of those albums for 5-6 euros a pop, with the exception of TEMPEST and TBS VOL. 4, which were... around €14.

    click to enlarge:

    1. Bob Dylan (1962)
    2. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
    3. The Times They Are a-Changin' (1964)
    4. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
    5. Bringin' It All Back Home (1965)
    6. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
    7. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
    8. Nashville Skyline (1969)
    9. New Morning (1970)
    10. Planet Waves (1974)
    11. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
    12. Desire (1976)
    13. Hard Rain (1976)
    14. Street-Legal (1978)
    15. Saved (1980)
    16. Infidels (1983)
    17. Empire Burlesque (1985)
    18. Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
    19. Time Out of Mind (1997)
    20. Tempest (2012) Deluxe Edition
    21. Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
      ^ that's actually my neighbor's... he borrowed it to my dad and never asked it back, heheh
    22. The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

    John Wesley Harding (1967)
    Shot of Love (1981)
    Bob Dylan at Budokan (1979)
    The Basement Tapes
    The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
    Dylan (2007) 3xCD

    click to enlarge:

    1. Biograph (1985)
      ^ should be in the albums photo, but I keep it with the books, so... my mistake
    2. Bob Dylan - Chronicles, Vol. 1
    3. Bob Dylan - Tarantula
    4. Bob Dylan - Lyrics 1962-2001
    5. Bob Dylan - Lyrics (Reklam)
    6. Daniel Mark Epstein - The Ballad of Bob Dylan
    7. Nigel Williamson - The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan
    8. Howard Sounes - Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan
      ^ a friend has it right now, hence missing from the photo
    9. Christopher Ricks - Dylan's Visions of Sin
    10. Clinton Heylin - Behind the Shades, The 20th Anniversary Ed.
    11. Clinton Heylin - Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957-1973
    12. Clinton Heylin - Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan 1974-2006
    13. Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan
    14. Dylan on Dylan (Jonathan Cott)
    15. Dont Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker (1966)
    16. The 1966 World Tour Home Movies (Mickey Jones)
      ^ a dvd i will end up throwing out because it's awful

    Robert Shelton - No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan
    Seth Rogovoy - Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet
    The Bob Dylan Scrapbook
    No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese (2006)

    Shirt 1, unwashed, from ShutterMusic
    Shirt 2, unwashed, from Gotfried
    Much obliged!

    "Blonde on Blonde" cup, custom-made

    UPDATE 1 (Feb 15)
    Jon Friedman - Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution (€12,33)
    BOOK RATING: ** / *****

    UPDATE 2 (Feb 27)
    Greil Marcus - Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (€17,61)

    UPDATE 3 (May 11)
    Dylan on Dylan (edited by Jonathan Cott) (€11,49)

  • Analysis of 'Blood on the Tracks'

    20 Jul 2012, 23:55

    Analysis of "Blood on the Tracks"

    "Blood on the Tracks" is generally regarded as Bob Dylan's best album after his mid-'60s trilogy of electric rock, consisting of the iconic universally beloved albums "Bringing It All Back Home", "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde". It's a somber yet temperamental record that people tend to call his "break-up album" or his most 'confessional' one, despite Dylan's own claims that he doesn't write confessional songs, having tried that once without much success (referring to "Ballad in Plain D", which he regretted writing and recording).

    "Blood on the Tracks" is a pretty straightforward work of music in terms of lyrics, lacking the enigmatic nature of his magnum opus "Blonde on Blonde", the eccentric warmth of "Planet Waves" which preceded it, the exoticism of "Desire" which followed it, and definitely the cynicism and deviance that hounds 1978's underrated "Street-Legal". Despite being devoid of happiness, the album is hardly callous - it is a blizzard of woeful emotions that showcase Bob as a vulnerable and mature human being, which is an interesting change from 1974's "Planet Waves" that consists mostly of short love songs - Dylan's comes off unusually affable on that album; it truly conveys his enjoyment of playing music and singing. Dylan first recorded "Blood on the Tracks" in New York and later decided to re-record most of it with a backing band after his brother suggested it the original may perhaps be too monotonous. One of the recognizable features of "Blood on the Tracks" are the first evidences of Dylan's capabilities as a storyteller, which John Wesley Harding already hinted at approximately 8 years before ("The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" is one of Bob's most complex ballads).

    The album opens with a great jumbled tale, one of his most well-known songs: "Tangled Up in Blue". The track brilliantly introduces one to the moods and emotions the album consists of. Neglectful of the limitations of time, the listener is treated with a series of escapades of an unnamed narrator whose travels lead him, among other places, to a topless place, New Orleans, Montague Street, etc. Some research, by the way, reveals that Montague Street is located in Brooklyn Heights, NYC.

    There is departure and returning within the song, but the listener isn't really provided with a rational timeline. What Dylan does here is manipulate with the chronology of the events, turning the song into a compelling puzzle and forcing one to ask oneself: "Did this happen before or after that? Is he talking about one woman, or perhaps two?", giving Dylan fans a lot of room for thoughtful interpretation. I have always adored Dylan's ability to include highly involving interactions into his songs. Before the narrator is handed a book of poems, possibly by Dante Alighieri ('Written by an Italian poet from the 13th century'), he is told "I thought you’d never say hello. You look like the silent type” by a female counterpart. There is a lot of intimate immediacy in brief dialogue within Dylan songs. He would later explore this further in a lot of songs, most notably perhaps "Highlands" from his acclaimed 1997 record "Time Out of Mind" that includes a fascinating exchange between its narrator and a waitress, who asks him to sketch her. In the case of "Tangled Up in Blue", I like to think two women are involved with the narrator, one of them being a possibly maternal character whom he helps "out of a jam" and the other being the stripper whom he has a brief affair with before she ends up prostituting herself. I have a feeling Dylan, highly possessive in relationships / with women (perhaps too much for his own good), has never felt comfortable with the idea of his loved one, may it be a wife or mistress, having sexual relations to anyone but him, may he be separated from her or not - that can be concluded from, for example, "True Love Tends to Forget" from "Street-Legal" ('I was lying down in the reeds without any oxygen, I saw you in the wilderness among the men') and even "Blood on the Tracks" itself - before Dylan altered the lyrics of "If You See Her, Say Hello" prior to re-taping it in Minneapolis, he sang - as if the released version's choice of words wasn't harsh enough -: "If you're making love to her, kiss her for the kid who always has respected her for doing what she did".

    Nothing is, of course, set in stone when it comes to "Tangled Up in Blue" - one can always deduct the woman who the narrator separates from at the beginning of the song is the same femme working at the topless place, and Dylan tells about being introduced to her AFTER singing about the demise of their difficult relationship. This is the most compelling aspect of the song - its confusing chronology and the accurate roles of its multiple characters. The nature of 'roles' is further explored by Dylan in "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", another outstanding song on the album.

    What one hears as the second track on the album is the original New York recording of "Simple Twist of Fate", a haunting song about a prostitute, his 'customer' and ultimately the difficulty of reconciling; about a brief moment (a 'simple twist of fate') where everything seems in its right place yet isn't really meant to last, and being able to overcome whatever feelings may follow such a moment. The song gives a taste of another somewhat amusing aspect of the album - Dylan's tendency to exuberantly use clichés, perhaps often because they enable him to rhyme words more effortlessly. But they turn out to be a delightful contrast to the overwhelming sadness that underlies the album's prominent themes. Consisting of 26 short lines, the song contains a lot of rhyming, and also displays Dylan's highly involved vocal work. Many have noted that Dylan's singing on "Blood on the Tracks" is probably the most accessible to the general public who tends to deem him as a relatively incapable vocalist. And it's not only his voice that produces a haunting echo, its also the relationship within the song, between a man and a prostitute whom he spends a night with, connecting with her on a level one would definitely not expect from someone who makes a living selling her own body.

    She is gone the next morning, and the man is struck by sorrow: "He told himself he didn't care, pushed the window open wide. Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate." And what else can he do except hunt her down and hope she would 'pick him out again' - not impulsively, but knowing this would be the only way he could replenish the void that is his soul. And while lines such as "A saxophone someplace far off played" or "He hears the ticking of the clocks" provide Dylan with simple options for rhyming, they create a very vivid scenery - to me, the described setting resembles Paris or perhaps even Florence, well known for its canals ('They walked alone by the old canal'). The most obvious setting of not only this track but the whole album, though, is a man's heart. A one-star review I once saw on Amazon brought up Dylan's very silly selection of rhymes, particularly noting the last verse: "I still believe she was my twin but I lost the ring; she was born in spring but I was born too late". Any Dylan listener will argue that this was done consciously, and are a nice example of the clichés the album is laden with - hardly an acceptable basis for criticism. I would say it's refreshing to hear Dylan sing such economically constructed simpler lyrics. Often such simplicity makes good poetry, and Dylan acknowledges this simplicity - before performing the song at Budokan, he even claimed: "Here's a simple love story... happened to me." The story is simple, the twist of fate is a simple one, and very appropriately, so are the sparse words.

    Before Dylan swerves into the territory of almost uncontrolled anger with the exhausting "Idiot Wind", there is the bitter and painful "You're a Big Girl Now" where similarly to the song that precedes it, words are half as difficult as the emotions that they portray and convey - "Our conversation was short and sweet, it nearly swept me off-a my feet. And I’m back in the rain, and you are on dry land." For an avid Dylan fan, this may be a nice throwback to "Just Like a Woman" from "Blonde on Blonde", where rain plays a significant role providing an understanding of the hurt that consumes Dylan. Unlike that song, "You're a Big Girl Now" strictly focuses on personal emotions by communicating with a shadow of a love that once was. I would assume many psychologists would propose this as a good recuperation method.

    Clichés are again prominent here: "Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last" is a line I would say is so bad that it can be considered good, but what's important is that it really works in the context of the song, and the forlornness and expressiveness in Dylan's voice as he sings line that follows it: "I can change, I swear" sharply reminds us that the tired nature of some of the more mediocre lines is what keeps him, and possibly US, from being completely absorbed by the affliction. In that sense, couplets like "Love is so simple, to quote a phrase. You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days" are necessary because they help the song not into fall onto a completely unnecessary level of sophistication. Besides, in the case of this album, his voice does a lot of the work alone. Dylan's inability to deal with the possibility that the woman who once loved him is now seeking out other men is brought up, too: "I know where I can find you... in somebody’s room". On the album, Dylan hardly whips himself with needless self-accusation, which is admirable, but echo a desperate need for justice.

    In "You're a Big Girl Now", it's very evident that it is the unbearable pain of being a in a patch much rougher than the woman whom he has now lost which is tearing him apart, yet he seems to be impressed by her ability to move on. They can't simultaneously share the same misery because one still has to grow, to blossom, the way she already has, even though the methodology of such growth may be perplexing and hurtful for Dylan.

    "Idiot Wind", the fourth track, is the album's fiercest, again displaying his capability to use his voice as a tool and have it mirror his feelings just as well as his lyrics do. The earlier New York recording of the song, available on "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991", is different from the album version not only in terms of instrumentation but also his style of singing. Despite highly alarming, evocative and fury-ridden words, his singing on the earlier version reflects solitude rather than anger. While both versions are extremely enjoyable (not from a thematical standpoint, of course), the Minneapolis take of "Idiot Wind" that appears on the released album, really pulls the album into totally other world, where being plaintive and miserable falls into second place, with primal rage becoming now the focal point. We have already heard blood pour from his heart and now hear a desperate need to draw it. The tempestuous, ferocious, disrespectful "Idiot Wind" may understandably lack self-control, but it's nonetheless still a very captivating chronicle of a relationship now broken.

    Its first verse even brings up very different kinds of demons: "Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press. Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess". Dylan has been always intimidated by the intrusive nature of the media and the seriousness of such intimidation is stressed in that couplet. General loneliness plays a significant part, and not because he doesn't feel surrounded by enough people, which definitely isn't the case - he is ultimately devastated by the fact people have a hard time accepting him, their "heads being filled with big ideas and distorted facts"... it must be frustrating to be constantly treated as a celebrity, which people quite close to him have often tended to do. Just before the first chorus, Dylan addresses his true 'arch enemy', the "Sweet Lady".

    He continues to explore the unfruitful relationship that is now over, driven by resentment that leads him to exclamations that are nothing but vicious. The lengthy "Idiot Wind" is very multidimensional, especially compared to "Simple Twist of Fate" and "You're a Big Girl Now": a lot of it is about her. A lot of it is about him. A lot of it is about the past, present. And it is, of course, about losing and suffering, something that Dylan's voice makes seem like being condemned to burn in an eternal fire. And the song IS fire. The coldness that is more prominent on the New York session, is hidden inside a great heat, this called for attack that goes as far as: "You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies. One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes". Dylan himself has told he didn't feel the song was personal, but knew the song may "seem" personal. For that very reason I have thus far avoided bringing out any possible connections to his wife of the time, Sara. I have no desire to involve an existing person, however influential she may have been to a song or songs, unless it's completely obvious she is who it is really about (such as "Sara" from "Desire", or perhaps "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" which hints at her past too much to be a coincidence). We can all assume who the "Sweet lady" is, but since Sara's name isn't mentioned in "Idiot Wind", I do not see a point in rambling about the possible dynamics of their marriage, which officially ended more than three years after the release of this album. What I can say, though, is that the New York session does give away a lot more, especially in the last verse.

    What really interests me about "Idiot Wind", though, is how the feelings almost become shared as the song progresses towards its end: "You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above, and I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry" almost sounds like something the "Sweet lady" could say, and curiously enough the last chorus inexplicably drops the first person: "We’re idiots, babe" - this is what I call an admittance, almost as if Dylan had come to the realisation that he was at fault as much as the one the song is directed to, perhaps during the process of penning "Idiot Wind". It's almost cathartic, an apologetic conclusion to a completely unapologetic song.

    Dylan shows a more sensitive, compromising side on "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go", a bittersweet song about dragon clouds, purple clover, crazy bloomin' flowers on the hillside, and most importantly, clinging to the female crutch the song addresses. In a way, despite some of its quite warm and welcoming imagery and lack of the kind of despair that's present on most of the album, it's perhaps the album's saddest song. Again, Dylan's voice is mostly 'guilty' for this... every word that escapes his lips seems to be drenched in tears.

    The song may provide a hopeful present that contrasts with the bleaker past which, again, doesn't need complicated language to be described nor understood by the listener ('Situations have ended sad, relationships have all been bad'), but there is again the gripping possibility of not being able to forever clutch to that last sunray in a dark room. There may be a prospect of solace, sure, but its looming uncertainty is to me even more devastating than the idea of being completely alone - the fragility of this indefinite romance is what's harrowing.

    There is not much to say about the next song, titled "Meet Me in the Morning". With similar lyrics to the previous song and startling bluesy sound, it's the 'phonecalliest' and ambiguous of the album's songs. Expecting Rain's Dylan Atlas confirms the existance of Wabasha street ('Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha') in Minnesota, which is fitting. In the song, Dylan makes a point about being deserving of one's love for having overcome a series of struggles and hardships: "I struggled through barbed wire, felt the hail fall from above. Well, you know I even outran the hound dogs. Honey, you know I’ve earned your love".

    What I find significantly more fascinating than this track is "Call Letter Blues" from the essential "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991" that musically hardly differs from "Meet Me in the Morning" and is lyrically more in tune with the album's previous songs, containing lines such as "Way out in the distance I know you're with some other man" and the frightening "The children cry for mother. I tell 'em, "Mother took a trip."" which always reminds me of Lou Reed's album "Berlin" that even includes appropriate sound effects. And "Call Letter Blues" confirms Dylan's lack of care for unmeaningful relationships, with "Call girls in the doorway, all givin' me the eye. But my heart's just not in it, I might as well pass right on by." It's certainly a pleasure knowing Dylan's not only devoted musically but also emotionally. Opening the second side of the record, "Meet Me in the Morning" and its sexier, somewhat sleazier sound and lyrical approach still works as a nice breath of fresher and warmer air after a multitude of sorrowful songs.

    "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" is among Dylan's most complex compositions, a visual and cinematic treat and a temporary drift into another place and time, with fully fleshed out communicative characters who bear names and costumes, and are all driven by completely different motives. The (anti)hero of this song is the titular Jack of Hearts, a seemingly secretive mystical figure straight out the surface of a playing card. There are two women, Lily and Rosemary, both involved with a brutish, villainous and apparently prosperous guy named Big Jim who appears to have no interest in monogamy as he keeps Rosemary as his wife and the doll-like princess Lily as his mistress.

    Not only does the song have a fairly complex plot, it also explores the following themes: deceptive appearances and identity, and luck. The former is stressed by multiple lines and can be associated with each character: Jack of Hearts is described as a great actor ('There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts'). The ending reveals Lily's hair was dyed - with the welcomed return of her natural hair color giving a lovely sense of liberation - and she seems to have been clothed after Big Jim's preferences. Rosemary, in addition to having false eyelashes, is overwhelmed by her reflection ('Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife') it's really how she finally perceives herself that leads her to commit a heinous crime. And, of course, the setting itself.

    This really makes one wonder whether Jack himself, who at first glance seems to have come not only to rob a bank safe with his gang but also rescue the fair maiden, is as valiant as the song makes him out to be. The New York session has an additional verse which Dylan omitted from the inferior studio version that serves as evidence Jack and Lily had been lovers, which explains why Big Jim recognizes Jack when he sees a picture of him. Having a false perception of ourselves and others is perhaps what always bends our fates and locks us in solitude.

    "If You See Her, Say Hello" returns briefly to the type of emotional turmoil that is present on, for example, "You're a Big Girl Now", but this time around the listener can get comfort from the kind of optimism that is present in lines such as "Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow" or "Oh, whatever makes her happy, I won't stand in the way", showing Dylan not only as expressive and cautious, but also as a learner who has reached an understanding how to make the best out of the worst situations, or as he puts in his own words: "And I’ve never gotten used to it, I’ve just learned to turn it off". Perhaps not the best way to recuperate from a loved one's leaving, but at least it there is a pleasing glimmer of Dylan's more adjusting side.

    The bitterness of "You're a Big Girl Now" is gone and so is the vengefulness of "Idiot Wind" - there may still be the sadness and loneliness which he just can't shake off with false hopes, delusive anticipation and expectations, but at least in this song he seems to have come to terms with some of the harder truths that hounded him to the point of constant headache in some of the albums previous songs, and it's devoid of that gritty morbidness that flows through several of the album's other, more emotionally irrational songs - there is a sense of acceptance in lines like "We had a falling-out, like lovers often will". His sudden comprehension of the unavoidable pains that come along with the package of relationships gives the listener security, but the sorrow that clings to every inner monologue of his still makes this song unbearably sad.

    Dylan's profound and consistent use of weather imagery throughout his career makes one question if the storm of "Shelter from the Storm", the penultimate track on the album, should be defined in its classical sense. The listener has already been thrown into the heart-wrenching storm of "Idiot Wind", perhaps leading one to wonder if the storm could be a metaphor of the narrator's own possible (internal) explosion, an unescapable hail of emotions that only a this sultry woman could provide shelter from. Jeff Nichols's film "Take Shelter" quite cleverly uses storm as a key metaphor for the main character's own increasing delusions and deepening schizophrenia, for example.

    Apart from the mystery of the nature of this possible storm the song is perfected by Dylan with the use of highly evocative images from a time and place that is oddly unfamiliar, incorporating Biblical allusion ('She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns', 'If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born') and striving to give its narrator anonymity by stripping him of visual form, giving the listener one of the most unique prowlers to ever roam the depths of any song of his. The poetry of this song is masterful and Dylan truly amplified it in Fort Collins in 1976, performing it live with intoxicating power and great momentum. The episodic, somewhat hallucinatory song reeks of both betrayal and treachery, complete with macabre images and compelling observations.

    The last song of the album is the short and compact "Buckets of Rain", a definite earpleaser that makes a return to the cliché-writing so committedly that some of it comes off as just silly. That may sound like an accusation, but in reality it gives the song a heartwarming, almost domestic vibe that really turns the it into a perfect closer for the album, and despite some of its fitting negativity it ends the record with a posh and hopeful last whisper, a quick "phone call" (as I already described another song) if you may; pains that built up from the past's bad experiences and false hopes are now gone, as is that gripping need of his to take control of his own fate. He may not dismiss the distress that results from disappointment, but lines such as "If you want me, honey baby, I’ll be here" and "I’m takin’ you with me, honey baby, when I go" are genuinely heartwarming, just like his guitar picking. If this were the last letter sent to a long lost love there would be room for reconciliation or at least moving on, and that is, in one word, uplifting.

    - Written by an Italian poet from the... I mean, Ralf Sauter
  • The magic of "Brownsville Girl"

    12 May 2012, 15:28

    Analysis of "Brownsville Girl"

    "Brownsville Girl" (1986), co-written with playwright Sam Shepard whom Dylan had previously collaborated with in the mid-'70s (the Rolling Thunder Revue), is one of Dylan's many so-called "epics" and arguably his '80s masterpiece, if not the greatest song he's ever written - I tend to think so. Clocking at 11 minutes it is (along with "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", "Highlands" and "Desolation Row") an overwhelmingly audacious composition. Perhaps, with its careless, gutsy use of back-up singers, ridiculously lengthy lines (which demand Dylan to speak rather than sing) and overdubbing, even too ambitious so for its own good. Dylan had actually recorded this grandiose piece for the album "Empire Burlesque" under the Woody Guthrie inspired title "New Danville Girl". This earlier, much simpler and plainer stripped-down version can be found on various bootleg releases, most notably "The Naked Empire" and "Tempest Storm".

    Guitarist Ira Ingber later somewhat unjustifiably expressed his disapproval over the officially released recording, claiming it had lost some of its natural authentic beauty because of the excessive overdubbing (apparently, six recording sessions were devoted to this). I personally find "Brownsville Girl" more appealing musically and feel it deserves praise for its majestic feel and power. On the other hand, it's worth noting how much more wistful "New Danville Girl"-s lyrics are (for example, the line "Tell me about the time that out engine broke down and it was the worst of times" gives one a good glimpse of the narrator's and Brownsville Girl's struggles). Dylan rewrote a lot of it along the way (adding a few colloquialisms, among other things) as it was in the process of becoming the version one can hear on his "Knocked Out Loaded" album. The song is obviously the album's highlight; the centerpiece that holds together a record put together without much effort or dedication. I would still recommend the album for its unapologetically corny south-western vibe. And if anyone asked if Dylan's ever recorded an album to play to a dancehall crowd, I'd suggest this one. "Driftin' Too Far from Shore" and "Maybe Someday" are perhaps Dylan's danciest songs.

    "Brownsville Girl" is about an odyssey, complete with leaps from the past to the present and vice versa, a haunting ode to memories and movies that continuosly builds up to a conclusion that displays some of Dylan's wittiest, sardonic writing, some of which apparently a contribution of Shepard's*. Dylan has always felt close to the world of film, using lines from classic noirs in several of his '80s songs, and even appearing in several films (most of which were failures). From that period, he starred in "Hearts of Fire" alongside Rupert Everett, another unfortunate flop. Amazingly enough, in a conceptual sense, movies for him work best when he's not part of them, but when he applies them to his songs... like this one. The Gregory Peck picture described is 1950's The Gunfighter, which not only provides Dylan with an incredibly generous canvas, but also allows him to present himself as both a courageous mythical figure (in his case, as a musician, and poet) and a common man. Structurally, the prosaic "Brownsville Girl" consists of three consistent platforms, which is stunning, considering this is just a single song, albeit 11 minutes long: there is a main storyline, where we learn about the narrator and his neverending travels with the titular character, how they ended up getting separated, and what the narrator does next (on a whim, it seems); there are hazy flashbacks of the film that haunts and taunts him (and is symbolic of his own journey); and there is also the true present where the listener is provided with a conclusion.

    It is worth mentioning that the song came to be when session musicians were throwing ideas around during rehearals and someone started talking about a film he had seen. It's remarkable that this was the basis for what soon became a (fictious) account of a hazardous, yet tremendous journey; an epic of the west dealing with long-lost love, being stranded and later contemplating what it all had really meant. The juxtaposition of various memories from two separate stages of life that both lead up to something as simple and earthly as standing in a line at a movie theatre, works on so many levels. Some Dylan fans who don't take to "Brownsville Girl" as well as I happen to, mainly criticise it for its disjointed nature. After all, even though the narrator's journey is smoothly framed by vivid images from The Gunfighter which the narrator begins to feel a part of, we never really learn the backgrounds of the characters of Ruby and Henry Porter, nor is it revealed which crime the narrator is accused of. Then again, Brownsville Girl herself, the unnamed central character, remains just as mystifying to the listener as a lot of what occurs to the heroic journeyman. At the very beginning, for example, there is an odd gap in the narrative when Brownsville Girl disappears without warning to seek out a doctor (for an abortion, as Dylan writer Oliver Trager suggests**). Suddenly the narrator's cross-country journey continues with another girl, a substitute for the carnal and luminous titular character with "Brownsville curls" and "teeth like pearls" (as the cliché-laden chorus explains). Why the hero picks a replacement for Brownsville Girl is never explained, but knowing Dylan's songwriting, the need for companionship is a possible reason.

    The naiveness of the narrator and his new partner in crime - a girl reminiscent of Brownsville Girl who has slipped away - is oddly charming. At one point, the song describes Ruby, whose eyes "were filled with sadness" and who says that "even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt" (a nice touch of humor) as being "disillusioned with everything"; the hero, on the other hand, claims not having any destination nor aim, but he hasn't given up looking: "We’re going all the way ’til the wheels fall off and burn / ’Til the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies". Brownsville Girl was the true love who the narrator let go to easily (which the narrator realises too late, but ends up concluding he has no regrets), later expressing his sadness, perhaps pitying himself as he stands in the line of the movie theatre, thinking: "Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content" and "People don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent" - these must be the truest and most proverbial lines Dylan ever sang. Among other things, the song studies how we find comfort in familiarity, but how we can also be chained by it.

    And, of course, the process of writing the song seems to have been just as spontaneous and erratic as the narrator's actions in this story, who never appears to truly understand where he is headed or why, which was probably the case with Dylan / Shepard as they partnered up to pen this playfully wild ballad. Some of it undeniably is autobiographical. The line "“We got him cornered in the churchyard,” I heard somebody shout" is a fine example. Another one: "Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune". Corpus Christi, also meaning "body of Christ" in Latin, is also a city in Texas where a lot of the action of the song takes place. Those familiar with Dylan are well aware of his brief period of devoted Christianity in the late '70s and early '80s. And, as already mentioned, in the song Dylan clearly ponders about the nature of celebrity as he draws a comparison between himself and the gunfighter Jimmy Ringo from the film that he can't help but shake off as he reminisces about his trek on the harmonious landscapes of the elusive American wilderness, never by himself, but so lost and seeking a certain purpose. Similarly to Dylan classics such as "Isis" or "Tangled Up in Blue", the geographical nuances of the narrative are disorienting: at one point the narrator is in Mexico, and then suddenly roaming the highways of Colorado, gazing at sunrise near the Rockies; the French Quarter of New Orleans is also mentioned. This is probably one of the reasons the song is considered fragmented, but people seem to be forgetting how often Dylan songs are nothing but intricate puzzles. An earlier song of Dylan's similarly describing the travels of a lonely lost drifter, "Tangled Up in Blue", is known for its anachronistic structure, along with other complexities that still befuddle even the most devoted, focused listeners.

    The magic of "Brownsville Girl" is essentially based on the idea of physically experiencing something so amazing and astonishing it feels almost like you're playing the part of a film, even if the outcome is devastating to whomever is experiencing it; yet, at the same time, films are generally linked to escapism. Seeing a film often allows one to distance oneself from whatever hardships one may go through, and as the memories of both The Gunfighter and Brownsville Girl become one and then slowly dissolve in his head, he can finally be at rest and see whatever Gregory Peck film is showing. As the song states, he thinks he would see that haunting western again, but apparently it's a totally different one. This is what I consider a valuable symbol of finding peace; being able to finally stop mulling over whatever went wrong in the past, and to venture into new open territory. Despite becoming separated and never again connecting with Brownsville Girl, a lot went right as well. Inescapable fate has led the narrator, a destiny's child, to the movie theatre, and whatever really happened inbetween seeing The Gunfighter in his youth and that very point, has given people a reason to talk about him plenty after he's gone. For that he has no regrets. That shows grateful sensibilities. Most likely his content attitude has a lot to do with the fact that despite having been fired at and chased, he is still alive, something that appears important to him at the beginning of the song, where he first describes Jimmy Ringo dying after being shot, and then getting separated from Brownsville Girl because he was afraid of risking his own life. Because of the loosely linked events of the song, a lot of the it is supposed to remain a mystery, just as mysterious as often anonymous gunslingers from western films are, and the ideal Brownsville Girl herself is.

    * Dylan expert Clinton Heylin suggests that Shepard's real contribution was to encourage Dylan not to settle for "second best", which is believable considering how weak his other songs from the mid-'80s are. It's almost confusing to hear such a long and profound ballad from an era so pathetic in terms of Dylan's musical output. "Without wishing in anyway to diminish Shepard's role in the song's lyric or his own gifts for dialogue, it seems that his primary function in the writing process – like Jacques Levy nine years earlier – was to push Dylan to not give up on the idea, or settle for second best. According to Shepard, they “spent two days writing the lyrics – Bob had previously composed the melody line.” Dylan acknowledged his co-lyricist's input when talking about their collaboration to a German journalist in 1997: “Working with Sam was not necessarily easier, but it was certainly less meaningless. In every case writing a song is done faster when you got someone like Sam and are not on your own.” The once prolific penman had evidently been struggling to motivate himself to, as it were, give the envelope a shove one more time, until Shepard brought along his shovel."
    ** Oliver Trager's suggestion is probably derived from the fact Dylan changed the line "And we slept near the Alamo, fell out under the stars" from "New Danville Girl" to "your skin was so tender and soft" for "Brownsville Girl", which may emphasize they had sex, leading to an unwanted pregnancy.

    Bob Dylan
    Knocked Out Loaded

    Written by an Italian poet from the... I mean, Ralf Sauter
  • Sex and the physical in "Blonde on Blonde"

    18 Abr 2012, 17:24

    Sex and the physical in "Blonde on Blonde"

    Why not just a full analysis? Well - so much can be said about Bob Dylan's 1966 double album "Blonde on Blonde" that dedicating a journal entry on the entire record, known for its rich and often abstract, unfathomable lyrics and what Dylan himself describes as "that thin, wild mercury sound", would be a neckbreaking task. It's a riveting record that follows, among others, a relatively simple and concise album of songs of topical nature ("The Times They Are a-Changin'"), an album of boyish humor and sincerity ("Another Side of Bob Dylan"), and an album of bluesy rock music filled with sharp and smart wordplay ("Highway 61 Revisited").

    This is a blurry and addicting portrait of a peculiar and tormented man - just like the cover photograph. The artist has finally come to a halt and frozen like a deer in headlights in the midst of bricks laying on Grand Street, weeping mothers and railroad men, unable to find solace and salvation, yearning and longing, searching for means of rescue: "It was raining from the first and I was dying there of thirst" from "Just Like a Woman" presents a problem so simple yet heartbreaking that allows one to understand the hurt. He is, after all, standing in rain, yet dying of thirst. And, on top of all that, the spiritual and the physical finally merge in many of these songs as Dylan searches for answers, throwing around playfully redundant but powerful imagery - it's a quest for meaningful love and, in the case of "Visions of Johanna", perfection, something quite often otherwordly and intangible. What illustrates Dylan's genius is his ability to create poetry so vivid that one gets an understanding of the otherwordly. And at the same time, there is such an immediate and a clear sense of reality, often because of the urban characteristics of these songs. This remarkable fusion of the physical and spiritual is what I consider one of the most fascinating aspects of "Blonde on Blonde", and I would like to focus on what role sex and the human body plays on the album, and how brilliantly Dylan makes it interact with the soul and mind.

    In "Visions of Johanna" he goes as far as opening the song within a place that feels real and existing. As the song progresses, much of this reality is simply stripped away and it ends somewhere cold and desolate, where these visions of Johanna are "all that remain". "Visions of Johanna" is the song where, in my opinion, Dylan addresses his inability to find fulfillment from pleasures the existing world has to offer him - being entwined with a lover or looking at art in a museum, a place that Bob himself almost certainly considers way too reserved to provide complete nourishment for the soul. In each verse, Dylan finds himself hounded by visions of some Johanna, who never develops a physical form in the song, so she could very easily be addressed as a "what", and she could merely represent the idea of perfection in general, not only just Dylan's idea of perfection, which would make her even more abstract than she already is. Not much can be said about Johanna, which is ironic given how much her importance in terms of finding salvation and happiness is stressed. She isn't there to be described, but rather be introduced and then shown as something one, or rather Dylan, finds hard to live, and possibly be resourceful, without, causing torment because visions of her never really dissappear. In fact, they almost become the only reality since not being able to find a solution to the issue has caused the existing and tangible to crumble. How ironic.

    And then there's Louise, the second distinctive character of the song, a vicarious creature. She talks and moves, she's a carnal figure and has a body, possibly the closest to the one Johanna has in those visions that keep Dylan up "past the dawn", whereas "the all-night girls" who "whisper of escapades" and the "jelly-faced women" are physically more boresome - they play a part in the song because Dylan still addresses the fact that he's a person and he coexists and interacts with them on a very basic level. In fact, Louise's physicality is so strong that the "ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face" - not only does she have a face, Dylan reveals what's beneath the visible external layer. Several other lines function as evidence of her physical nature, such as: "And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it" and "Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near". "All right and just near" obviously isn't good enough, not filling his hopes and expectations, which is why at the end of the song he admits to seeing "this empty cage now corrode", the empty cage being his own weak body, corroding because "Madonna still hasn't showed" - Madonna being Johanna, who never becomes someone he is able to hold or communicate or have exchanges with, and the surroundings have because of this suddenly dissolved... and "these visions of Johanna are now all that remain". Louise is the only available substitute for Johanna, eventually suffering because of her own snideness and having to become naked in both spirit and body in order to "prepare for the peddler" who'd say a prayer to her, a parasite.

    In the 3rd verse, Dylan fascinatingly describes himself in third person. He is the little boy lost who takes himself so seriously and brags of his misery. These are harsh statements, but what makes this use of third person necessary are the third and fourth lines. After all, a kiss from Johanna is one of those great, touching moments from the artist's own imagination, but having not really experienced this, he talks about this not in first, but the third person, becoming the lost little boy, who, despite his uselessness and constant small talk, has been kissed farewell by her, something Dylan himself seems so hardly to desire.

    Having now extensively focused on "Visions of Johanna" and how its central physical character Louise adverses to the intangible ideal Johanna, I will direct my attention to the other tracks on "Blonde on Blonde" and those lines that revolve around the expression of, for example, love through the sexual and physical - and what their role is to Dylan in terms of connecting to others, or even disconnecting from them. I've recently become to understand that another significant part of the breathtaking stream of "Blonde on Blonde"-s lyrics is not only the physical in strictly sexual terms - there are songs where Dylan describes others being somehow disabled or enabled by their physical appearance. The character of the judge in "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" walks on stilts, the emotionally strong independent woman he seeks out at the end of "4th Time Around" is in a wheelchair (and there is a clever reference to a crutch). This is, in my mind, a nice example of how Dylan, hurt and emotionally scarred / baffled, through his poetry makes his own pain reflect onto the bodies of other characters in these songs.

    In "4th Time Around", Dylan visits a woman who has no interest in not what he has to say to her, but what items he can give her (in return for sex) - the physical relationship can only endure if he accepts unfair exchanging, and she's almost asking him to give her much for nothing. In all honesty, I believe Dylan does not see much value in loveless sex, which is why in "Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat" he doesn't mind the lady with the hat cheating on him with his doctor... she's simply someone who fascinates him because of an accessory she wears, not for anything spiritual. Having given so much to the demanding woman of "4th Time Around", she has nothing more to offer her than just gum, and when she learns that he is no longer useful as a resource of physical items, throws him out. He ends up returning, overpowering the weak woman (not in any way violent, of course, unless you find the line "You better spit out your gum" has something to do with strangulation, which is a slim possibility), taking back all his beloved belongings and residing with someone whose body is damaged, but who is ultimately strong-minded - and so is he, as he now has understood. They really need nothing from each other, and this is a conclusive remedy.

    Dylan appears highly aroused in "Absolutely Sweet Marie" as he lusts for the cunning Marie whom he has broken the law for, beating on his trumpet and having a fever in his pockets. In "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", the ambiguous character of Ruthie tells him "Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want". It should be noted that there are at least two bits in the song where Dylan funnily switches words: "And he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette", "But the post office has been stolen and the mailbox is locked" - Ruthie could very well be telling him she knows what he needs. Nonetheless, despite the prominence of physical intimacy on the album, it doesn't seem to be a necessity (nor an issue!), but rather something he is unable to escape or neglect, much like he is unable to escape from, for example, people who keep getting uglier because he had drunk the rainman's cure (see "Stuck Inside..."). It was an era of sex, drugs and rock & roll. It's comforting and engrossing to me that Dylan incorporated those into the bleak and moody "Blonde on Blonde", entwining them with the startling images present in his fervent poetry and, naturally, his own state of mind.

    TO BE (possibly) CONTINUED

    Written by an Italian poet from the 13th... I mean, Ralf Sauter

    Bob Dylan
    Visions of Johanna
  • "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" dissected!

    10 Abr 2012, 2:33

    Dylan has rarely sounded as obstinate, indiscreet, disgruntled and frighteningly aware of his own mortality as he does on "Infidels", an album that to me echoes strong lack of hope, yet doesn't reflect a willingness to succumb to the evils of the world he so mercilessly and boldly criticises.

    The love song "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight", direct and street-smart, closes the album and provides a further glimpse into Dylan's soul. After somewhat fierce attacks that clearly showcase his stances towards church ("Sweetheart Like You", if you listen closely enough, is really about church), war, consumerism and humankind in general, the utterly dismayed Dylan turns to a woman in hopes of having someone to share his concerns with on a more intimate level. He is no less pessimistic than he is on the rest of the album, excluding perhaps "Jokerman", the most well-known song from "Infidels" where he again shows signs of having the power and confidence to resist demonic outside forces. And yes, I have no doubt in my mind he is referring to himself in "Jokerman"; I would say the line "You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing" indicates this. Feelings of hopelessness become evident with the very first lines of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight":
    Just a minute before you leave, girl
    Just a minute before you touch the door
    What is it that you’re trying to achieve, girl?
    Do you think we can talk about it some more?
    You know, the streets are filled with vipers
    Who’ve lost all ray of hope
    You know, it ain’t even safe no more
    In the palace of the Pope
    Along with the striking use of the word viper it's a definite indication of his disappointment regarding the surrounding world and people who have occupied it, now reigning it with their poison and terror. Having apparently abandoned sermonizing, he has simply decided to corner himself and, as a last resort, clutches on to someone dear and close in hopes of receiving support at a period of such disheartenment while still remaining somewhat didactic. Fearing forlornness, he is annoyed by the fact she still has the will to thrive and survive on the streets and among people who, with their violent actions, dishonesty and cruel behavior have, without even knowing Dylan, have led him to - basically - become a viper himself in terms of losing all ray of hope.

    Come over here from over there, girl
    Sit down here. You can have my chair
    I can’t see us goin’ anywhere, girl
    The only place open is a thousand miles away and I can’t take you there
    I wish I’d have been a doctor
    Maybe I’d have saved some life that had been lost
    Maybe I’d have done some good in the world
    ’Stead of burning every bridge I crossed
    Frankly, a lot of cowardice and unconfidence here. Dylan has no problem admitting he's weak in terms of both will and mentality, questioning his capabilities as a partner, and more importantly, quite blatantly addressing his regret about his role in society and having become a musician, something that appears almost insignificant to him - which is odd given his incalculable importance as a creator of poetry and song. Another interesting aspect of the song, of course, is his more direct and simple writing here. Anyone who has heard, for example, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", knows that even his most description-reliant compositions are things of incredible beauty. This is a fascinating approach, albeit not an original one - "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from 1967's "John Wesley Harding" and many other songs of his focus more on communication than description, but this time around he's not only expressing love but also rather painfully trying to persuade her to just forget every prospect of victory, because he knows an easier way out - one that she, stronger and sturdier, has thus far refused to take.

    I ain’t too good at conversation, girl
    So you might not know exactly how I feel
    But if I could, I’d bring you to the mountaintop, girl
    And build you a house made out of stainless steel
    But it’s like I’m stuck inside a painting
    That’s hanging in the Louvre
    My throat start to tickle and my nose itches
    But I know that I can’t move
    I find the line "I ain't too good at conversation, girl, so you might not know exactly how I feel" somewhat confusing. Theoretically speaking, there's a slim chance he's suggesting that the only value he sees in his self-expression is his literary skill and his ability to craft beautiful poetry; that he feels weak when it comes to quickly, without hesitation, saying things as they are, in understandable language that doesn't require interpretation? I consider this a slightly plausible theory... and it would definitely be quite ironic given how straight-forward he is in this very song. I think it would be more appropriate to say that he's simply admitting he is tired of talking and attempting to convince (again ironic), which in turn would connect to his "I wish I’d have been a doctor" stance from the previous verse. "But it's like I'm stuck inside a painting that's hanging in the Louvre" always takes me back to his Mona Lisa observation from "Visions of Johanna", even though these two songs are lightyears apart in terms of both quality and nature.

    Who are these people who are walking towards you?
    Do you know them or will there be a fight?
    With their humorless smiles so easy to see through
    Can they tell you what’s wrong from what’s right?
    Do you remember St. James Street
    Where you blew Jackie P.’s mind?
    You were so fine, Clark Gable would have fell at your feet
    And laid his life on the line
    In the "Infidels" song "Man of Peace" Dylan conclusively says that "sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace", an idea that is quite similar to the paranoid suggestion that no one is really trustworthy. The Clark Gable line is a nice touch, perhaps foreshadowing Dylan's tendency to incorporate (obscure) film dialogue into his lyrics in the '80s, which he would later extensively do in the following two albums - Bob has always been interested in both making (which he has unfortunately almost always failed at) and watching films. In this verse, he's most likely hinting that he feels there's no need to seek the opinions or give in to solicitations of others as long as you have been gifted with external and internal beauty, more than often a source of personal confidence - but who knows, perhaps he's just abruptly moving on to playful description after giving a fair warning about the deceitfulness of outsiders.

    Let’s try to get beneath the surface waste, girl
    No more booby traps and bombs
    No more decadence and charm
    No more affection that’s misplaced, girl
    No more mudcake creatures lying in your arms
    What about that millionaire with the drumsticks in his pants?
    He looked so baffled and so bewildered
    When he played and we didn’t dance
    Excluding chorus, these are the last lines of the song and "Infidels", providing a brief glimmer of hope, hinting at a blissful possible conclusion - the woman is destined to become as beguiling as all the people around her unless she shows a desire to evolve and efficiently move forward. At the same time, the now almost drifting narrator Dylan is completely weary from not only the trickery of others, but also partly hers and even, alas, himself. Something about it strikes me as slightly Biblical - perhaps getting beneath the surface waste is a metaphor for becoming cleansed. Hence they would have to both become free of sin, decadence, misplaced affection. Even the "mudcake creatures"; an obvious reference to babies, to me suggests getting dirty and smeared. The lines about the dancing show that money and tremendous material fortune isn't really a distraction to either of them, that she isn't greedy and easily accepts his views. "Dancing" is a mutual activity demanding partnership, and seeing that they both refused to dance to "the millionaire's drum" suggests she perfectly levels with him, even if she's difficult to convince and persuade. So, despite their certain differences and his weakness, there is some moderate groundwork in this partnership - in the end, that is all that matters, and there is some drive left - once they pursue to get beneath the surface waste, to "dance to a different drum", there will be happiness ... and possibly redemption (for his uncalled for observations and asinine views on the album, I hope!).


    That concludes my analysis of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight"!
    And don't get me wrong - I like "Infidels" a lot.

    Written by an Italian poet from the 13th... I mean, Ralf Sauter

    Bob Dylan
    Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight
  • So... about Dylan's "Empire Burlesque"!

    4 Abr 2012, 19:25

    One of Bob Dylan's most remarkable achievements as a poet and an extremely prolific recording musician, in addition to releasing albums of vast importance in terms of the development of popular music (such as "Highway 61 Revisited") has been reinventing himself and, regardless of whether he actually succeeds, trying out new things. In my journal entry regarding Dylan's 1978 album "Street-Legal" I pointed out that by the time Bob started working on "Empire Burlesque", he had managed to overcome a number of difficulties concerning both his personal life and beliefs, which allowed him the artistic freedom that's responsible for the wacky '80s pop sound of 1985's "Empire Burlesque" ("Clean Cut Kid", though, was originally recorded for "Infidels" and later returned to). It's a very peculiar and lacking record; the Dylan album "to dance to", if you will.

    Despite its amusing flakiness, it should be noted that Dylan still displayed tremendous bravery by steering into such a territory, given his pretty minimal knowledge of mainstream "TV music" of the time. Free from 'debt to himself' in terms of his confusion regarding his surroundings, he was able to now jump on new ground, and I'd say he did just okay. So, is "Empire Burlesque" any good? I would say yes, for the most part... even though the outtakes are a clear indication it had much more potential, but given Dylan's bizarre choices regarding his releases (the exclusion of "Blind Willie McTell" from "Infidels" is a common example), I wouldn't consider this a con. Of course the record would have been better and held in higher regard had he included "New Danville Girl", or used an earlier recording of "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky" (with the E Street Band's Roy Bittan on piano and Steve van Zandt on guitar), or not generally gone mad with the production, but "Empire Burlesque" is pretty fine as it is. I would still recommend seeking out and listening to "The Naked Empire" which presents the songs in a much more raw and simple form. "Never Gonna Be the Same Again", a wonderful love song, certainly sounds better on it. Much better.

    First of all, the album is clearly dated, as are many notorious '80s albums of other artists. "Empire Burlesque" kicks off with "Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)", which is actually a good song despite the abysmal music video that was directed by "Taxi Driver" screenwriter Paul Schrader and filmed in Tokyo. It's a cute and colorful video, but since Dylan is so awkward on film and the editing is terribly zany, the result is pretty corny, even for the '80s. They say "less is more" and Dylan seems to neglect that completely with this track; on the other hand, his soulful singing and humorous yet observant lyrics make this a pleasurable listen.

    "Empire Burlesque" and "Knocked Out Loaded" (which followed the former) are good evidences of Dylan's love for film - he borrowed a lot of film dialogue for his '80s songs. The line "What looks large from a distance, close up ain't never that big" is actually muttered in Henry Hathaway's 1934 film "Now and Forever". One YouTube commenter pointed out that another line, "I'll go along with the charade until I can think my way out" can be heard in an episode of the original "Star Trek" series. Dylan has often attempted to be a part of the world of movies and has never had much success, especially as an editor/director. I guess this excuses the cheesiness of the music video of "Tight Connection to My Heart". He would later continue extensively using film dialogue in his songs on "Knocked Out Loaded". One could even call this a distinctive characteristic of his mid-'80s songs. It should be emphasized that this time around, Dylan knowingly (I presume) lowers his standards with the lyrics, which isn't really a fault; love ballads such as "Emotionally Yours", the seventh track on "Empire Burlesque", certainly don't lose any of their charm because of the simpler lyrics, nor does Dylan himself lose any of his undeniable charisma - even in the video, which - again - is kind of silly. The black-and-white music video clearly hints that he was associated with actress Elizabeth Taylor. There is a photograph from 1986 where Bob and Taylor are seen sitting together.

    After all, he directed his attention to the style of "Empire Burlesque". It's an effort in sounding contemporary, and hence his status as an established poet falls into second place. While Dylan's capabilities as a wordsmith did somewhat fade in the '80s, the last song on "Empire Burlesque" titled "Dark Eyes" is a strong indication that, at least on this album, it was rather a choice to be less wordy this time around and he still had it as a songwriter, and that he hadn't actually neglected a more primitive style of music. "Dark Eyes" features Dylan on just guitar and harmonica, and the line "A million faces at my feet, but all I see are dark eyes" has the record end at a pretty somber note. Interestingly enough, despite its simplicity (especially when compared to the album's other songs, which are loud and dance-y), it's arguably the best song on "Empire Burlesque", and the only inclusion from the album on the retrospective "Dylan" greatest-hits box set.

    In terms of lyrics, the strongest point of the album is actually the aforementioned "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky", a dangerous-sounding tune which is complete with rich lines such as:

    Look out across the fields, see me returning
    Smoke is in your eye, you draw a smile
    From the fireplace where my letters to you are burning
    You’ve had time to think about it for a while

    For all eternity I think I will remember
    That icy wind that’s howling in your eye
    You will seek me and you’ll find me
    In the wasteland of your mind

    Again, the definitive version of the song should be considered the earlier recording with the E Street Band musicians, which thankfully appears on the first official set of bootlegs.

    I must admit I hate how many of these tunes sound, mostly because of the excessive overdubbing. Then again, "Empire Burlesque" makes it evident Dylan doesn't totally fail and can still be compelling when he plays with fire, but on the other hand, it's hardly a personal statement - what's its real purpose as a Dylan album, especially given how free of personal concerns and confusion he is after solving them with and on the sour-hearted "Infidels" from 1983...? Conclusively, it lacks catharsis... yet it does pass as a sort of curiosity. I'm sure Dylan fans who love the record have more insight as to how these songs reflect the artist's emotions; like I stated, I happen to like the album, but it surely doesn't stand out in any way, despite Dylan's passionate vocal work and unarguable wit. Still, there have been reports of Dylan's lack of enthusiasm during the process of mixing the album, which somewhat indicates it was more of a futile exercise.

    Lastly, I would like to stress the importance of "New Danville Girl", a song recorded on the "Empire Burlesque" studio sessions but ultimately discarded until the creation of "Knocked Out Loaded", when it was partly rewritten and released as "Brownsville Girl". Both versions of the song are excellent, "New Danville Girl" even moreso - try getting a hold of "The Naked Empire" and you'll realise how positively it would have affected "Empire Burlesque" had it been released as part of the album. Then again, in that case there would be no "Brownsville Girl" on "Knocked Out Loaded", and that would have resulted in an even more dreadful album than it is now (just a pathetic shadow of "Empire Burlesque", basically)... even though it's a massive guilty pleasure for me.

    Passion rules the arrow that flies.
    - Dark Eyes

    Written by an Italian poet from the 13th... I mean, Ralf Sauter

    Bob Dylan
    Empire Burlesque
    Dark Eyes
  • Personal thoughts on Bob Dylan's "Street-Legal" (1978)

    4 Abr 2012, 17:26

    Conversion to Christianity in the late '70s was an important step in Dylan's life & career. Having dealt with a years-long marital crisis and the failure of his lengthy film "Renaldo & Clara", he finally came to peace with himself by finding faith. 1978's "Street-Legal", however, was the predecessor to his trilogy of Christian music (comprised of "Slow Train Coming", "Saved" and the overlooked "Shot of Love"), and has caused massive dispute among both Dylan fans and academics. I've personally always been fond of it (after all, the album kicks off with the words "Sixteen years"). It's unarguably an important, intriguing document of the despair ravaging his heart and mind at the time, and the somewhat cryptic yet expressionistic lyrics bundling the resulting feelings, ideas and emotions give the record, laden with hurt and humiliation, a strong relisten value.

    The album's prominent flaw is generally considered the relatively weak production of the original release. "Street-Legal" also stands out for the intense use of a large backing band and vocalists, which I would say is Dylan's, whose marriage had reached the point of complete collapse, attempt to escape from a certain solitude. Instruments such as saxophone can be heard on the album. The very pop-influenced powerful sound of the record contrasts heavily with the lyrics, filled with Biblical allusions, sexism, and misery. I find the writing highly focused and meticulous - almost as good as anything he penned in the '60s.

    It should be noted Dylan was still in brief relationships at the time. According to a rumor, in early 1977 he was acquainted with a lady named Malka Marom who, along with Bob's children, was present when he hit Sara in the face (which, I suppose, was the stunning culmination of their years-long "feud"), and later, when he began writing songs which would be recorded for "Street-Legal", he was with Faridi McFee, who was actually the babysitter working for both him and Sara. By that point, their divorce had already been officially finalized. I will have to agree the music on the album somewhat suffers from the excessive instrumentation (especially drums, which I consider a major issue with "Infidels" as well), but it also gives the record a somewhat ominous vibe, notably on tracks such as "Changing of the Guards" and "Where Are You Tonight?" - both are played in a very upbeat manner, yet the lyrics are almost grievous. That is why the album is so eccentric (very appropriate for an artist like Dylan).

    Looking back at his earlier work, "Blood on the Tracks" - an earlier account of Dylan's heartache and inner affliction - is conclusively quite bittersweet. The last song on the album, "Buckets of Rain", is almost a perfect summary of the entire record, which is probably his strongest post-'60s outing. This is where his ambivalent feelings become clear (same goes for "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome..."). However, on "Street-Legal", which is quite cryptic compared to the straight-forward and obviously outstanding "Blood on the Tracks", the haunted, shameless Dylan blatantly comes off as much more cynical, guilefully and carefully embracing humiliation or neglect - his exasperation is in high gear and he seems to have no problem directing his frustration towards women and his general surroundings. "Come over here pony, I wanna climb up one time on you" ("New Pony"), is a curious example of how his distress would translate into a song at such a critical time in his life, when I believe he was questioning the purpose of his existence, and his worthiness as both a lover and artist.

    I would like to point out that "Infidels" is, to me, the album where the baffled, lost Dylan - gone through a brief period of wallowing in Christian beliefs - has found all the answers he seems to be looking for on "Street-Legal". This is also why, I presume, he was able to properly start experimenting with the sound and profile of his work, which obviously led to one of his oddest albums, the shining turd you can't help but love - "Empire Burlesque".

    It's the song "Baby Stop Crying" where Dylan displays his willingness to be a protectful and comforting guardian to a lady who has suffered hurt, yet the lines "Go get me my pistol, babe / honey, I can’t tell right from wrong" make it clear even such intentions would lead to terrible conclusions. Dylan, while working on "Street-Legal", found great solace from God, and despite losing a considerable portion of his fanbase because of that, it was a fortunate, logical move for him. Obviously there are multiple hints at his interest in Christian teachings and the Bible on "Street-Legal" as well - the severely apocalyptic undertones present on the record are quite powerful.

    I've always seen "Street-Legal" as an important and highly compelling, profound album, and it would rank as my second or third favorite from his studio catalogue. Dylan, "betrayed by a kiss on a cool night of bliss", has never sounded so menacing yet phlegmatic at the same time, and the pathos of the sound and the almost lurid landscape painted with and by the words, create a remarkable combination (intentional or not..) that - yes, makes you crave for a hot shower - but at the same time knocks you right in the head, as Dylan's music always does, at least to an attentive, focused listener. I would strongly recommend anyone who dislikes the album to reevaluate it, forget its aesthetic weaknesses, and link its obtrusive content to Dylan's personal life at the time. Most attention should be paid to "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)", given the fact Dylan has often ended his albums with the song he considers most valuable or important. Boy, is he sly in that one.

    Written by an Italian poet from the 13th... I mean, Ralf Sauter

    Bob Dylan
    Street Legal
  • 7 Overlooked Bob Dylan Masterpieces

    4 Abr 2012, 15:35

    I originally wrote this piece for, but seeing that they didn't publish it, I'll post it here:

    7. Bob Dylan's 115th Dream
    Bob Dylan can be funny as hell and the surreal "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" is unarguably one of the finest examples of this. The song, which is highly critical towards the morals and values of the United States, tells an amusing story of a group of sailors, among them Captain Arab (a reference to Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick"), 'discovering' America and getting into all sorts of wacky adventures as they set foot on its land. A humorous aspect of the song is the inclusion of an error from the recording sessions. Dylan's backing band, which he is using for the first time ever on a studio album (the first half of "Bringing It All Back Home" is electric, while the second is acoustic and more reminiscent of his earlier work), doesn't follow him as he starts the song. After some frenetic laughter he starts again, and the band follows instantly with no problems - guitarist Bruce Langhorne has later talked about the great communion at the recording sessions.

    6. Percy's Song
    One of the odd aspects of Dylan's work as a musician is his tendency to exclude many amazing songs from his studio albums. Columbia Records noted the value of these outtakes and demo recordings in 1991 by releasing a 3-disc set titled "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991" as the first installment in a continuing series consisting of highly important Bob Dylan recordings, and an earlier box set titled "Biograph" (released in 1985) also includes a variety of notable outtakes, including "Percy's Song" - a sorrowful folk song originally recorded for his 1963 album "The Times They Are a-Changin'". The narrator of this heartbreaking tune is a man whose friend is responsible for a car accident that took the lives of four people and is charged with manslaughter and 99 years in Joliet prison. The narrator attempts to convince the judge that it was merely an accident and his friend is undeserving of such punishment, but to no avail. "Percy's Song" can also be heard performed by Joan Baez in D.A. Pennebaker's film "Dont Look Back".

    5. Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)
    "Street-Legal", released in 1978, is a highly controversial album and is often discussed among casual fans and academics alike. Most agree on the mediocre production of the original release, yet consider it a crucial album in terms of how it reflects Dylan's, who was reaching the end of a years-long marital crisis, personal feelings and inner turmoil at the time. While the most well-known song off the album is unarguably "Changing of the Guards", it also includes several other tracks which easily demonstrate his incredible songwriting skills. "Where Are You Tonight?" serves as a nice summary of the author's emotions presented on "Street-Legal" and its gripping, expressionistic lyrics beautifully encapsulate such feelings of betrayal and despair.

    4. Every Grain of Sand
    The general consensus is that no other musician is as talented as a songwriter as Bob Dylan, and the very personal "Every Grain of Sand" is perhaps the finest example of the beauty of his poetry. It is the last track on the third album of his trilogy of Christian music, titled "Shot of Love" and released in the summer of 1981. "Shot of Love" is a very underrated album and the song is a fine evidence of the strength of just the words he uses, and there is no doubt in the solemnity of the accompanying melody. Lines such as "Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear / like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer" and "I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame / and every time I pass that way I always hear my name" make this song worthy of the recognition it deserves. It should be noted there is a home recording of the song that is included on the aforementioned "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3" set where one can hear a dog bark in the background as Dylan performs the song on the piano, accompanied by a female vocalist.

    3. Black Diamond Bay
    Bob Dylan has always been good at creating not only stunning imagery but also writing story-songs that are undeniably cinematic, such as "Black Diamond Bay". The album "Desire" was released in 1976 and has always been slightly overlooked because it followed one of the best albums of his entire career, "Blood on the Tracks", and couldn't probably live up to the expectations fans had after what is considered one of the greatest confessional records. What makes "Desire" so stunning as a whole is the exotic nature of the songs, all but two co-written with Jacques Levy. "Black Diamond Bay" is a very rewarding song once you invest your attention into the story it tells, and it is a powerful one. It is a fictional account of several remaining foreigners at a hotel soon to be destroyed by a volcano, and their demise. What makes "Black Diamond Bay" so interesting is how vivid the characters' actions and fates are, and the almost ominous ending - we learn about a man who's sitting in his apartm ent in Los Angeles watching the destruction of the island on the news. To him the event barely matters. He opens another beer and muses he never meant to go anyway to Black Diamond Bay. Yet there were people there whose lives were taken by the catastrophe, and the song does an incredible job at describing the significant and often ironic (considering what is soon about to take place) moments of the last hours of their lives. Another important story-song of Dylan's on "Desire" is "Isis".

    2. She's Your Lover Now
    "Blonde on Blonde" is the album that is generally considered Bob Dylan's true masterpiece, and the often hallucinatory, startling, haunting imagery of the rich lyrics and the sound that Dylan himself has called "that thin, wild mercury sound" make it a truly astonishing record. "She's Your Lover Now", a "Blonde on Blonde" outtake from early 1966, is a brilliant example of both. It is a song that Dylan unfortunately wasn't able to properly finish with a backing band. The most commonly known recording, despite being incomplete and missing a verse, appears on "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991". The devoted musicianship of all parties make this a worthy listen alone, but where Dylan truly shines here is again the songwriting - the premise of the song is fairly simple, but there's something oddly curious about the audacity of certain lines. It's a very fascinating, disorienting song, and sounds just as good as anything on "Blonde on Blonde" does.

    1. Brownsville Girl
    Dylan enthusiasts have always recognized the lengthy "Brownsville Girl", co-written with playwright and actor Sam Shepard, as a brilliant song and rightfully it has been included in several compilation albums. There are several Bob Dylan songs longer than 10 minutes that are universally loved, such as "Desolation Row" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", yet "Brownsville Girl" has never received such high praise, and the reason for this is the album on which it was released. Despite having some supporters, "Knocked Out Loaded" has always been considered to be among his poorest and laziest efforts. "Brownsville Girl" is clearly the only song that stands out as a great track. It's an eleven-minute epic ballad, an incredibly cinematic and multilayered story about a man standing in line at a theatre to see a movie starring Gregory Peck and looking back at a journey laden with love and loss, seeing himself as the hero, the gunfighter of the film described ("The Gunfighter" from 19 50). These chilling reverberations and reflections can be perplexing to the listener, but are nothing but compelling. There is undeniable beauty in the hope and motion of this tale. Dylan originally recorded the song as "New Danville Girl" before returning to it for "Knocked Out Loaded" (which really isn't as bad as most people tend to think) and changing some of the lyrics and - obviously - the title. There is a much more simplistic recording of "New Danville Girl" that is heavily bootlegged, but has never been officially released. "Brownsville Girl" is almost an ode to the art of film, something that has often been a part of his music, and the song itself is more movie-like than many actual films. Interestingly enough, there have been rumours of a possible "Brownsville Girl" film.

    Bob Dylan