Tag Archives: Blonde on Blonde

The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 5. Time Out Of Mind

Song for song, Time Out of Mind should probably be higher on this list.  But it’s one of the few Dylan albums where the songs really come to live better in the live arrangements, mostly due to Daniel Lanois’ production.  For some reason, Lanois decided that a swamp was a great place for a studio – hiding Dylan’s lyrics in a foggy murk.

I’ve always thought of Time Out of Mind as a sort of sonic version of The Grapes of Wrath, in its set-up.  Steinbeck’s masterpiece contains several chapters revolving around turtle in the middle of the Joad’s plight.  When I first read this, I wondered what the hell a turtle has to do with the plot.  It seems like a throwaway, not pertaining to the plot, but contains many symbols directly related to the story arc. Similarly in Time Out of Mind, the blues ditties  of “Million Miles”, and “Dirt Road Blues” and even “Cold Irons Bound” seem out of place with the weighty themes of the rest of the album, but upon further listenings these songs do in fact fit within the theme of the album, and ultimately make it a more rewarding experience.

It’s easy to assume that Time Out of Mind is Dylan’s view on mortality especially since not long after the album’s release he had a near fatal heart condition.  Many of these songs do contain references to death and mortality, but visions of end times (whether it be his or the world’s) have always been a part of Dylan’s music.

Time Out of Mind was an important album for Dylan in many ways – it was his most critically acclaimed album in years, but more than that it also found him looking back to the pre rock and roll blues that inspired him, sounds he would explore for his next few albums.  In a way, Time Out of Mind is a much freer and looser album than Dylan had produced in years – and the closing track harkens back to his Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde days with “Highlands” – a sprawling 16 minute song.  It seems like the band is trying to keep up with Dylan.

Still, Time Out of Mind remains one of the few Dylan albums that I really wish was remastered or cleaned-up.

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Bob Dylan & New York: “Visions of Johanna”

If “Spanish Harlem Incident” finds Bob Dylan in Spanish Harlem  seduced by the sexuality, and mysteries of the “gypsy gal,” “Visions of Johanna” shows Dylan wandering around Manhattan in the middle of the night in a surrealistic bender.  Dylan had been writing surrealistic songs for over a year at this point, but “Visions of Johanna” finds him at the breaking point.

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks, when you’re trying to be so quiet?” Dylan muses at the beginning of the song.  Clearly, he’s ready to go to sleep, or pass out.  He’s also stranded with Louise, a woman whom he likes enough to have sex with, but his mind is distracted by another woman – Johanna.  Clearly, Dylan’s head is screwing with him – the heat pipes are coughing, and the “visions of Johanna” are seeping into his consciousness.

Dylan decides to wander outside into the night where he sees what appears to be prostitutes “whisper escapades out on the ‘D’ train”.  When they hear the Night Watchmen click his flashlight and asks himself “if it’s them or him,” Dylan thinks “that’s insane”.  Naturally, everything that is taking place seems a little out of place, and possibly insane.  The incident leaves him thinking that “Louise, she’s alright”, but no where to close to his true love.  Before Dylan stated that “the visions of Johanna” conquered his mind, but now they’ve taken his place.  Does Louise realize that Johanna has taken away her lover?   Either way, after the incident, Dylan seems to be on his own.

Now he’s truly adrift and he’s the “little boy lost, who takes himself so seriously”.  I’ve always taken this verse about Dylan talking to himself – “muttering small talk at the wall – while I’m in the hall”.   Though it’s unclear whose name he mentions (probably Louise), he fondly remembers her (“he speaks of a farewell kiss to me”).  And yet he still can’t escape the “Visions of Johanna” they’ve been keeping him up all night as he wanders around the city.

Eventually he ends up in a museum where “infinity goes up on trial”.  If you’re going with the theory that “Johanna” is a reference to “Gehenna” – a valley outside the Old City that came to represent destruction in Jewish folklore, infinity going up on trial would probably take place here.  Later, Gehenna would be associated with Hell (but not entirely).  At this point, Dylan seems to be in his own hell, and ponders his own mortality, possibly wondering if this is the end for him.  He’s caught between two women, but can’t seem to attach himself to either.  He’s strung out, lost, and hallucinating.  He can hear the paintings talk (“Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees'”.)    More strange things happen, but at the end of the song Dylan declares “these visions of Johanna are now all that remain”.

The ending is very open-ended.  Has Dylan finally let himself go?  Has he finally decided that in spite of everything that has taken place over the night, that Johanna is the only thing that he cares about?  Will he ever get back from his wanderings?  Either way,  “the visions of Johanna” have been haunting listers for decades as well.

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Bob Dylan – A Reflection & Personal History

(Since it’s Bob Dylan’s birthday, I decided to write about him – again.)

Say what you want about greatest hits collections, but one greatest hits collection changed my life.  On a break from college freshmen year, my dad decided to take me out to Borders to buy me some music to cheer me up since I was having a hard time adjusting to college-life.  My dad never quite understood my obsession with music, so it was significant that he would want to take me out to get music.  I couldn’t think of a CD to buy, and on a whim I decided on The Essential Bob Dylan. My dad looked at my selection and asked me if I was sure.  He may not have understood rock and roll, or my obsession with music, but I could tell that he knew who Bob Dylan was.

Once I got back to school and started listening to the CDs, I decided to do some research on Dylan.  If my dad knew of him, surely his influence must have been vast.  Once I started looking around, I realized that most of the other artists that I liked practically worshipped Dylan.  How had I been missing out on him all these years?

It wasn’t until I discovered “Visions of Johanna” that I became obsessed after hearing in it in English class. (This is what majoring in English is good for us let me tell you.)  My professor told us the line about the jelly-faced women sneezing is actually referring to a painting.  (For the life of me, I wish I wrote down the name of the painting, but you don’t really think about those things at 20.)  I knew Dylan was literate, but that little bit of information totally changed my view of him.  Here was a guy who was basically taking my love of literature and poetry and putting it to music.

I quickly when out and bought both Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, and to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, Dylan’s music opened up a whole new world for me.  It’s a world full of circus freaks, historical figures doing absurd things, literary figures trapped by their sins and lifeless, and quite often having the upper-hand in relationships.  It’s also a world where civils rights and protest is brought to forefront. While Dylan never played punk-rock, he retains its spirit in being anti-authority.  In Dylan’s world, nothing stays the same, and going against the grain is not just a credo, it’s a way of life.  Just when you think you’ve understood him, he turns the other way.  (For instance, lots of people were expecting Christmas in the Heart to be a very absurd take on the Christmas tradition, but by making a traditional Christmas album, Dylan  managed to go against people’s expectations of his version of Christmas.  In that way, it is very Dylan.)

Before listening to Dylan, I thought I knew a lot about music.  As it turns out, by listening to Dylan, I found out how little I knew and have to learn.  Nashville Skyline gave me a further introduction to Johnny Cash and traditional country music. The Basement Tapes provided me insight into Americana and folk music.  After listening to The American Anthology of Folk Music (which if you haven’t listened to, I highly recommend it) I began to understand where Dylan fit in with folk music.  To those who says they can’t stand his voice, his first few albums were sung in the voice that was part of a tradition of old folk music – he was just the first to truly popularize it.

By taking cues from folk singers and creating his own stamp on that world, Dylan recreated musical history.  So many of his early songs such as Blowin in the Wind, The Times They Are A-Changing, and A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall have been such standards and are so rich, it’s almost hard to believe that they aren’t traditional.  When Dylan and the Band recorded “Apple Suckling Tree”, many of the members of The Band, thought it was in fact, a traditional, and not a Dylan original.  Ultimately, unless you’re a folk-purist it’s almost impossible to listen to American folk music, without conjuring up Bob Dylan into your mind.  To many, he is American folk music personified.

American Folk music isn’t just the only type of music that Dylan has influenced vastly.  Almost every single genre of popular music has been filtered through Dylan in one way or another.  The Beatles began to shy away from songs about girls after listening to The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.  The great soul legend Sam Cooke covered “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Dylan himself dabbled in gospel during his Christian-period, and along with The Band, he single-handedly created alternative country.  And while Dylan has written many songs better than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, with its quick barrage of lyrics and accompanying promotional film was a forerunner to rap, and MTV.

Besides his vast catalogue of songs, I think tend to think part of the appeal of Dylan is his attitude and mystique.  I’ve read quite a few books about the man, and I still don’t know that much about him.  Whether they admit it or not, almost every single person who listens to Dylan wishes they could take off for New York, erase the past and start a new life.  While many writers and artists try their best to subvert the system and attempt to say “fuck it”, Dylan did just that several times throughout his career.  It didn’t always work (think the Christian-period). But when in the mid 60’s Dylan took the attitude of, “fuck it, I’m going to do what I want, consequences be damned” and went electric, the world came around to him.

As much as I (or others) would love to have Dylan’s attitude and constantly be on the move, to paraphrase Bono – we’d all just be happy carrying his guitar-case.   So happy birthday, Bob.

(Also if you’re interested, check out my literary comparison between Dylan and James Joyce.)

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The Clash’s London Calling and Bob Dylan’s Electric Era

“I ain’t go no time to do battle!” Joe Strummer snarls at the end of “Revolution Rock” the last ‘official’ song on London Calling.   While he’s being serious in the song, it’s clear that The Clash were declaring a war on music with London Calling, which they won with one clean swoop.  

In America, The Clash are either known for their radio hits to the mainstream (Should I Stay I Should I Go, Rock the Casbah) or their eponymous 1977 debut to the punks who sometimes refuse to acknowledge they did anything worthwhile afterwards.  The Clash is a great album containing some of The Clash’s best songs.  It’s an album full of rage and disillusionment pointed directly at the heart of the Thatcher Administration.  

Much like Dylan and Joan Baez in the folk movement in the 1960’s, The Clash and the Sex Pistols were the two biggest names in the UK punk scene in the late 1970’s.   But just as Dylan did with Baez, The Clash outdid the Sex Pistols in every possible way leaving the other in the dust. Their songs were less about anarchy, and more about solutions.  Just as Dylan virtually decimated the folk movement that made him star by going electric, The Clash ended punk-rock as a movement in 1979 when they put out London Calling.  

London Calling like Highway 61 Revisited  and Blonde on Blonde, is an ambitious sprawling album that shows a band taking on the world, and also spawning a new musical revolution at the same time.  Their first two albums were focused mostly on punk, but London Calling proved that the Clash could play any type of music and make it their own.  It covers everything from rockabilly (Brand New Cadillac), ska (Rudie Can’t Fail), hard-rock (London Calling, Four Horsemen), reggae (Revolution Rock) and contained perhaps the best non-Dylan protest song (Clampdown).  

While there wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction to The Clash’s change in sound like Dylan’s, London Calling proved that they were willing to take risk for the sake of their art, everything else be damned.  But it certainly changed the music scene dramatically.  Without London Calling, there would be no Smiths, or early R.E.M. albums, or any post-punk for that matter.  And anyone who tells you that The Clash were better when they were punk, or just like those who say that Dylan was better when he was just a folk-singer – they’re missing the point.  

(Okay, I know it’s not fully realized.  Maybe I’ll really dive into it a later time.)

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Viva La Vinyl!

I previously sang the praises of the Beatles Remasters.   While I still stand by that, I still prefer the sound of vinyl over any other audio format. There’s something about the crackles and the hiss that gets me excited about listening to music.  When you pull the needle down and the record starts spinning you feel like it’s an event. You’re 15 again.  I don’t get that feeling with my Ipod touch (as much as I love it.)   Sometimes when I’m writing or reading I just have my Itunes on shuffle and the music just kind of goes in the background.  Putting down the needle and having to flip every 15-20 minutes actually forces you to enjoy the music more without any other kinds of distractions.  

The first record I bought was R.E.M.’s Chronic Town about 10 years ago.  I was so excited to get it (even though I didn’t have a record player) because it was out of print.  Not having a record player didn’t really matter.  I knew right then and there that I was going to start a record collection. When I got home and slipped off the plastic casing, I was overcome by the smell of weed.  I told my older brother of the find and the weed smell.  He didn’t believe me until he checked it out himself.  

A few years later my grandmother gave me her old record player and a bunch of her old records including some Hungarian Gypsy music.  If you’re wondering what it sounded like –  it’s pretty much whatever you expect Hungarian Gypsy music to sound like.   Over the years, I acquired some records from people who were giving them away.  But my collection didn’t really expand until I moved to Baltimore about 4 years ago.

I’d say Baltimore has about one really fantastic place to find really good Vinyl and thats Soundgarden.  Their main attraction for me is reissues.  I’ve gotten Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited there.  There are a couple of other places I’ve found older records such as Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and Jimi Hendrix’s SuperHits, but they’ve been pretty hit or miss.  (Perhaps one day I’ll go in and blog about those in more detail.)

My dream is to one day have an entire room devoted to records.  Here’s my wishlist for vinyl:

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (This one I bought in Italy, but ended up giving it to my brother as a present.)

Bob Dylan – The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan/Blood on the Tracks

Any Ray Charles

Any Billie Holiday

Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours

The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed/Exile on Main St.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

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