Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde

Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
Published in 1966

Once again, thank you Grant for the suggestion. I'm going to go through everybody who has suggested an album's first album, but Rilo Kiley is the first second album.

Man, I hate having to start every essay the same way, but I love this album too.

My friend Micah actually skips the first track on Blonde on Blonde because he disagrees on principal with Rainy Day Woman. But hey, this project is about albums, and so I've gotta listen to it all the way through. Rainy Day Woman, for me, is one of those quintessential Bob Dylan songs, that even if you don't like Dylan, you like this song. It's an incredibly weird song that I couldn't imagine being sung by anyone else.

Actually that would be a good description for Bob Dylan songs on Blonde on Blonde as a whole. Motherfucker knows how to make a song his own. I could listen to covers of his songs and would probably have to argue that the song is actually a different one, depending on who is performing it. (Actually, I was a couple paragraphs farther down, when I thought about All Along the Watchtower as performed by Jimi Hendrix, but if there is an example that proves the rule, it's that song. Doesn't sound like the Bob Dylan version, but is great by it's own right.) Within his own catalog, you can compare the same songs sung at different times, and they sound like a whole new Dylan. It's pretty incredible.

Bob Dylan is one of those college records for me. I was never really exposed to him in a great general way when I was young, but I knew that he was admired as a huge influence and an 'important' change in American music. Listening to Blonde on Blonde, you can hear how incredibly true that is. The man just knows how to write a song. He has beautiful words, paired with some beautiful music. His voice, which I hear sounds nothing like the one he is singing with on this album now, is one of the great national treasures of the Untied States of America. It would take someone incredible to take this kind of place for me.

I've also heard it argued that what Bob Dylan does is actually Rap, and while this might not be the best record for seeing that, sometimes you get that impression. I wish that there were more criticism that I could give, to give me some cred, but this is one of those records that is justifiably gushed over.

It's an incredibly long record. Maybe that would be my one complaint. It is a record that is difficult to just sit and listen to. At an incredible 1:10 length, you could argue that today it would never be made. But, let's be clear, that would be a tragedy. If you can't weasel away a little bit of time, to sit down and really listen to this record, let's take a road trip together, and do a The Album Project road discussion. (Filing that idea for a future post. Could be fun.)

Shit, it's difficult not to just sit here and really gush. I just find it such a great album. I mean, we start off with the aforementioned Rainy Day Woman, which is just a great party mash song, with people yelling and screaming over the track, just a great noisy song. Then we move on to Pledging My Time, which has one of my favorite Dylan Lyrics ever.

Well, the room is so stuffy,
I can hardly breathe.
Ev'rybody's gone but me and you
And I can't be the last to leave.

I mean the hits just keep on fucking coming over and over. Every one is strong. It's also true, that the ones that I've known in the orbit around me for longer are the ones that seem hokey and overplayed, but seriously, this record is almost 50 years old! Of course it sounds a bit derivative, it's been ripped off so many times, especially the hits, that you just have to put yourself into the place where you think of things in a prehokeyness era. That's why I was glad that Grant settled on this one as his favorite. It was awesome to go back and listen to it again with fresh ears.

Right now, after having listened to it once, I'm back already, dipping my ears back into the brilliance of Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. I'm having trouble even coming up with words to describe it. Let me go down the checklist. It's Poetry, it's beautiful, it's different, it's interesting, paradoxical. Ah, that might be a good road to go down.

One of the things that I've noticed about Bob Dylan is the amount that he relies on Paradox and wordplay on this album. In Stuck Inside, he has this great group of lyrics.

Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line.
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine.
An' I said, "Oh, I didn't know that,
But then again, there's only one I've met
An' he just smoked my eyelids
An' punched my cigarette."
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

The really interesting group in this, is the bit about the cigarette and the eyelids. It sounds perfect within the context of the rythym and pattern of the song, but the meaning is strangely contorted. Without listening closely, these kinds of wordplay could be lost, but it is what makes Dylan poetic. The whole song is a long formula, one verse after another, and once you've heard one verse, you know the pattern for the rest. The scattering of the words and meanings, the shifting sands of the lyrics are where he can lose you, or he can really pull you in.

I'm still kind of surprised at how bluesy the album is. A lot of it is too upbeat for me to call it proper blues, but it just feels down low, feels like a longing that is unfulfilled. I'm thinking particularly of Temporary Like Achilles, but a lot of it gives that feeling of wanting the thing that isn't there. Comparing (ugh) these longing songs to the love songs of Incubus, I find myself feeling these more. They just seem more like real love, hurting just the right way, making you feel every moment, and when the knife is truly in, twisting it as hard as it can. Man, that is one hell of a depressing sentence, but shit, I can't just turn off that feeling in me. Goddamn, this song is good. You tricksy fucking Bob Dylan.

This would be the album that I would introduce someone new to Bob Dylan with. It's pretty much all accessable, and you can get quite a lot out of it if you put the time in. It's a great album to listen to smoking a big cigar, in a dark room, drinking some good fucking alcohol, listening and singing along. You feel like you're being transported along with him, and you can feel the roots of something incredible spreading out around this album. By the end of it, you're either a Bob Dylan fan, or have some kind of begrudging respect for him, but if you're of the second kind, listen again. And again. Let it soak into your consciousness, make it something that you listen to when you're in different moods. One of the things that I never realized about Dylan till I was writing this up was that I never really got into him until I was immersed in him on my own. I needed to come to him, and make an effort to jump into his music.

I've been lucky enough for these first two to have listened to them extensively before I wrote these, so if they seem like lovefests, that's because they are. Bob, Incubus and I have a special relationship that has already formed, but part of the project is going outside of the bounds that I have been in before. With that in mind, I'm getting excited to start in on Zach's album, Train of Thought by Dreamtheater. What does that mean for you, dear reader? Really, nothing. If you want to compare notes and have never heard it before, I'd advise you to acquire it, and if you have heard it before, maybe give it another listen, or hey, don't, whatever, you know, I'm easy.

Well, since I last told you where I was on the second listen through, I've gotten to Absolutely Sweet Marie again, so I guess I'm going to listen to it all the way through again. I hope you'll give it a listen.

So, for Grant, I sign off the way every censor should,

I yearn for you tragically,
AT Tappman, Chaplain, US Army



  1. Just finished Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands again, damn this is a good album.

  2. Matt,

    You did this album great justice. Stuck Inside of Mobile is my fourth-favorite Dylan song, which means it's close to my fourth-favorite song of all time. Sad Eyed Lady is my #2 (only Desolation Row, my favorite song of all time hands down beats it).

    Rainy Day honestly is one of the weaker songs on the album, and it's great. Electric blues, anger, sadness, hope, longing, joy, it's all here on this album. Goddamn, I love it so much.

    And I agree, it's the most accessible Dylan album. It's also the most complex, and densest. I love everything he did before this album, too, plus Blood on the Tracks, but man, this one is just so good. Goddamn.

    I think I'll have to actually listen to the Dreamtheater album before the next write-up. I haven't heard it either.



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