There are breakups, and then there are Breakups. If you’ve encountered the latter, the kind where you sit in desperate silence longing for a way out of the daily misery that stings your soul every time you think about your ex, well, then you can feel the pain in Dylan’s voice on Blood on the Tracks. I’ve had a few breakups here and there, but only one can measure up to Dylan’s words. We met during my first year at Valdosta State, back when living independently was new and the world buzzed with possibilities.
Our love was straight out of the movies. I pushed friends, family, everything aside in my life to make enough room for our love. About a year and a half into the rollercoaster ride, I realized painfully that I was more in love with the idea of spending every waking moment loving this girl more than everything else than the girl herself. So I ended it and that was that.
Ha! Nope, it wasn’t even close to the end. I became a crazed lunatic, calling her 30 times a night after getting drunk only to argue, to complain, to pine for the good ole days. It really doesn’t matter who ends it, the hurt spreads in all directions. Over that long pathetic excuse for a summer, I completely despised myself as a person; all I saw was a failure and worst, a thief of happiness. I thought I was worthless without her. I’ve come a long way since then, babes, but Blood on the Tracks brings all those buried emotions back to the surface.
Dylan wrote this album during the separation from his wife Sara Lownds, and he poured his feelings into his lyrics. To this day he denies that any of these songs are autobiographical, but it’s easy to see otherwise. Sometimes he attempts to distance himself from a token narrator before crumbling back into his own point of view, like on the shuffling “Simple Twist of Fate.” Other times he invents a short story filled with multiple characters, cheating lovers and crime to take the emphasis off of his own plight, like the epic “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” On the opener “Tangled Up In Blue” Dylan tackles the issue of heartbreak head on with narrative verses in a first-person mode that mixes his own tale of heartbreak with fiction, chronicling a relationship from beginning to end. “Buckets of Rain” shambles by with beautiful finger-picked guitar and gentle ruminations on how the singer adores this girl. A reprisal of love comes after an album filled with heartbreak to close the song cycle on a lighter note, although it still comes off as sad and lonely.
Dylan recorded the Blood on the Tracks sessions in New York accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and his voice, returning to the early days before he blew his loyal folk audience away with his unrestrained, loud-as-hell electric guitar. However, Dylan was not satisfied with these initial recordings. So he set up shop in Minneapolis with a new band. These impassioned takes that show up here are the result of Dylan’s relocation, and he was right to make a change: the band sizzles like a bright firecracker. The drums keep time, guitars chime along and the bass flows smoothly, all instruments giving Dylan the room he needs to unleash his pain and suffering. Look no further than the bitter “Idiot Wind” to see the band forcing their way through Dylan’s kiss-off to an ex-lover. “You’re an idiot, babe; it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.” That says it all, doesn’t it? Dylan is pissed here, and not just at her. (By the way, this album makes a hell of an argument for the vinyl format. The guitar sounds so crisp and clear underneath Dylan’s ragged yet yearning voice. Try it.)
When all else fails, just try to read these lyrics without finding yourself back in the midst of a painful breakup.
- “We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view.”
-“Hear me singin’ through these tears.”
-“I’m going out of mine with a pain that stops and starts like a corkscrew to my heart ever since we’ve been apart.”
-“I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read.”
And then there’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, “If You See Her, Say Hello.” I could go into detail, but really, the title says it all.
Relationships come and go, and it seems silly that we can get so blue over a single one. But after one major breakup, that sentence above won’t mean a thing to the broken-hearted. As people we are drawn to one another naturally; we seek company and comfort. But sometimes the different pushes and pulls don’t line up, and we can fall apart just as swiftly as it all starts. As Dylan says, “She was born in spring, but I was born too late. Blame it all on a simple twist of fate.” When it comes to love, we don’t always control our own destinies, and more often than not it all comes crashing down. At least in the aftermath we can commiserate with Bobby D.
-Landon Briggs, 08/11/10
Next Week on Classic Albums: Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food