Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks", Part 5: The Fatal Extension Course

Cover of "Blood on the Tracks"
Cover of Blood on the Tracks
by Garrett Sawyer

Part of the appeal of Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is that the songs are undoubtedly part-autobiographical.

Although Dylan himself has vigorously denied that it is so Jakob, the youngest of Bob and Sara Dylan's four children, has stated: "The songs are my parents talking".

Tragically, some of what Dylan was portraying was the breakup of his marriage.

Ironically, what helped drive them apart wasn't infidelity on either of their part. It was art lessons. Around April 1974 Dylan began taking classes in art from a 73-year-old Russian immigrant named Norman Raeben.

What Raeben taught Dylan permanently altered the latter's way of thinking. Or as Dylan would recall later," I went home after that first day and my wife never did understand me ever since that day.

That's when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn't possibly explain it". To finish the album's songs:

If You See Her Say Hello: Now he's getting mournful and melancholy on us. She evidently has already left him long ago. Among the revelations he makes is that he seems to have made one last attempt to stop her from leaving one night but the scene that resulted left a bad taste in his mouth. Yet through it all he doesn't seem to harbor any resentment toward her.

Shelter From the Storm: Dylan was not the first to use this phrase. Creedence Clearwater Revival used it previously in 1970's "Who'll Stop the Rain" ("I went down Virginia, seeking shelter from the storm"). Here the theme is totally different. In a quiet acoustic song full of natural and religious imagery Dylan again recounts his loss of Sara. Following each verse is the simple rejoinder "'Come in' she said 'I'll give you shelter from the storm.'" More than once he seems to be comparing himself to Jesus when he refers to the woman in the song taking his crown of thorns or people gambling for his clothes in a village the way soldiers supposedly did after the Crucifixion

Buckets of Rain: The coda to the album. It's a quiet, almost playful finale to Sara (Sample lyric: "Little red wagon, Little red bike. I ain't no monkey but I know what I like"). It almost sounds like he's laughing through his tears. A fitting finale to an album full of sound and fury, signifying lots of things.

"Blood on the Tracks was recorded soon after Bob Dylan's and Sara Lownd's initial separation. The divorce was finalized in June of 1977. Theirs was a strained relationship for several years afterwards but eventually they made peace with one another well enough that they even considered remarrying.

Dylan's true feelings came out on his subsequent album, "Desire", on the song "Sara", where he called her his "Radiant jewel, mystical wife".

Wouldn't it be pleasant if great works of art like "Blood on the Tracks" didn't have to be the result of personal tragedy, heartbreak and loss? Perhaps the only good thing that can be said for hardships like the kind Bob Dylan and Sara Lownds underwent is that Dylan channeled his suffering into his art.

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