Like a Revelation: Interacting with 'Blood on the Tracks'

Tom Useted

Blood on the Tracks can be viewed as an early example of the potential for a record to be a piece of interactive media.

Bob Dylan

Blood on the Tracks

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 1975-01-17

When I was 16, I got a job working in the music department at Barnes & Noble. I worked there for years and bought hundreds of CDs, but I have particularly fond memories of the first few months. That was when I pigged out on Bob Dylan, filling the gaps in my collection until I owned everything from his debut through Desire, plus Biograph, The Bootleg Series, the Greatest Hits records, and the brand-new Time Out of Mind. Dylan was, at the time, my favorite artist, and he remains so to this day. I just can't thank my disposable teenage income enough. I was a Dylan fan already, and I really dug much of what I was then hearing for the first time. But the album that I latched onto with the greatest reverence was one that I pieced together on my own.

I must have bought The Bootleg Series before I bought Blood on the Tracks, but after I'd absorbed “Tangled Up in Blue” via radio and Greatest Hits Volume 3, because I remember being shocked by the Bootleg Series version. It was slower, longer, more reflective and wistful. I still loved the album version, but the acoustic take seemed really special. I enjoyed “Idiot Wind” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” as well, probably because they, too, were stripped-down performances. These tracks felt different from his earlier solo acoustic material. Rather than sounding like he was singing to the world, he sounded like he was singing to me.

This intimate music quickly became an obsession. I bought Biograph and discovered “You're a Big Girl Now” and “Up to Me”, and finally picked up Blood on the Tracks. My love for the rejected material that was on The Bootleg Series and Biograph led me to listen only to the songs that had that sound. And so, before I'd even heard the proper album in its entirety, and because I made tapes of everything back then, I made a tape of Blood on the Tracks as an acoustic album:

“Tangled Up in Blue” (The Bootleg Series)

“Simple Twist of Fate” (Blood on the Tracks)

“You're a Big Girl Now” (Biograph)

“Idiot Wind” (The Bootleg Series)

“You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” (Blood on the Tracks)

“If You See Her, Say Hello” (The Bootleg Series)

“Shelter from the Storm” (Blood on the Tracks)

“Up to Me” (Biograph)

“Buckets of Rain” (Blood on the Tracks)

Basically, if it had drums, I didn't wanna hear it. So “Call Letter Blues”, although somewhat inaccurately presented on The Bootleg Series as an early version of “Meet Me in the Morning”, wouldn't work on my version of the record.

It was for years, then, that my preferred mode of experiencing Blood on the Tracks was via this mix tape. Even though all of this material was available to anyone who wanted it, this act of revision seemed awfully clever to me in the days before Napster, before I'd ever owned a bootleg, and before I realized that there was a lot of controversy surrounding Blood on the Tracks. I knew that many of the songs had been re-recorded, but I didn't know the album had been pressed and slated for release in a form that was very similar to my tape, but also quite unlike it: “Up to Me” was discarded altogether, “Meet Me in the Morning” and an acoustic “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” were added, and the Bootleg Series cuts were actually alternates of the takes that appeared on the test pressing.

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the album's complicated history, I grew more and more obsessed with my Blood on the Tracks tape. I went to Italy in 1998 for a school-related spring-break trip, and the only tape I listened to while I was there was my version of Blood on the Tracks, with 45 minutes of Time Out of Mind on the reverse. (“They say I shot a man named Gray/And took his wife to Italy” is a permanent lyrical reminder.)

It would be years before I warmed up to the official version of Blood on the Tracks. “You're a Big Girl Now” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” really lost something, I thought, with all the extra instrumentation; I thought they sounded like elevator music, and I'm still trying to get over my misgivings. But it's tough to argue with “Tangled Up in Blue”, which isn't merely the best song on the album, but one of Dylan's five or ten best ever. “Idiot Wind” became one of my college jukebox favorites -- eight minutes of music for a quarter! I've always liked “Lily”, ever since I heard it years and years ago late at night when they played long, radio-unfriendly songs on St. Louis' classic rock station. Even “Meet Me in the Morning”, probably the least-impressive song on the album, has grown on me in the last year or so.

So my listening habits in regards to Blood on the Tracks have changed somewhat. I'm almost as likely to cue up the official release these days as I am the version I dubbed -- get this -- Blood on the Tracks (Acoustic). I find the sonic consistency of my mix pleasing, and I'm never one to turn down an opportunity to listen to a record that made a serious emotional impact on me, which that mid-'90s mix tape certainly did. But the finished, Dylan-approved album offers its own pleasures: perfect sequencing and momentum, variety, a warmth and beauty that none of his other albums quite achieve, and of course one of the best collections of songs he ever assembled, in performances that almost always fill me with awe. There's a reason his best albums since 1975 are inevitably compared to Blood on the Tracks: it's a hard album to top.

Next Page

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.