Friday, May 01, 2009

Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde

"Blonde on Blonde" was released in May 1966 as a double album with 14 songs. Nine out of the fourteen songs are over four minutes long and many are seven plus minutes. "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is the longest at over 11 minutes.

The album is characterized by the blues rock Bob started on "Highway 61 Revisited" and more surreal lyrics. It's a complete departure from Bob's folk music where he played his songs with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica.

The entire album is amazing but I only came to this conclusion after absorbing it for months. I was familiar with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" with its "Everybody must get stoned!" refrain and "Just Like a Woman" from my junior high school and high school years of listening to rock music stations. The rest of the songs were all new to me.

Songs that blew me away at the first hearing:
  • "Visions of Johanna" is clearly one of Bob's finest compositions, and possibly one of the finest songs written in my lifetime. I heard it while driving home late at night through my empty city streets, a perfect way to hear it for the first time. It's a quiet song with beautiful thought provoking lyrics like "But Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles."
  • "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" has an upbeat tempo and playful lyrics. The song tells very short stories of odd characters. The opening line is "Ah, the Ragman draws circles up and down the block. I'd ask him what the matter is, but I know that he don't talk."
  • "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" is a great break-up song with its jaunty melody and truthful lyrics ("Time will tell just who has fell and who's been left behind").
  • "Temporary Like Achilles" has a languid piano melody that expresses longing with strange lyrics like "I watch upon your scorpion who crawls across your circus floor." Bob leaves no doubt about his feelings with the chorus "You know I want your lovin.' Honey, why are you so hard?"
  • "Absolutely Sweet Marie" is a bouncy song with odd lyrics of a man waiting for a woman. It has images of railroads, white horses, and broken promises. My favorites are "To live outside the law you must be honest" and "Well, I don't know how it happened but the river-boat captain, he knows my fate. But everyone else, even yourself, are just going to have to wait." I don't know why but those last lines seem to sum up my current transitional situation perfectly.
Songs I didn't like at first:
  • I had a tough time with "I Want You" because I felt the chorus "I want you, I want you, I want you so bad" was too simple and abrupt. The song has latched onto me after many listenings and I think "I Want You" is a glorious declaration of exuberant love. It's a beautiful song with lyrics like "The cracked bells and washed out horns, blow into my face with scorn, but it's not that way, I wasn't born to lose you."
  • "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" is a blues song with jarring guitar about an attractive young woman and her new hat with strange lyrics like "You know it balances your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine." Once again Bob leaves nothing to the imagination with lines like "Well, you look so pretty in it, Honey, can I jump on it sometime?" Again, after listening to the song over and over I just love its energy and humor.
The other songs are great with "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" achieving epic status and not just because of its length. It is a gentle, steady stroll of a song that rises and falls like so many rolling hills Bob walks up and down on his journey though this song. Bob comes up with many surreal descriptions for his "Sad-Eyed Lady" while circling back around to meet her. The "Sad-Eyed Lady" is a reference to his wife at the time, Sara Lownds.

For me personally Bob's music requires that I pay attention and focus on the lyrics, meanings, and music. I can't just sit here mindlessly letting the music go in one ear and out the other. I can't just hear the songs I have to really listen to them too but in doing so I get so much out of them and they really speak to me.

No comments: