It’s a completely different record.
I first heard “Tangled Up In Blue” on the access road to Mammoth Mountain. I’d agreed to meet people I barely knew at the stop sign in town, but being early I figured I’d check out the ski area. And it being the middle of the day, there was little traffic, on a sunny May 1st I almost needed the air conditioning, and out of the rear speakers in my 2002 came this song that was instantly recognizable as Dylan even though I’d never heard it before, having lived in the hinterlands of Utah all winter.
And you know when a song resonates, when you’re into the groove, and you feel like pumping the accelerator and everything is great in the world? That’s where I was at. A true rock and roll moment, when only you and the music matter, when the trappings are irrelevant.
Back in L.A. that summer I insisted my sister buy “Blood On The Tracks.” I’d lay on her couch with the sliding glass door open as the sound flowed over me, so different from any previous Dylan LP, the sound itself was enrapturing, the lyrics were secondary.
But not on the original.
By this time, back in ’75, we knew there were two versions, that Dylan had rerecorded tracks in Minneapolis, and a couple of decades ago Jeff Gold gave me a bootleg copy of the original New York sessions, but being on cassette I never got into it, but last night, upon the day of release, I listened to the original iteration on “More Blood, More Tracks,” and I was wowed.
She said this can’t be the end, we’ll meet on another day
Do relationships ever end? I’m not talking about one-night stands, hook-up culture, I’m talking about an extended period of time, with ups and downs, with history. It becomes untenable, you discuss calling it quits and then someone pulls the plug and…it’s over, but it’s not. They stay in your brain. At first you see them everywhere, maybe you connect once or twice, the magnetism being too strong, and then you’ve got no contact, because it’s too painful. But they’re there in your mind, forever. The memory fades, but it doesn’t go away.
The ’75 version of “Tangled Up In Blue” is different, from the viewpoint of a world-weary, road-wizened denizen who could never really get close to anybody, swooped in for a moment or two, but then moved on. But not the person in this original version.
The original take is not a story for the masses, it’s positively personal. Kinda sad. The kinda story you tell long after midnight, after the laughs are gone, when truth emerges, when you start reminiscing about what once was and could possibly be again.
When he slips into the strip joint and sees her it seems he wants to make contact, but is afraid of where reconnecting will take him, but she picks him out and when she bends down to tie the laces of his shoe it’s not being subservient, like in the public take, but a moment of intimacy and control, she’s invading his space quite consciously, she’s making a move, he’s powerless in the face of her aura and action.
So what you’ve got here is a human story. Just another American story. Of two people who need each other but don’t. Who love each other but can’t live together. Who can’t stop thinking about each other. Meanwhile, the man is afraid of committing. Then again, he needs to get back to her in the end.
There are a few lyric changes, but most are not critical. But the sound is completely different, as is the speed, as is the groove. This original is sparse. An old folkie playing for an audience of one or two as opposed to a man on stage with a band playing to the faceless masses. And it’s slower. And it’s not a hit.
At this point Dylan is mostly a legend. Most people were not there the first time around, certainly not for the social commentary. A couple of tunes from “Nashville Skyline” survive, but unless you’re a dedicated fan, you can exist without ever coming into contact with him. And at this point there’s little money in these releases. They’ve been putting out these archival packages for years, some better than others, some more necessary than others, and there’s a multi-disc version for collectors, but who has a CD player anymore anyway. So what we have is these original “Blood On The Tracks” cuts sitting on streaming services, waiting for discovery for those interested, like scholars, who want to investigate what once was and forever may shall be. That’s the power of the word.
So I’m not sure you should bother with this if you don’t know the original. But if you’re a baby boomer, you definitely do know the song and you should listen, it’ll open your mind, thinking about the ones who got away, the ones you pushed aside, and wonder if…