A side of Dylan

I moved out of the college dorm room into a remodeled, hundred-year-old schoolhouse with an alcoholic landlord. As befits such a setting I, and the two other guys I lived with, often had an eccentric group of characters coming to call. This had as much to do with the fact that we ran with an off-center crowd1 as it did with the fact that we left the door unlocked and told one and all to come as they pleased.

One of our more frequent visitors was a man – a man child, really – we often referred to only as the gypsy.2 The gypsy was a man of many quirks and one was his insistence that I select one record from my substantial Dylan collection and play exactly one side each morning after a night spent sleeping on our futon.

So in fond remembrance of this fellow whom I don’t see much these days,3 and because my evangelical fervor for Dylan runs only slightly cooler than for Pynchon I offer a recommended side of Dylan in what may or may not become a recurring series of posts. So dust off the phonograph4, go find a used copy of this classic and drop the needle on:

Blood on the Tracks – Side 2

Why Blood on the Tracks? Well, it may be Dylan’s most critically acclaimed album and is probably more accessible to the non fanatical Dylan listeners among my readers. Why side two? Well, it splits the difference between choosing a ringer and maintaining my indie cred. Or something like that. What it really boils down to is that while side one has some of his more recognizable work, I just happen to like what side two has to offer.

“Meet Me in the Morning”
Because I often listened to this side in the morning it seems natural for this to be the opening track. The familiar strains of slide guitar, the repeating first two lines of each stanza and the mingled sense of hope “Meet me in the morning… / Honey we could be in Kansas / By time the snow begins to fall” and fatalism “Every day’s been darkness since you been gone.”  Who among us doesn’t start many mornings caught between those senses?

“Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”
This one’s just plain fun. A rollicking good time filled with characters that seem to jump from the pages of Lewis Carroll. Not a whole lot more to say without having to unpack a good bit so I offer a favorite line “He went to get the Hanging Judge, but the Hanging Judge was drunk / As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk.” Yup, sometimes you just have to go with it and enjoy the ride.

“If you see her say hello”
There’s something about breakup albums that seem to wrench the best artistic work out of some songwriters. Dylan is chief among these and this track would be my favorite if not for “Buckets of Rain”. Not that I can adequately explain the preference. I guess I’m a sucker for the bittersweet in life but this always just gets me. A far cry from the more famous “It Ain’t Me Babe”, Dylan plays the forgotten, jilted lover in these lines. More gracious too – “whatever makes her happy, I won’t stand in her way” but he hasn’t forgotten, or given up. “If she’s passing back this way, I’m not that hard to find / Tell her she can look me up, if she’s got the time”. This track captures beautifully the complex emotional state of a grieving lover.

“Shelter from the Storm”
Where the previous track deals with loss, this one is about being vulnerable to a fierce and possessive love that offers protection from the worst the world has to offer. And talk about bad, “Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount / But nothing really matters much it’s doom alone that counts / And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn / ‘Come in” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’” Each stanza paints a grim picture, but each time the singer is offered shelter. There’s a theological point here, and Dylan knows it. “If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born,” he sings knowing that true love is a primal force wherein holiness lurks.

“Buckets of Rain”
My aforementioned favorite. Maybe it’s the catchy guitar riff, maybe it’s the lighthearted contrast to the song immediately preceding it. Maybe it’s the fact that he talks about monkeys. Whatever it is, this song makes me smile and ends the album perfectly. It’s a song of devotion, delight, infatuation and dedication. Clever enough for lines to pop into your head throughout the day and sweet enough to inscribe on a note to the one you love. A perfect end to the album and a fitting end to this post. Have a listen and enjoy the rest of your day.

1 You know who you are
2 Except when he grew his mind blowing eastern european style full beard that prompted us to call him Rasputin.
3 If you see him, say hello.
4 Or if you must, grab the ipod and go download them from iTunes. Better yet, just listen to it here.

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