For my money, this is the best Bob Dylan album. I like every song without reservation. The lyrics are profound, sad, angry, human, hilarious and layered while also being relatable rather than obfuscated in a cipher of dense imagery. The song-writing is amazing. And this is all on a record featuring two 7-plus minute songs without choruses.
“I must admit I felt a little uneasy when she bent down to tie the laces of my shoes.” It took me a lot of years of listening to Blood on the Tracks to fully appreciate the playful, funny, suggestiveness of this line from “Tangled Up in Blue”, which opens the album with a reflection on past love and paths taken.
“Simple Twist of Fate” perfectly captures that feeling of confused wandering through a fog in the wake of a heartbreak. “Idiot Wind”, a seething yawp at “her” and “I” and everyone and everything, though still possessing a dark humour. I always laugh at the “I can’t help it if I’m lucky” finish to the first verse. “If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Shelter From the Storm” seem to be moving toward acceptance and moving on. If we haven’t exactly come full circle by the end, we’re at least moving toward closure.
“You’re a Big Girl Now” blends sorrow and spite so perfectly it almost has to be accidental. (I know. It’s not, and that’s why he’s such a good songwriter). Dylan spits up his heartbreak in a prolonged, anguished exclamation, then sneers a mocking, hate-filled “you’re a big girl now”, attempting to undermine his heartbreaker’s decision, her judgement, her self. In doing this he lays bare a flaw likely at the centre of their rift.
Blood on the Tracks is widely known as Dylan’s divorce album. For me it was my first break-up record. I can’t think of a record more suited to lying on a bed, feet on the wall, wallowing in heartbreak, grasping for understanding and imagining every pained minute of it as some offering of sacrifice and devotion to the spectre of a future her who has changed her mind and come to love me again. It took me a long time to get over that first love, and I did a lot of wallowing in that time. I understand now that that’s bullshit. As a younger man I was bad at breakups. Scratch that. Bad at rejection. In every way. I was terrified of rejection so I rarely—if ever—put myself out there. And when I did and was rejected, I pined openly and ferociously. I felt I knew better what they should be feeling because my version fit better with my own desires. It was not good for me. It was not fair to them. It’s small, poisonous, behaviour, and while I think I’m on good terms with everyone—and dear friends with some—who was ever on the receiving end of my personal toxicity I’d still just like to apologize while we’re talking about it.
Of course, if everyone was thoughtful enough to not saddle their exes with their bullshit we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Blood on the Tracks.
Favourite Song: Simple Twist of Fate
Deep Cut: Buckets of Rain