BoB Dy­lan

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

Small con­fes­sion. Like many peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion, I have grown up to the mu­sic of Bob Dy­lan. In the 1970s, his mu­sic was a big com­po­nent of the sound­track of my teenage years and pretty much all of his al­bums, par­tic­u­larly the early ones were in the shared col­lec­tions of my friends and me. But, and here’s the con­fes­sion, I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber when was the last time I pulled out a Dy­lan al­bum – record, CD or mp3 – and lis­tened to it. In the last five years? No. In the past 10? Prob­a­bly not. His later al­bums, those he re­leased af­ter the late 1970s (the ones that fol­lowed 1978’s Street-Le­gal and 1979’s Slow Train Com­ing) I never re­ally cared for. Dy­lan, for a long, long while was not on my playlist.

On Oc­to­ber 13, how­ever, there were no ex­cuses. Al­most un­con­sciously I picked out Blood On The Tracks, his 1975 al­bum that al­ways used to be my go-to Dy­lan record. It came soon af­ter Planet Waves and our in­tro­duc­tion to it was cour­tesy a friend whose fa­ther got the LP for him from the US in the sum­mer of the same year it was re­leased. We were in Class 10 and in the swel­ter­ing heat of Cal­cutta would gather of­ten in my tiny room at my par­ents’ home lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, some­times on a mono cas­sette player but when and his poetry laced with black hu­mour make that darkly moody al­bum a win­ner for me. In the first song, Tan­gled Up In Blues, Dy­lan sings: “She was mar­ried when we first met/ Soon to be divorced/ I helped her out of a jam, I guess/ But I used a lit­tle too much force/ We drove that car as far as we could/ Aban­doned it out West/ Split up on a dark sad night/ Both agree­ing it was best/ She turned around to look at me/ As I was walkin’ away/ I heard her say over my shoul­der/ “We’ll meet again some­day on the av­enue”/ Tan­gled up in blue.”

Dy­lan’s son Jakob has said that Blood On The Tracks is about his par­ents – Bob and his mother Sara and their es­trange­ment. We were too young in 1975 to re­alise all of these un­der­tones that may have shaped that al­bum and in any case, there was no in­ter­net or any real ac­cess to mu­sic writ­ing. For us, for me, there were just the songs. Tan­gled Up In Blue, Sim­ple Twist of Fate, You’re A Big Girl Now, the ex­cel­lent Idiot Wind, Lily Rose­mary and the Jack of Hearts, the long­ing of If You See Her Say Hello, all of them. And their lyrics said it all. In Idiot Wind, Dy­lan sings: “Some­one’s got it in for me, they’re plant­ing sto­ries in the press/ Who­ever it is I wish they’d cut it out quick but when they will I can only guess/ They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy/ She in­her­ited a mil­lion bucks and when she died it came to me/ I can’t help if I’m lucky.” Backed by a full band, and a striking key­board riff those words quickly be­came an ear-worm for me 40 years ago. “Vi­sions of your chest­nut mare shoot through my mind and are mak­ing me see stars.”

In the days af­ter Oc­to­ber 13, I’ve been (and I’m sure many of you are too) lis­ten­ing to a lot of Dy­lan. But Blood On The Tracks has been spin­ning reg­u­larly. As I sit now and blast that al­bum yet again, I can’t help but think of those early lis­ten­ing days that we spent with it, some­times on the turntable but of­ten just mono on the cas­sette player, with the fan whirring nois­ily in Cal­cutta’s hu­mid sum­mer after­noons and in­ter­rup­tions by ven­dors shout­ing down the lane out­side my win­dow or by the oc­ca­sional rau­cous­ness of ver­bal du­els be­tween the neigh­bour­hood’s maid­ser­vants near the tube-well pump nearby.

As I said, post-Oc­to­ber 13, it’s been a Dy­lan re­dux for me. Many of his al­bums, in­clud­ing some of the later ones are get­ting big play. The stu­dio ones, the live ones, such as Be­fore the Flood and Live At Carnegie Hall 1963; but also the Boot­leg Se­ries, par­tic­u­larly Vol. 7: No Di­rec­tion Home. Thank you, No­bel lau­re­ate. I shouldn’t have had that hia­tus from your mu­sic.

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