Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Up to Me, Tangled Up in Blue, Isis

"... The only decent thing I did when I worked as a postal clerk
Was to haul your picture down off the wall from the cage where I used to work..."

-Up to Me, Bob Dylan

I'm still buzzing from the "Blood on the Tracks" book party/performance I took part in last month. Kevin Odegard, one of the Minneapolis session musicians who played on about half of the Dylan album, wrote a book called "A Simple Twist of Fate" which details Dylan's fits-and-starts-filled process of making the record.

It's a really fast, fun read, and it's full of unexpected insights into the creative process in general. Recounted as though for the history books, "A Simple Twist of Fate" is an account of the last stage of the process of making "Blood on the Tracks", when Dylan came to Minneapolis to re-record many of the songs with a group of young and little-known session players. The album was already finished, the artwork finalized and the musician credits printed up, but the vinyl was not yet pressed, and Dylan, in a last-minute change, swapped in the Minneapolis versions of the songs into the final pressing. The new musicians were never credited for their amazing performances, always referred to in the press as "a group of Twin Cities unknowns," or some variation of that. I think this phrase actually became part of the mythology of the album, and that probably removed Dylan's and Columbia's incentive to credit the musicians more clearly.

So Kevin and the most of the rest of the group that played on "Tangled Up in Blue," "Idiot Wind," "If You See Her, Say Hello," and other songs, got up onstage and played those and other songs. Which was beautiful to hear.

What I haven't expected is for the album to have taken hold of me so powerfully since then. I am neck-deep in the mystery of Dylan and I love it. Not only "Blood on the Tracks," but also "Desire." If you want to hear what I would dream of being able to do as a songwriter, listen to "Isis" a couple of times. It'll be worth it just to hear a master yarn-spinner at work.

Griffin House was in Minneapolis last week working on some new songs with me and during a break we listened to "Isis" together, first the version on "Desire" and then the live version from "Biograph," which is from a Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Is it funny? Sad? Epic? The ground shifts beneath your feet. All I know is I laughed a lot.

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