Saturday, November 18, 2006


I first encountered Bob Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks when I was an undergraduate at UT. I bought it used, on vinyl, on a whim because it was cheap, like two bucks or something. The whole record is, of course, great, but one particular track stands out. "Tangled Up in Blue" is in the classic 60s folk style, complete with a harmonica solo, that launched Dylan to fame over a decade earlier, but its lyrics are more mature than those of his early days, less angry and sentimental, more introspective.

Here's what a Wikipedia reviewer has to say about it:

The lyrics are at times opaque, but the song seems to be (like most of the songs on the album), the tale of a love that has ended.

Tangled up in Blue is one of the most clear examples of Dylan's attempts to write "multi-dimensional" songs which defied a fixed notion of time and space. For example, the beginning of the song mentions a cross-country car trip, but towards the end a minor character gets involved in "dealing with slaves" in New Orleans; clearly the two cannot be happening in the same time period. Dylan was influenced by his recent study of painting and the Cubist school of artists, which sought to incorporate multiple perspectives within a single plane of view. In a 1978 interview Dylan explained this style of songwriting: "What's different about it is that there's a code in the lyrics, and there's also no sense of time. There's no respect for it. You've got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there's very little you can't imagine not happening."

Click here for the rest.

I loved the song from the moment I first heard it, but it's aged really well with me, probably because I've aged myself. That is, Dylan was only a few years younger than me when he penned the song, and I think I'm now able to understand where he was coming from at this point in my life much better than I could when I was in my early twenties. The whole "yesterday, today, and tomorrow" perspective makes incredible sense to me: I think that if you live long enough, you start getting a feel for the vast scope of a human lifetime; the successes and failures of the past begin to intermingle with the present reality, which shadows and colors future plans and dreams.

To me, these days, Dylan is no longer brilliant because everybody tells me he is: he's brilliant because he speaks to my heart.

Here is a Youtube video showing a live accoustic performance of the song he did in 1975.

Here are the lyrics:

"Tangled Up in Blue"
by Bob Dylan

Early one mornin' the sun was shinin',
I was layin' in bed
Wond'rin' if she'd changed at all
If her hair was still red.
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama's homemade dress
Papa's bankbook wasn't big enough.
And I was standin' on the side of the road
Rain fallin' on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I've paid some dues gettin' through,
Tangled up in blue.

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.

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell.
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
Right outside of Delacroix.
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind,
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue.

She was workin' in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer,
I just kept lookin' at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear.
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I's just about to do the same,
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, "Don't I know your name?"
I muttered somethin' underneath my breath,
She studied the lines on my face.
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe,
Tangled up in blue.

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
"I thought you'd never say hello," she said
"You look like the silent type."
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
Tangled up in blue.

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs,
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air.
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died.
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside.
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue.

So now I'm goin' back again,
I got to get to her somehow.
All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter's wives.
Don't know how it all got started,
I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.
But me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint
We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point of view,
Tangled up in blue.

He's not just for baby boomers anymore...