Bob Dylan was my hero back when I was a kid. I'd been listening to him since the very beginning. (I'd say "from the get-go" but toasterleavings hates it when I use that phrase). I couldn't see what the in-crowd up there in Newport was getting all bent out of shape about when he put on an electric guitar and decided there was more to life than lynchings and wars and other stuff he really couldn't do jack shit about in the first place. The "more to life" for him was some sort of search for a way to write songs that made no sense, literally, but made perfect sense musically and subconsciously. A sort of rock 'n roll version of Alice in Wonderland, I suppose. Or Finnegans Wake. I'm not sure what little Bobby Zimmerman was reading or what drugs he was taking, but I know he was on a quest, and I was right there with him. I understood what he was trying to do, and I was wishing these crowds would try to open their little minds a bit when he'd perform back in 1965.

They say this "booing" from the crowds may have been exaggerated over the years since, but there's no doubt that even rumors of dissatisfaction followed Dylan all throughout the tours he was doing at the time. The folkies had lost their false idol, and a pissed off folkie is a rabid animal. For current analogies, imagine a Greenpeace member who has been taken unawares to a Ted Nugent concert where Ted proceeds to nail a live squirrel to a wall in the back of the room and shoot flaming arrows into it, in the key of F#. The music might be quite pleasant, but there would be an atmosphere which a true believer would not be able to overcome in order to hear it.

The first forays away from folkdom for Dylan were Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Jesus, just looking at the album covers from either of those efforts gives me the chillbumps. Want to know how much this stuff meant to me? Here's an example:

We used to go to Panama City, FL, for vacations with the guys, to get drunk and dream about getting laid. We would get real drunk. So, one night when everyone else is passed out, my fat friend and I are sitting down in the sand with the waves breaking on our feet and I've pulled out a typewritten copy of the lyrics to Mr. Tambourine Man and we're going over them line by line, reading them by the full moon, trying desperately to figure out what they mean. "To dance beneath the diamond sky, with one hand waving free." I think of that line every time I revisit that memory. I actually got up and did that, just to see how it felt. It felt damn good.

So when Blonde on Blonde came out, I was ready for it. We were almost out of high school and we were so much older now, and here was rock 'n roll's first double album. It was released in May of 1966. I've got to say it scared me when we first put it on the turntable and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 came on. I did not like that song, and I don't like it now. It's just stupid. But, unlike the folkies in Newport, I gave Bob the benefit of the doubt and listened on. And I've been listening on and on to this work of genius ever since.

Bob Johnson produced this album in Nashville, TN. That was foreign territory for Dylan and his gang; they were more used to upstate New York than they were the belly of the Country Music Beast. Some Nashville stalwarts were said to have been shocked by the unprofessional nature of the sessions, which lasted in 12 hour shifts for four nights in February and two nights in March. They would begin around six each night and work until they were dead tired the next morning. Along with Johnson, Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson had a lot of say-so in what went into the final mixes. But the disorganization of the sessions was not understood by the Nashville perfectionists who were used to enclosed cubicles for each player. Here, musicians weren't told exactly what to do in that big open room where only the drummer had any separation, and they would even pick up and leave if what they were doing didn't seem to be adding to the songs. Dylan would sit on a stool in the middle of the room, honing these songs which weren't even really finished in the sense of what you'd call "finished." He would rewrite the lyrics as he tried to find the heart of each song, and then the musicians would do their best to put what he was telling them down on tape.

The players:

The songs:
  • Rainy Day Women #12 and 35
    • Stupid title; stupid song. Did you know he threw out a couple of gems during these chaotic sessions just because he couldn't get the "vision thing" right? I suspect any of them would have been better than this one. It's just like him to open this with something like this to try and see how faithful someone like me was.
  • Pledging My Time
    Won't you come with me, baby?
    I'll take you where you wanna go.
    And if it don't work out,
    You'll be the first to know.
    • So I am taking this line as a hint that I will, indeed, be the first to know whether this is going to work out or not. I'm feeling better about the whole deal when I hear this. And he is, after all, pledging his time to do this for folks like me, isn't he? It'll all be cool.
  • Visions of Johanna
    Louise, she's all right, she's just near;
    She's delicate and seems like the mirror,
    But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
    That Johanna's not here.
    • Hello! Here it is. Here's the reason I know I can trust this man. I doubt if there has been any one Dylan tune that has occupied a more cozy niche in my head than this one. It's the story of that girl on the down low, the born-to-boogie Louise, compared to the vision of that unreachable thing, Johanna, which we all think lies out there somewhere. It's like Van Morrison's quest for that spirit that will "stand beside you, to never never wonder why at all." It's like any artist's version of a muse or vision of a perfect thing. It's what drives them. And this song assured me that I had been a fool to let that silly throwaway at the beginning make me doubt.
  • One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
    I couldn't see how you could know me,
    But you said you knew me and I believed you did.
    • I think I do know you, Bob. I think a lot of us do. No matter how aloof and mystical you try to be. It's all right there on your sleeve.
  • I Want You
    The cracked bells and washed-out horns
    Blow into my face with scorn,
    But it's not that way,
    I wasn't born to lose you.
    • Backed up by what would become the Band, Dylan never sounded more cock-sure of himself than he did here. Some think his lyrics are nonsense; they just aren't listening with ears that hear. Anyway, sometimes its what you don't fully understand that means more than the stuff you do; a hint of a dream. There lies genius.
  • Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
    Oh, the ragman draws circles
    Up and down the block.
    I'd ask him what the matter was,
    But I know that he don't talk.
    • Another snippet that has stuck to my brain like crazy glue. Mobile is in Alabama (where I was listening to this for the first time) and Memphis was where I'd move to in not too many years. Coincidence? I think not. Listen to the crazy loopy guitar and that cheap drumming. Is this not the circus for smart folks?
  • Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
    • I guess he thought I was getting in too deep by now and decided to throw me another wasted novelty tune. OK, I deserve that. I was taking this all too seriously, eh?
  • Just Like a Woman
    Ev'rybody knows
    That Baby's got new clothes,
    But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
    Have fallen from her curls.
    • And on that sad downbeat, recess is over. It's back to the big issues. This song got a lot of airplay back then, as did I Want You and the Memphis Blues. Some say it's about one of the Warhol girls, Edie Sedgwick. The feminists got mad about the character here who balls all the boys and fakes toughness, but who winds up breaking just like a little girl. Screw 'em. Life is bigger than all of us.
  • Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
    Time will tell just who fell
    And who's been left behind.
    • Is this a statement about the Newport crowd and their petulant displeasure with his new style? I like to think so. The manic keyboard and the military drumming; it's not hard to tell how complicated this vision is. This would seem like a mess to many listeners, I suppose. It sounds like convergence to me.
  • Temporary Like Achilles
    He's pointing to the sky
    And he's hungry, like a man in drag.
    How come you get someone like him to be your guard?
    • The 12-bar blues is always a standby for Dylan. I wish he would get over it. But the bridge here is worth the wait. Those plaintiff wails as he asks if your heart is "just solid rock?" is worth the wait.
  • Absolutely Sweet Marie
    Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously.
    But then, now again, not too many can be like you,
    Fortunately.
    • Sure, the most oft-quoted line is, "To live outside the law, you must be honest." There's a lot of truth in that. But this song's about a girl. And it's a circus song if there ever was one. Listen to the calliope. You know they must have had a ball with one like this.
  • 4th Time Around
    It was then that I got up to leave,
    But she said, "Don't forget,
    Everybody must give something back
    For something they get."
  • Obviously 5 Believers
    • I forgive him this last throwaway before the finale of all finales. Again, he probably thinks I'm taking it all too seriously just before he gives me the most serious jolt of all. Bastard trickster. Must have Doctorate in Trickonology.
  • Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
    The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
    Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss,
    And you wouldn't know it would happen like this,
    But who among them really wants just to kiss you?
    • Who among them, indeed. And, yes, I did know it would happen like this, Bob. One full side of a vinyl 33 LP devoted to one song. The first double rock album was bound to have another first inside. Who could listen to one song for that long? I could have listened to it on all four sides if that's what he'd chosen to do. They say it's a song for Sara Lowndes, the girl he'd married in a secret ceremony about six months prior to the release of this album. I don't care who it's about in real life: It's about a figure from a world as fantastic as Camelot and as real as the neighbors down the street. I don't think his voice has ever sounded better. And the musicians had gotten it together by this one. The light organ strains and the closed high hat with the piano chords carving out room for the master to tell his tale.

Who among them could think they could outguess you?

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