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Gristmill: The Dylan Workout Track

Wed, 06/19/2024 - 12:07
The back cover of the 2004 CD re-release of Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” (Columbia Records, 1966).
Sony Music Entertainment

It’s a small triumph when a parent influences a child’s behavior without coercion, without belaboring it, without even remembering it.

Apparently at some point in recent years I’d planted the Bob Dylan seed in my eldest’s head. Because in a post on her college running log — a kind of social media in microcosm; only her teammates and coaches can see it — she mentioned pounding the pavement to the tunes of “Blonde on Blonde,” yours truly credited as inspiration.

Importantly, this was done the right way. Not atomized, as is the tendency today, but in sequence, the album in its entirety, in the order the artist intended, like a book of short stories.

One snippet of lyrics she singled out for its humor: “You know it balances on your head just like a / Mattress balances on a bottle of wine.” (That would be the “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”)

With the exception of “Rainy Day Women” and “Just Like a Woman,” the 58-year-old album does hold up. All propers to John Lennon, what does not hold up is that complaint he once lodged about Dylan throwing together words that only sounded good together, or rhymed without making real sense.

Sticking to this album, and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” consider: “With your sheet metal memory of Cannery Row / And your magazine husband who one day just had to go / And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show / Who among them do you think would employ you?”

Mystery doesn’t equate with nonsense.

And this from someone, me, nearly as old as “Blonde on Blonde” itself, who happens to have taken a shine to later Dylan, particularly his much-maligned “Christian phase,” make that the Bootleg Series, volume three. “Every Grain of Sand,” with a dog barking through parts of the recording, somehow upping the immediacy, is as worthy as any Charles Wesley hymn. Or listen to “Angelina” by yourself late some night and just try to keep your hair from standing on end.

Not to overstate it, but these are the songs that call to mind another poet, Shakespeare, in the way of simply being attuned to another dimension. Funny because the Bard was a working writer turning out entertainments, and Dylan always said he needed a deadline to get anything done.

Whatever it takes.

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