Bringing it all back home to Blonde on Blonde

The French Savoie 'Tartiflette' dish, in the kitchen with pinklightsabre

The French Savoie ‘Tartiflette’ dish, in the kitchen with pinklightsabre

We ate the last of the Tartiflette cold, mom most of it, and fought over the bites with our forks like we were playing a game of hungry hippos gulping down marbles. I got my first sunburn of the season with my back against a wall outside the Hirsch, up the street from mom’s, knocking back glasses of Pilsener, Lemberger Rosé, Hefe-Weizen. Mom gave me some coconut oil for the burn but when I put a spoonful on my forehead it melted and ran down my beard, my watch, my rings — and the kids had three German girls here for a sleepover playing hide and seek in the house, running in streams up and down the steps, collecting at the bottom.

It was this time 50 years ago Dylan finished mixing the tracks for his record Blonde on Blonde, considered one of the first double LPs in pop music, completing a trilogy of records he released in 14 months, starting with Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home.

It followed Dylan’s break from the folk music scene when he plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65 — after the release of Blonde on Blonde he suffered a motorcycle accident in Woodstock, but went on to release John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline next, continuing to play with the Canadian musicians who backed Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, and would go on to become The Band.

I keifed a copy of the CD from my mom’s house before we started our roadtrip to the UK in October, as we didn’t have much space for CDs and it packs a lot onto just one disc. The words and music, the sound Dylan captures, became the soundtrack for our time as we left Germany, passing through France to stay with our friends for a night, continuing on the next day across Belgium to Holland, an overnight ferry crossing to Newcastle, and Scotland for a month.

And we promised the kids we’d get them some treats to have in the car, so we bought a bag of Gummy bears and let them have a couple but stowed the rest between the seats in the front and not soon after the kids forgot about them, and I thought wouldn’t it be funny if I got the bag out again as we’re driving back into Germany three months later, and I’d play the Dylan album again, to see if anyone noticed how I was bookending things.

It smells like someone’s burning something outside at night, and it’s the fall and spring fires I like best, when it seems you can do something about the chill. The girls who are here for the sleepover are from right up the road, and will likely never leave this town. They will some day when they grow up, but they’ll always be back.

On Sundays work isn’t tolerated here in any form. Most stores are closed, so you have to plan ahead or resign yourself to gas station wine if you run out, or a self-service vegetable stand in the country where they have plastic lockers outside and you put a euro in a coin slot to get some potatoes or carrots.

We keep burning bad incense to beat back the smell of stinky cheese whenever someone opens the refrigerator door, as it’s stacked with the Raclette cheese Laurent and Nanou brought us we couldn’t eat, there was too much, and we didn’t have room for it in the fridge so we’ve been keeping it in the laundry room to compete with the sphagnum moss scents and cat litter smells, and whatever else there is in there we’ve forgotten about.

And when I was in Amsterdam I sat in a Dutch bar by my hotel in the Red Light District with a bartender who spoke American-English and played blues tracks all night on his tablet, or with cassettes given to him by locals, and showed off how much I knew each time he changed the songs, picking the singers off one by one: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Canned Heat.

Last night mom pointed out the lyrics to The Band song The Weight refer to Martin Guitars in Nazareth, PA, where my stepdad John worked as a designer (‘I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead’) — but unlike mom and I, John couldn’t stand Dylan and we weren’t allowed to play him while he was alive, so mom had to keep the CDs to herself to avoid John going on about him, how so many others were so much better than Dylan but never made it, which I can believe but never cared to hear much about.

Reading more about the making of the album, you learn how Dylan struggled to get just the right quality for each song, and struggled more on some than others. I think anyone who creates can relate to this, to latch on to some feeling or vision inside of us, the fact it will never be the way we imagined it, and to not let that get in the way of making it.

When we came back from the UK in February I cued up Visions of Johanna as we pulled off the A67, and the German countryside opened, but of course it wasn’t the same as when we started, it couldn’t be.

More on the making of Blonde on Blonde here, from a great Wikipedia article.

Through the fields in Besigheim

Through the fields in Besigheim






Categories: musings, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. The Dylan comment now has a post’s full of context.


  2. Gas station wine. Shudder. I can’t claim to know much Dylan, though I’d probably appreciate him more now at this point of my life than I did as a young gun, when it was about loud anger more than intelligent rebellion.


  3. Odd, but I play Modern Times more than the ’60s material, I think because BD’s voice has gone to total hell by then and that gives the songs a real bittersweetness somehow. Blood on the Tracks gets me too, for reasons unknown.

    Think I’ll head off to Spotify now to rack up that trilogy …


    • I’m glad to hear you like that album, I don’t hear many people enjoying those more recent records. I have a copy of the CD somewhere back in the States, will have to dig it up and see if I can hear the same thing. Maybe it’s like you and that Kundera book, this Blonde on Blonde album, reconnecting with it time and again over the years. It really hit me these past few months and I thought it funny it marks the 50th anniversary since he was making the record, and now I can really hear the influence of the other musicians on the recording. You might get this better than me being a musician, but he hits the quiet parts of the record really well. I hear that most in the opening lines on Visions of Johanna (ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet). Beauteous. Enjoy your Sunday as you rise from your golden slumbers. Bill


      • As soon as I wiped the sleep out of my eyes this morning, I put on B-O-B. Man, it’s so quintessentially Dylan. I find it fascinating that most of the tunes have exactly the same instrumentation: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, organ, piano, drums. But the way they embrace the lyrics is something pretty amazing.

        Thanks for reminding me of this one!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Really cool. I played three more albums today but blew a fuse and had to put on Supertramp, now. ” too much Bob.” Glad to have inspired your morning music.


    • I’ll also say Blood on the Tracks for me marks the culmination of about a decade of amazing music from him. I was lucky to connect with it during my first big break-up, when I was like 16 or 17, and there is no better break-up album. Maybe it gets you for that, I don’t know? Fond memories of driving down a windy road to New Hope, PA with a friend riffing on those lyrics to Tangled up in Blue. And no angrier song for an ex than Idiot Wind. OK, I’m putting the computer away for the day now as it’s about 21 C here and full-on sun and birds.


  4. I read with delight that you and your mom love the same type of music. My eldest son once said to me,”Mum when my friends ask me where I get all these cool songs I say go to your parents, they know the best music”. Your mom is cool!


    • She is cool, thanks Gina. So is my dad; I think it was his vinyl copy of Dylan’s “Highway 61” I grew up on, in the 70s. Quite a character, that Dylan: one of a kind. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. all of the universe is in perpetual motion, and you are a part of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been thinking lately we need to kill classic radio. It does a disservice to music — pacifies the musical ruts and reduces entire eras and bands to endlessly repeated greatest hits. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Bob Dylan wrote maybe five songs. And then you get so sick of those songs, you don’t want to explore further.
    Oh, hi, Bill.


    • I agree. I can’t stand “Rainy Day Women” but I think he was snubbing his nose at pop music with that, from what I read on the Wiki page. Very “Dylan.” Very double-entendred. Very “I’m going to do it this way / my way or the highway (61).” I don’t know how I could have come to love him more recently, but I just did. And it’s like those best songs are treats for people who care enough to buy the album. To hell with the rest. Oh, hi Ross.

      Liked by 1 person

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