I have a vivid memory of first hearing Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks with undergraduate friends in the early spring of 1975. We were eager not just to listen to the latest album by our hero, but to have further confirmation he was the lyrical genius we wanted him to be. This took the form of listening to the new tracks and judging them on their own verbal and musical merit, but also – as we were all English undergraduates at the University of Leeds – of measuring them against lyrics we were familiar with from the canon of English and American poetry. Working on this peculiarly literary basis had already led me to value ‘Tears of Rage’ and ‘Desolation Row’ as lyrics which might - more readily than many of Dylan’s – stand scrutiny as poems. I was fast coming to value ‘Shelter from the Storm’ for the kind of autonomy and regularity as well as the portentousness I then thought required of a poem. I could see also that ‘Idiot Wind’ was ambitious in its capacity to turn a personal love song into a disturbing national anthem, something which Dylan had done very successfully and more sparsely in ‘I Shall Be Released’. But I also realized that this determination to see Dylan as a poet rather than as song-and-dance-man was at odds with my enjoyment of other tracks on the album and ones – including ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ and ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ – which best characterised its distinctive verve and energy.
A couple of ...
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