When you live with a song long enough, it becomes part of your memory-scape. In our BRAND NEW COLUMN One Song, One Story, our writers share a song, and the story it evokes in them.
Freshman Year. Boston University. Warren Towers, 13th floor, building C. Seventeen going on eighteen, just now hearing what would become my favorite song of all time.
I was late to the game. I had certainly heard Dylan before — I vividly remember “Like A Rolling Stone” blasting through the AM radio of the Ford family station wagon, my brother and I probably fighting in the way back, of course. And I remember that blue Greatest Hits album cover while flipping through my older sister’s record collection like it was yesterday. Funny, I don’t remember many others, except maybe Harvest by Neil Young. I grew up in Florida — in Miami — long, long before South Beach was the fantasyland playground it is now. Culturally — and especially musically — it was more Southern than you might think. Either way, the radio of the day or the kids around me (or both) drove me quickly into CREEM magazine. Punk rock wasn’t far behind, at an age and in an area where that music wasn’t particularly popular. I simply wasn’t interested in Yes, The Bee Gees or Foreigner. Couple that with the absolute Dylan vacuum that was his post Highway 61 period and you can probably see how this could all be new to me.
I walked into a floor-mate’s room just as the opening to “Tangled Up In Blue” filled the air. I was awestruck, with the words…the story. The elasticity of time and the shifting perspectives — all within a single verse, sometimes — was something I’d never heard. What was going on here? It was a world away from “Rockaway Beach.” I’d dated a bit in high school but nothing serious, but this was something I didn’t recognize. Were relationships really this complicated? Was love? Life? I was a college freshman, in a new city 1500 miles from home, clearly on my own now in so many ways. Standing at the precipice of past and future, this song was easily the most complicated thing I’d ever heard. Surely I could figure it out. Right?
I stood there, glued to the same spot for the entire first side of that album. I may have picked up the needle and dropped it at the start to hear “Tangled Up In Blue” again. I would make it through both sides in their entirety at least once and, as great as that album is, I would always return to that opening track. Blood On The Tracks was as big a musical turning point as my discovery of punk rock. Another one, equally as far from punk rock, would soon be the acoustic Reckoning album by the Grateful Dead. Those music antennae are incredibly sophisticated when you’re young, if you’re paying attention.
Dylan is famous for revising lyrics and experimenting with his arrangements, but in my opinion he would never best the version of “Tangled Up In Blue” that opens Blood On The Tracks. I went out, like any Dylanologist would, and found a bootleg of the original versions of some of these tracks recorded in NYC, rather than the Minneapolis sessions that produced much of the official release. Those masters were rumored to have been thrown in the East River by Dylan himself — apparently just another layer to this myth. They are well worth seeking out, but the version released in 1975 stands alone. In a 1978 interview, Dylan said about “Tangled Up In Blue” that “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.” Perfect.
Google the meaning of the song sometime; there’s a million stories — all of ‘em and none of ‘em right. I’m not entirely sure I ever figured that song out — there’s a lot going on there and maybe that’s part of its fascination — because it’s still a song that draws me in intensely. So many years — a lifetime, actually — “down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy“ (“Idiot Wind”) — and still all tangled up in blue…