This album has hit a bit of a nerve. Perhaps it says something about the demographics of my readership, but a skirmish has already broken out on my Facebook page about Blood on the Tracks, with adherents and detractors of individual songs firing their first tentative volleys. There will be Blood on the Net for certain, I’m sure.
This has led me to the conclusion that Blood on the Tracks is just too important an album to write about as a single (“Tangled Up in Blue” was, somewhat surprisingly, the only single from the album) and then a summary post. I’m going to try to write about each of the ten songs on this thing during the week.
So, we might as well do this in order.
“Simple Twist of Fate” is the second song on the album, and the first from the original sessions. Dylan recorded Blood on the Tracks quickly in New York and had the album complete when he took an acetate home to Minneapolis and played it for his brother. His brother convinced him to re-record many of the songs. The reasons for that decision are in some dispute, but he re-cut about half of it. There is a slightly different tone to the works recorded in New York and in Minnesota.
“Simple Twist of Fate” is a great love song. Period. It’s a great song about loss. Period. The image of that simple twist is very potent. The whole song hinges on the switch from the third to the fourth verse, which, on the album version comes after the harmonica solo. In the first half of the song the couple meets and is together, while after that solo they are apart and he endlessly searches for “his twin”. It’s a sad bit:
He woke up, the room was bare
He didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care, pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate
Listen, now, to the live version that can be found on Bootleg Series 5: Live 1975, which Dylan plays acoustic:
He woke up, she was gone
He didn’t see nothing but the dawn
He got out of bed and put his clothes back on, pushed back the blinds
Found a note she’d left behind to which he just could not relate
I’m not really sure which of these verses is actually superior. “Found a note” takes some of the mystery out of it, but it also allows it to a fuller story.
Let’s try the last verse. Album version:
People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
People tell me it’s a crime
To feel too much at any one time
She should have caught me in my prime, she would have stayed with me,
Instead of going off to sea, and leaving me to meditate
The live version is better here.
What amazes me about Dylan is that he wrote and recorded such a great, great song. Then he rewrote it, and he probably made it better – clearer, more painful and more direct. That willingness to keep going with something that was already finished is what makes him so exciting in this period.
Here’s a clip of Dylan playing this on television from late 1975. That’s Emmylou Harris on fiddle. “Simple Twist” begins about 4:30 in. You can listen to “Oh Sister” too if you’d like to. Note that Dylan sings both revised verses here, and also changes some smaller pieces in two of the other verses.