“Buckets of Rain”


And then we reached the end.

“Buckets of Rain” is one of those terrific, minor Dylan songs that everybody loves more than Dylan loves it. Covered by everyone from Bette Midler to Beth Orton, this is a song that Dylan has only played once, in 1990.

It is a trifle, a palate cleanser, a “we’re moving on” song. It’s easy to imagine that Dylan tossed this off without giving it much thought – it almost could be improvised. It’s guitar and bass and not a lot to it, and it is a near-perfect conclusion to a powerful album filled with songs of suffering.

That’s it. There ain’t no more. Final thoughts on Blood on the Tracks tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s Neko Case. Take us home, Neko!

“Shelter From the Storm”



If you had put a gun to my head and asked me to stake my life on which album “Shelter from the Storm” was on, I’d probably be dead. I absolutely always think of this as a song from Desire. That is likely because of the live versions on Hard Rain and At Budokan, I suppose, although it’s not like either of those is completely overwhelmed by material from Desire. It’s odd. When it first came while listening to Blood on the Tracks on Sunday I actually thought it was a mistake.

The version on Blood on the Tracks is lovely, and much different than the yelling versions that Dylan often does live, where he really gets across that stormy feeling. It’s the version on Hard Rain that I know best – that guitar breakdown piece after he sings the title – is a Dylan hallmark for me. I know that I made a Dylan mixtape for someone while I was in high school and that version made it onto it. I never gave away the tape, and so it just wound up getting played a lot in my car. It definitely drilled that version into my head (the At Budokan version always seems really odd to me as a result). Listening to the Blood on the Tracks version now at an older age, I greatly prefer it.

I used to have a feeling like this song was getting misused quite often. For instance, an alternate version of this is played over the closing credits of Jerry Maguire. Cameron Crowe, of course. It never seemed to me at all like a song for a character of the likes of a Jerry Maguire, but if I sit and stare at the lyrics to try to tell you why the “Show Me the Money!” guy can’t have a part of it, I can’t find it. It does sort of all seem to fit. If Crowe were to suddenly appear and tell me that he made the film based on the song, I think I could believe it. This is a moral, spiritual vacancy that Dylan is writing about after all. On Hard Rain it is an angry driving emptiness, but on Blood on the Tracks it is a haunting one. As a teenager I definitely preferred the former, but now the latter makes a lot more sense to me.

You had me at “In a world of steel-eyed death”.

“If You See Her, Say Hello”


“Classic heartbreak album”. That’s the verdict of Hank Moody in Californication about Blood on the Tracks. Talking to his daughter about her first heartbreak, he offers to gift it to her on her iPod. She seems unimpressed as he sings “If You See Her Say Hello”. It’s a great scene, but I have to ask: who could be unimpressed by this song?

This is an absolutely classic heartbreak song. It might even be a contender for his best ever (if it weren’t for “Girl From the North Country”). It is perhaps the complete antithesis of the venom-spewing “Idiot Wind”.

The New York version, which can be found on Bootleg Series 3, is a fascinating one, with really prominent guitar playing. The Minnesota version fits the album far better. This is another of those songs with significant lyrical changes, including new lines for every single verse once he begins playing it live in 1976. Since that’s next week, I’ll try to swing back to those changes then.

Anyway, short and sweet – great song, great version. What else is there?

“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”



(For Corey, who likes it)

Going into this week my thoughts on “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” was that it was the scar on an otherwise flawless picture. A nine-minute miscalculation of a story song that is both pointless and irritating. When my friend Corey enthused about this song in particular from Blood on the Tracks I thought “Well, he has finally lost his mind!”.

I had planned to skip this song pretty much every time through this week, but instead I have been listening to it. This morning I listened to it three times (half an hour of my life!), once while reading along to the lyrics. I read along because Rebecca asked as we were coming to campus: “Who is Big Jim in this song again?”, which is a sort of understandable question in a song that uses the pronoun “he” thirteen times to refer to about four different men.

As a story song it is interesting that there are such a varied number of interpretations not only of what it all means, but, indeed, what the hell even happens. The wikipedia page for the song offers a bunch of (fairly poor) readings of the song. I do agree that it is all pretty vague though. Past relationships are hinted at without being explicitly stated (that Dylan dropped a verse in the album version doesn’t help matters on this front a lot either), the pronoun confusion adds to the misunderstandings, the fact that there is at least one love triangle and possibly two, and that characters (including the gang of bank robbers) are added very late in the whole thing, and that there is no explanation given for the disappearance of one of the title characters at the end.

And, of course, the Jack of Hearts might not even be a real person in the context of the song.

Apparently there were some discussions about turning the whole thing into a movie, with Dylan playing the Jack of Hearts. Maybe that would have made things more clear.

Anyway, there’re two great reasons to hate this song. The first is the bassist and the second is the drummer. The whole rhythm section in this song is just awful. The bump-da-bump trotting rhythm drives me absolutely around the bend on this thing, and sort of puts me to sleep. I’ve listened to this a number of times this week, and it was only while reading along that I could maintain my focus long enough to try to hear the whole thing. For the most part if I’m just listening in my car or elsewhere it becomes wallpaper because of the invariable rhythm. Then every once in a while Dylan will put some emphasis into his singing and I semi-snap out of it, only to be lulled back into submission.

The New York recording of the song, which features only guitar, is much, much better than the album version. It’s still not great, because the guitar becomes just as droning as the bass does on the album version, but I do think it is superior. You can hear that here as someone has made the bootleg available streaming (the whole album is worth listening to). Also, there’s Joan Baez’s version (below) which is also much better. Basically, if you shoot Dylan’s rhythm section you can turn this into a fine song, but I don’t think you can turn it into a great one.

Dylan’s website indicates that he has played this live only one time, at the last show on the 1976 portion of the Rolling Thunder Revue in Salt Lake City, UT. Bjorner reports that there is no known recording of this show, and that it is also claimed that this show had the only performance of “Black Diamond Bay”. I dunno. Seems sort of dodgy to me that one of the few shows with no recordings is rumoured to have had two unique song performances. It’s not impossible. The claim is that “Lily” was performed with Joan Baez, and since she performed it live elsewhere that year it is certainly possible.

I have to say: I still don’t really like it, and it is the only song on the album that I don’t like. I tried, but I’m going to start skipping it again.

Here’s Joan: