Hammond said, "Bob said to me, 'I want to lay down a whole bunch of tracks. I don't want to overdub. I want it easy and natural.' And that's what the whole album's about. Bobby went right back to the way he was in the early days and it works."
Weissberg was a bit more sardonic: "It was weird. You couldn't really watch his fingers 'cause he was playing in a tuning arrangement I had never seen before. If it was anybody else I would have walked out. He put us at a real disadvantage. If it hadn't been that we liked the songs and it was Bob, it would have been a drag. His talent overcomes a lot of stuff."
Once he got under way, Dylan seemed deadly serious. Security was extremely tight and visitors were few. However, Mick Jagger dropped by a few nights, unwinding from work in a nearby studio where he was editing Stones tapes. He danced and drank champagne straight from the bottle, and occasionally huddled with Dylan between takes, offering a production suggestion or two. There was no producer.
Dylan used Deliverance on a few tracks and brought bassist Tony Brown back on succeeding nights for additional work. New Rider Buddy Cage was then flown in to sweeten some of the more countryish tracks.
"Ellen Bernstein from Columbia played this tape of us doing 'You Angel You' for Bob and he told her to call me for his sessions," said Cage. "I felt knocked out and real nervous especially because he didn't use many people. Bob played the tapes for me and said listen to them and play on whatever tracks you want. Frankly, there wasn't that much room on many of them for me. Anyway, I started working on the first song and after four takes I was disgusted, it just wasn't right and Bob came over and said, 'Well shit, this is so difficult,' which was exactly what I was thinking. I think we were both kinda shy with each other.
"But Jagger, he was there, like, I'd rub elbows with him any time, it's so easy. It was like I had gone to high school with him. He was asked to do background vocals but he didn't. The second night we were all drunk and Jagger was gonna play drums, but he never did. I finally asked him if he had Charlie's number and he said, 'Charlie who?' I wound up cutting three tunes, two of which Bob kept. The album's a beauty. All those songs, they're all hits."
It may seem strange that Dylan would record an album so soon after the back-to-back summer release of Planet Waves and Before the Flood, especially in light of his past habit of releasing an album a year. The immediacy of Blood on the Tracks may be due to the relative lack of impact, especially critical impact, of the last two albums. It is more likely that Blood on the Tracks is the beginning of a new cycle implicitly promised with Planet Waves. Pete Hamill, columnist and novelist, who Dylan asked to do the liner notes, viewed Dylan's current output in terms of Yeats's famous observation, "We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves poetry."
"Dylan has gotten into the self and with the situation poets should deal with," Hamill said. "The whole notion that he should write 'Like a Rolling Stone Meets the Wolfman' or 'Gates of Eden Goes to Japan' — what the fuck does he want to do that for? What I love about Dylan is what he leaves out because then he gives us a chance to help create it. It's the most democratic form of art there is. Totalitarian art tells you every fucking thing. Dylan leaves the spaces. Listen, what I love about these love songs is that there's a terrific sophistication of feeling in them and a generosity of feeling. You know it's not just like 'You left me, you cunt,' or 'Come mother me, you bitch,' it's not at that level at all.
"Look, in my experience, when you've been with a good woman for a long time and it breaks up for whatever reason or other the generous human being remembers what was good about that and thanks himself and the woman and the world and fate for having had the privilege of having that long run, which is not like opening and closing a one-night stand with somebody. I can't really find the language to describe these songs. The album is just fucking wonderful."
And Dylan's art of late has been democratic, almost anarchistic, in its impressionistic quality. There is a thread that runs directly from the fragmented mysticism of Planet Waves's "Never Say Goodbye" to the sketchy watercolors of Blood on the Tracks, a thread that suggests that Dylan is perfecting his craft, going back to, as Charlie Brown puts it, "being a poet again, which is exactly where he is, and a real great one." The criticism of late had to hurt, had to make Dylan more vulnerable. He had to smart if he read comments like that of glitter-rocker Todd Rundgren (RS 170): "Dylan doesn't seem to be saying anything. He isn't doing anything sociologically, artistically, politically or spiritually important."
Planet Waves, an examination of the competing demands that complacent domesticity and mystical vision place on an artist, had less creative impact than was expected. Before the Flood was simply a live tour album. And to top it off, there are the gossipmongers, searching for one more rumor blowing in that idiot wind. There's a line in that new song that says, "Those people in the press are saying terrible things about me, I wish they'd stop." But maybe it's understandable. When the times are hollow, you can easily lose perspective.
This is a story from the November 21, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.
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