22 Apr


I’ve been thinking for a few days about how, when and what to include in this blog’s first Bob Dylan post and this seemed the right place for me.  Desire was my second Dylan purchase (I’d got the ‘Greatest Hits’ LP earlier to capture all those songs I’d absorbed into my personal soundtrack pretty much unconsciously!) but this was when I took the plunge for real back in 1976.

What tipped the scales was a piece written in a fanzine/unofficial school magazine called ‘Turdus’ which appeared for two or three issues when I was about 17 and to which I contributed in a tiny way by typing up stencils for the duplicator (this is how it was done before photocopying was cheap enough for a low-budget operation!). Written by someone who’s left my school one or two years before, it was an account of encountering the legendary Rolling Thunder tour which followed the recording of this album. This was clearly an event which inspired writers since I also own full-length books by Sam Shepperd (Rolling Thunder Logbook, Penguin 1977) and Larry Sloman ( On the Road with Bob Dylan: Rolling with the Thunder, Bantam Books 1978) – both recommended –  about  this period

Rolling Thunder appears to have been a weird but magical experience when Dylan was joined on a low-key tour of New England by ex- paramour Joan Baez, Mick Ronson,Allen Ginsburg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and sundry others.

Although there are now other Dylan albums I enjoy more, was my favourite for several years and is still played frequently. One reason is the wonderful violin of Scarlet Rivera which gives the album a really distinctive sound. Another reason is the presence of Emmylou Harris on backing vocals (though on the opening track the voice is Ronee Blakely). The main reason, of course, are the songs, many of which are  (unusually for Dylan) co-written with theatre director Jacques Levy and which include several story-songs with a cinematic quality (listen for example to  ‘Black Diamond Bay’ to see what I mean).

There are just nine tracks on Desire – but two (the opener ‘Hurricane’ and closer ‘Sara’) are up there with Dylan’s finest. ‘Hurricane’ is an eight and a half minute protest song about the (wrongful) conviction of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter with Dylan spitting out a dense stream of poetic lyrics. It’s great! In contrast ‘Sara’ (by Dylan alone) is a diretc, aching lovesong to his then-wife and perhaps the most overtly personal song he’s done “(I can still hear the sound of those Methodist bells/I’d taken the cure and had just gotten through/ Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for You”) . The weakest tracks are ‘Mozambique’ (an in joke to find how many rhymes to find with the title apparently) and the second protest song (‘Joey’) which, rather unconvincingly, over-romanticisesthe career and death of a Mafia Don. Of the rest, I still like two ‘journey’ songs (‘Isis’ and ‘Romance in Durango’ which starts with the memorable line “Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun.”

Overall, the collection hangs together rather well and the overall sound remains intriguing.


3 Responses to “Desire”

  1. AlanT April 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Of course the Rolling Thunder Revue was immortalised as well in the four hour long Renaldo and Clara, which I still have somewhere in the loft on video tap. i think you are harsh on Joey – as so often Dylan picks up on a strand of Americana – the romanticised celebration of mafiosi (godfather, sopranos, goodfellas…) and sets up an ironic relationship with the storyteller – after all we know Gallo is a bad man, and even bad men have people who root for them, but do we want to be among them, and doesn’t this make Bob an unreliable narrator, something he’s been telling us for years (don’t follow leaders…). But isn’t the same issue there, if accidentally, over Hurricane Carter. Wasn’t he subsequently caught at a heist? maybe my memory fails me, but those bookends are in stark contrast to the raw open urgency of Sara – the other side of the coin from Blood on The Tracks’ Idiot Wind, and related, too, as you say to Sad EDyed Lady of the Lowlands (‘what are your songs about mr dylan? – ooh, some are about 3 some 4 minutes and one is almost 13’ or some such quote> I love the album too – and the violin is extraordinary – but I play it less than John Wesley Harding, more than Street Legal and much less often than Modern Times or the great albums of the 60s and blood on the tracks

    • alastairt April 23, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

      I can remember watching the uncut Renaldo and Clara too. Twice. At the Electiric Cinema in Soho where I also watched Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth! Was mightily relieved when the Live 1975 double came out since the unofficial recordings I’ve heard are awful quality!

      ‘Joey’? Well, yes, it’s in the outlaw-hero tradition of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ but really, when there’s so much obvious injustice, why opt for a protagonist who is much more morally ambiguous? It’s hardly Hattie Carroll is it! WRT Hurricane, my take is that the song’s message is that he was not a murderer. Whether or not he was a criminal is for another (more boring) song!

      Thanks for commenting Alan. I was planning on either Street Legal or Planet Waves next. It’ll take a bit more thought before I’m ready to tackle Blood on the Tracks!

      • AlanT April 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

        I saw it first at a midnight show in Camden, and my friend Bryan Merton thinks he might have been there on the same night. I really like the sound of Street Legal, but even more the way it was adapted for Budokan, and for bob d’s greatest hits vol 2. Tight bands, and a keening vocal.

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