Recently I went record shopping at what is likely my favorite neighborhood record store. Often, I go without a plan; happy to peruse the vinyl, smell the air and capture a bit of my younger years flipping through album covers until some intangible thing inside of me makes a connection. This trip was different. I went specifically to pick up a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.”
I became a Dylan fan in High School, and since then, have spent countless hours of my life listening to his music. Like most Dylan fans, I’ve poured over his lyrics trying to decipher hidden meanings, study context, listen for whispers of subtext in the phrasing of both his voice and the accompanying instrumentation.
Through the years, I’ve had many ‘favorite’ Dylan records. “Blood on the Tracks” was not one of those. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but the subject matter was fairly obvious, and just didn’t have the resonance in my life that it has had in the lives of others.
Until recently. As I’m writing this, I’m in the process of divorcing my soon-to-be, ex-wife.
Now isn’t the time to detail our relationship or itemize any of the good, the bad, or the truly terrible things we did - or, often worse, didn’t do - to one another. In the months leading up to my decision to move out of our house, and initiate the separation and subsequent divorce, “Blood on the Tracks” became increasingly important to me.
The lyrics on the record became the air surrounding us: thick, and unrelenting. The atmosphere of each room we occupied felt affected by the emotional frustration, anger, and sadness that runs under each track of the album.
I played it over, and over.
I grew increasingly fond of, almost dependent on, “Idiot Wind” as a way to try to speak to my then wife without initiating another fruitless conversation. I tried to use the song as a way to be heard - actually heard - without speaking. The communication between the two of us had failed entirely; it was never our particular strength anyway.
One morning, not long before moving out, I was playing “Idiot Wind” in the house when my then wife exclaimed: “God! Do we have to listen to this again? I’m so sick of this song!” I didn’t respond, but in my mind I knew: I knew that soon enough, she wouldn’t have to hear it ever again, or be bothered with me or my feelings.
And so, the dividing line that ran through our home and between her heart and mine finally broke. The fault line fell to the final quake, and our relationship was left, without form, and void, and a darkness settled over the deep.
“You’ll never know the hurt I suffered or the pain I rise above. I’ll never know the same about you; your holiness, or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry.”
And so, I left and took Bob with me.
As we approached the final stages of our divorce, and opened the window on all we’d be leaving behind, I knew that I would need a physical representation of what we had endured. I needed something tangible that could be imbued with the spirit of all we had conquered and of all that conquered us. Something transubstantiated by the remnants of whatever spirit haunted our failed marriage.
So, to the record shop I went.
And now, as I write this, the 180-gram vinyl spins; a sacrament in stereo, a high fi hallelujah, a voice crying in the wilderness, forever captured and forever there, should I need it.