Dylan's Voice Archives: In Praise Of The Kinder, Gentler Blonde on Blonde
We're celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan's arrival in New York City with videos, artist tributes, and old Voice stories. Yesterday we encountered a stage-crashing, fruit-throwing Mods vs. Rockers brawl at one of Dylan's early electric shows; today it's Richard Goldstein's glowing review of 1966's Blonde on Blonde, praised chiefly for Bob's decision to stop insulting everyone all the time. About that cover, though:
The Pop Bag: Blonde on Blonde -- Bob Dylan (Columbia).
Looking like a man who's been waiting in line for two hours to find a vacant john, Bob Dylan peers in full color from the pull-out jacket of his new two-record LP. There are no titles, blurbs, or poems within -- only a mysterious set of pictures, of whom only the in-crowd knows for sure.
But the sound is neither mysterious nor forbidding. Blonde on Blonde is Dylan's least esoteric work. At the same time, it signifies a major step in his development as an entertainer and folk-poet. It belongs with The Times They Are A-Changin' and Bringing It All Back Home as key albums in the Dylan momentum.
With Blonde on Blonde, Dylan buries the put-down song, a genre he perfected in "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Positively Fourth Street," and then lost in unsuccessful songs like "Please Crawl Out of Your Window." There was an increasing sense of futility in listening to this Dylan because, even when he destroyed with acid skill, the question lingered stubbornly -- would too many Newports of the soul become Dylan's trademark?
The songs on this new LP are all about women (possibly many, possible one) but they take us far beyond the J.D. Salinger phony-circuit. This work is in appreciation and -- more important -- in celebration. There is a softness of imagery, a mellowing of tone; even the voice is huskier. It is as though someone somewhere has sandpapered Dylan's sensibilities. But softness does not imply limpness. The message, and the impact, are as sharp as ever.
The most moving song on the LP is "Just Like a Woman." Like any good poem, it captures essences -- almost scents -- in a series of images that build until, by its conclusion, there is a sense of intimate knowledge. Like any good song, its refrain stings: "She takes just like a woman/She makes love just like a woman/She aches just like a woman/But she breaks just like a little girl."
"I Want You" should especially appeal to the teens in Dylan's growing audience because, while it remains complex in imagery, it expresses its theme in simple phrases like "I need you so bad." "Memphis Blues Again" and "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" come close to being putdowns, but even in these songs, we laugh rather than snicker.
A personal favorite is "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," because all that is necessary to appreciate the willowy beauty of its lyrics is to think closely of a personal sad-eyed lady and let the images do the rest. Critics who claim that Dylan's songs are a hodge-podge of his own associations, meaningless beyond the perimeter of Gramercy Park, should listen to the "Sad-Eyed Lady" side. It goes far beyond Dylan the Blind Boy Grunt, Dylan the Midwestern Waller, Dylan the Proletarian Poet, Dylan the Acid Rocker, Dylan the Echo Chamber Wonder, Dylan the Motorcycle Bard, and Dylan the Snickering, Bickering Hippy.
It's good to see motion again, and it's good to see -- in this LP -- not a rehash but a reshaping. It's especially good because there can be no such thing as a poet of the put-down.
The Sex Shop Near Where Bob Dylan Lived