Certain Songs #95: Bob Dylan – “Tangled Up In Blue”


Album: Blood on the Tracks.

Year: 1974.

Here’s the the thing: sometimes with Dylan, it’s a specific performance of a song that grabs me. For example, the slow HIghway 61 Revisited version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.” or the “Royal Albert Hall Version” of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues." 

Other times – and this is more rare – it’s the song. One of the reasons I’m endlessly fascinated with something like "Visions of Johanna,” is that it seems to be resist having an absolutely definitive version for me, as I can find something to love in multiple recordings of the song, making it an ever-changing phantom in my mind.

And then there’s “Tangled Up In Blue,"  the most endlessly malleable of Dylan’s great songs, held together by maybe his most beautiful melody line and an ever-changing lyric that circles endless back to the title phrase at the end of each verse.

And because "Tangled Up in Blue” is a story, we want to believe that it’s real, it’s true, it actually happened. And maybe it did, but which version?

There’s the original New York version, with Dylan’s jacket buttons clacking against his sadly droning guitar. This recording captures the sadness of of losing the person who might be the love of your life who you also know would be the end of your life.

He was always in a hurry,
too busy or too stoned,
And everything that she ever planned,
just a-had to be postponed.

There’s the Minneapolis Blood on the Tracks version, with the drums subtly driving the song, and setting up the title phrase again and again, which I think captures the weirdness of running into that love years later under strange and desperate circumstances. And reconsidering everything. Maybe it could work this time.

So now I’m goin’ back again,
I got to get to her somehow.
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now.

There’s the 1984 Real Live version, for once just Bob Dylan and his guitar, telling these strangers yet another version of this story. It’s somehow darker – if the earlier versions felt like a conversation, this one feels like a confession. A confession to thousands of strangers, each one who would have a different interpretation as to what he was confessing.

And when it all came crashing down,
I was already south.
I didn’t know whether the world was flat or round,
I had the worst taste in my mouth,
that I ever knew,
Tangled up in blue.

So which version is the true version?  One of these? Or a version that I’ve never heard?  Maybe the one he sang just last December was the true version. Maybe they’re all the true version.

“Tangled Up in Blue” – New York, 1974

“Tangled Up in Blue” – Minneapolis, 1974

“Tangled Up in Blue” – Wembley Stadium, 1984

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

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