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gig grab bag: desire turns 40

January 5, 2016

gig grab bag logoRolling Stone tipped me off to the fact that one of my favorite Dylan albums came out 40 years ago today. Desire was released on January 5, 1976. The article refers to it as an “exotic masterpiece” and I won’t argue with that. But it prompted me to think what words I would use to describe it. All albums have a certain feel but this one has more than that, it almost transports you. Scarlet Rivera’s haunting violin and Emmylou Harris’ otherworldly voice create a rich, swirling backdrop. The sounds are thick, his voice is commanding, and there’s a darkness behind it that is palpable – a darkness that sounds like loss.

I don’t know how much my interpretation is shaded by knowing that Dylan was separated from his wife during the creation of the album, or that (at least according to rock & roll legend) his estranged wife was in the recording booth while he sang “Sara.” He was singing directly to her, through the glass and through a breaking heart. Maybe it’s that kind of intimacy, from one of the most guarded artists on the planet, that gives the album its tense and dangerous edge. It feels a little like trespassing.

I wanted to commemorate the anniversary with this gig grab bag – Dylan performing on PBS in 1975. “Oh, Sister” from Desire is first, followed by “Simple Twist of Fate” from that year’s Blood on the Tracks. The back to back songs are illustrative to me of how different those two albums, released only a year apart, really are. Dylan has always kept us guessing and still does today.

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