Bob Dylan’s 1975 Blood on the Tracks album has always been one of his most puzzling. The mystery begins the moment we try to delve into its meaning. Is it truly his attempt to deal with the break-up of his marriage, or is it not related to that at all? Jakob Dylan, his son, has been quoted as saying, “When I’m listening to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ I’m grooving along just like you. But when I’m listening to ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ that’s about my parents.” Yet Dylan himself has denied this interpretation, even scoffed at it, time and time again. There is also the issue of the actual recording of the album, which took place over a period of four days in New York City in September of 1974. Five of the songs were recut, for reasons unknown, just three months later in Minneapolis. There is much speculation that Dylan originally intended Blood on the Tracks to be something of a solo album with just his voice, guitar, and harmonica. He’d been practicing the songs that way for months prior to the recording session in New York, and continued playing them like that right up until the band arrived. On November 2, More Blood, More Tracks is scheduled to be released as the latest installment of the Bob Dylan Bootleg series. It contains the complete New York recording sessions, and the most emotionally charged versions of the original songs. It’s believed that they are being released as Dylan intended them to be, recorded without headphones or overdubs, in the purest possible state. Songwriter and music journalist Jeff Slate has called these tracks “performances that thrill you when they’re supposed to and break your heart when they need to….” They represent Dylan at his absolute finest.
One such track, “You’re a Big Girl Now,” is considered by many fans and critics to be one of Dylan’s most heartbreaking songs. I would agree, and have always thought as much whenever I’ve listened to it, but the version that appears on More Blood, More Tracks is downright devastating. This past Monday we talked about the attachments that we form both to ourselves and to our expectations for the future. As humans, we are wired to interfere and control. The process of stepping aside and allowing life to happen is nearly impossible. We also form attachments to other people in much the same way, some of which are healthy, and others of which are not. We’re supposed to love unconditionally without any regard for how the future of the relationship will unfold, but if we’re to be truly honest, that’s incredibly hard. We know we’re becoming attached when we feel that overwhelming desire to just be with a person, to look at them, to sit next to them, and maybe even to run errands with them. That’s the ultimate form of attachment in my book. When we’re not with them, we miss them, not in a pull-the-covers-over-our-heads kind of way, but with just a quiet yearning in our hearts that keeps saying “I can’t wait until next time.”
Fast forward now to the worst possible outcome where that attachment severs, and we can find ourselves to be truly devastated, no matter how much we tried to keep our expectations in check. This is especially true when it’s because the other person has walked away. “You’re a Big Girl Now” from More Blood, More Tracks is the song for just that moment. There’s a link at the bottom of the post so you can listen to it. She has left him, and has moved on from him, and there seems to be nothing he can do or say to get her back. In the end he tells us, “I’m going out of my mind, oh / With a pain that stops and starts / Like a corkscrew to my heart / Ever since we’ve been apart.” Imagining a corkscrew and the pain and blood that would result from one coming anywhere near our hearts is the perfect metaphor for being unable to let go of our attachment to lost love. But the struggle is internal, and I do believe Dylan was attempting to resolve his own through his creative process, as so many artists do. The Grammy-winning sleeve notes for Blood on the Tracks contain this quote from W.B. Yeats: “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
For today’s cocktail, you might expect that I would have made something blood red with a corkscrew somewhere in the photos, but I decided to take a less literal approach. It seems to me that if we’re holding onto some kind of love that did that much damage to our hearts, we’re not seeing it as something out of a horror film. We’re still seeing it as angelic and beautiful, and utterly unforgettable. I tried to capture that with a velvety pumpkin martini that includes the wonderfully creamy texture of Claremont vodka, the perfect sweetness of Dolin Blanc vermouth, and an overload of spice from both my own maple butternut squash syrup (also used in Monday’s cocktail) and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. I would be devastated if someone tried to take this cocktail away from me! Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
Corkscrew to My Heart
1½ oz Claremont vodka (locally distilled in Fairfield NJ)
¾ oz Dolin Blanc
¾ oz maple butternut squash syrup (mine)
¼ oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 T half and half (or less, your preference, or none at all)
Grated nutmeg to top
Add all the ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake until cold. Most martinis are stirred, but this one is shaken to incorporate the cream. If you’re eliminating it as an ingredient then you can stir it instead. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with grated nutmeg. Enjoy!