This Train is Bound For Glory: Blood on the Tracks


Summer is fading, school is starting.

A change in the weather just might be extreme.

I think it's time to write about Blood on the Tracks.

We all know the drill: released in 1975, it's a breakup album, a largely acoustic affair with simple instrumentation, as the songs seek to paint stories from multiple perspectives (Bob was inspired by painting lessons and Russian short stories).

Apparently Bob was writing down these songs in a little red notebook, and first cut them in New York City. There, it was just Bobby and his guitar. This "version" of the album is worth seeking out, and sounds a bit more raw and unpolished than the so-called "second" version of the album that featured overdubs from Minnesota musicians.

the little red notebook
That being said, you can toss out all the history here to the angry sea. No matter how you slice it, no matter which way the winds do blow, Blood on the Tracks represents the best collection of 10 songs Bob Dylan has ever released to the world. And the key to unlocking these gems may be in the album title itself. . .

Often, in the American music tradition, trains, roads, and railways serve as flexible metaphors for dreams, future hopes, ambitions, roads traveled, the longing for somewhere else, the desire to get to heaven after a tough life on earth. . . To claim there's "blood on the tracks" acknowledges the sacrifices made and difficulties encountered along the road of life. You and everyone you've got history with is headed to the train station, yet we all take different tracks to get there, marked with our own challenges, fears, worries, joys, sorrows, and dreams.

In this sense, "blood" represents life and the "tracks" represents the twists and turns that life has and will take in response to that blood, that spilling of our guts and souls and stories. Like Elizabeth Cotton's song "Freight Train", we all desire to get on the right train and ride with the right people to escape sorrow:

In the classic gospel song "People Get Ready" (brought to us by Sonny & Terry) we are invited to hop on a train that is filled with love and mercy:

So what is Blood on the Tracks? It is human life. Guts spilled. Life won and lost. One's full humanity and truth needs to be acknowledged before hopping on the train of love. The only giving needed, as noted in "People Get Ready", is giving yourself.



Comments

  1. Maybe I'm wrong but I always assumed the title, "Blood on the Tracks," was related to hunting. As in, when the hunter wounds the prey and hunts it down by following the tracks and the blood left behind. A rather good metaphor for an album filled with pain; however, it really has nothing to do with trains.

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    1. You are on the right track. No pun. For me it's not about hunting, but about a wounded animal (of any kind) being pursued by a predator. Blood on the footprints, as it were.

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    2. And, of course, "tracks" doubles down, again not as railroad tracks, but as songs. Each song is a track with blood on it.

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    3. I've never considered that, but it sounds valid!

      The train/tracks methaphor alaways resonated with me since I heard the alternate lyrics to 1985's "Tangeled Up in Blue" . . . "The only thing I knew how to do/ was get on that train and ride". Usually, whenever Dylan refers to tracks he is referencing a train, like in "I and I"- "they're waiting for spring to come/smoking down the tracks". And then going back to much of his 60's work, there seems to be a lot of trains. He's riding the mail train and can't buy a thrill.

      In the 1970's, before he sang the song "Senor" live, he told a story about a guy he met on a train in Mexico. Everywhere you look, Dylan is rolling with the train metaphor. It is a rich one in American music.

      That doesn't mean that here, he's not referring to hunting or the songs themselves, here. I guess the fun is always in the interpretation. Thanks for reading!

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