Light dapples the tree-lined road and Bob Dylan is on the CD player. I spend far too long in this car, but there is enjoyment to be had in being alone with the music on loud.
Blonde On Blonde came out on May 16, 1966. It’s a double album – double the pleasure, or two discs when an edit would have produced something sharper. Over to Bob obsessives, like my professor brother. He would have an opinion on that, but I am driving through the sunny flatlands to the late shift and he is in his cottage in Brittany.
The trees thin out and the sky grows. Up ahead the light has turned red. Bob is Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again and I am stuck before a picturesque stone bridge that only has room for one-way traffic.
The lights change and I am moving again. Bob has put on that Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat now and all is well with the world.
I don’t listen to Dylan that often, not as often as I should, but I do love Blonde On Blonde. The CD version comes as one long album, whereas the original vinyl version was two albums, one sublime, the other a degree or two less so.
The songs on the first disc show Dylan completely at ease with himself, knowing exactly what he wants to do and say – even if some of the lyrics might have fallen out of a crossword from a cryptically stoned compiler.
But what songs – Rainy Day Woman Nos 12 & 35, with its barnstorming stomp, Pledging My Time with its harmonica snarl, the lovely pastures of Visions of Johanna, and the devout affections of I Want You.
Then there is Just Like A Woman, a song of love and disappointment, adoration gone sour. Dylan-ologists still argue over who inspired the song, but whoever it was turned Bob from rapture to rupture, and helped him write a timeless ballad. “There’s a lifetime of listening in these details,” the songwriter Jimmy Webb said. “I still marvel at what an absolutely stunning piece of writing this is.”
The trees disappear as you come into Howden. The half-ruined minster with its green roof looms over the wheat fields. Then I am parked up. The sunny day will go its way and I’ll go mine.
I leave the office once to buy lottery tickets for our hopeless syndicate (sorry, Steve, nothing again this week). The others quit at 6.30pm. I leave in darkness at 9pm. August is a wickedly tricky month, sunny one day, foul the next – or sometimes both in the same day, the worst sort of changeable friend. Now it is raining heavily. I drive home in darkness. Dylan is still on – it’s a long album – but he has reached the difficult second side, where the taut mastery of the first half begins to come undone.
The sky is almost black with horizontal streaks of white. The car shudders as the tyres ream through a huge puddle and the windscreen wipers go on overtime. Soon even those streaks, last scraps of optimism, disappear.
Now Bob is stretching Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands to 11 long minutes – something which bemused his musicians at the time – and the rain is truly pouring down. Never mind those rainy-day women, here is a hard rained on man.
Back home and the roads are almost dry. Those rainy women are back as the CD starts over. Weird weather, a long day, but thanks for the company, Bob.