A Simple Twist of Fate Revisited

Reviewing “A Simple Twist of Fate” for the 2nd time on the 40th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

By Stephen Pate – 40 years ago today, Bob Dylan finished the re-recording of the songs on his acclaimed album Blood on the Tracks

. The album has songs many believe that chronicle the end of his marriage to Sarah (Shirley Marlin Noznisky) Dylan and other love affairs.

The album had been recorded and completed by September 24, 1974 at A&R Recording in New York City but in the interim Bob Dylan felt unsure he had gotten the best recording, despite having the renowned producer Phil Ramone and Eric Weisberg and Deliverance as his studio band.

Encouraged by his younger brother David Zimmerman who assembled a new group of musicians over the holidays in Minneapolis, Bob Dylan re-recorded the complete album.

What the public heard when Blood on the Tracks was released on January 20, 1975 is partly from the New York and partly from the Minneapolis sessions. Blood on the Tracks is a classic Dylan album, if not his best certainly one of the top 5 albums he has made.

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One of the new musicians in Studio 80 in Minneapolis was guitarist Kevin Odegard, a musician of no great fame who kept his memories of that week between Christmas and New Years 1974 in his memory for decades.

That memory festered until Kevin Odegard and writer Andy Gill published their account of the week in A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks

on the 30th anniversary of the recording in 2004.

I reviewed “Simple Twist of Fate” after reading it twice and panned it with the headline “A Simple Twist of Fate fails to deliver on promise
 

Bob Dylan September 1974 recording session

This was my second read of “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks” by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard. A slight book at 212 pages, it didn’t seem like a waste of time to read again and it wasn’t; however the original annoyances returned almost immediately.

 

While interesting as a history of how Bob Dylan recorded “Blood on the Tracks”, it relies too much in the amateur criticism of the authors and the sour grapes reminiscences of the musicians, engineers and producers, especially Odegard a guitarist on some of the songs.

So here it is the holidays again and I re-read my review and wondered: how bad was “Simple Twist of Fate“? I decided to give the book a third read to see if my rather negative opinion changed which it did despite the same misgivings cropping up almost immediately.

On reflection, “Simple Twist of Fate” is a worthy short read if you are aware the author’s approach to Bob Dylan is often condescending and smarmy. This is not unusual: there is a whole publishing industry dependent on armchair quarterbacks who pick and poke at Bob Dylan’s life and oeuvre with overconfidence.

Other than a chapter in Time Out of Mind: The Lives of Bob Dylan or Clinton Heylin’s Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1994, Kevin Odegard’s story is the best account we have of what happened in the studios in New York and Minneapolis in 1974.

Andy Gill and Kevin have done a very good job of interviewing everyone involved in both studios to detail what happened. The book is almost a take-by-take commentary by the studio musicians, Phil Ramone the producer and people involved in the albums production. They even track down Ellen Bernstein, the Columbia A&R producer who is the subject the song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

If you want the track details, see STILL ON THE ROAD 1974 BLOOD ON THE TRACKS RECORDING SESSIONS. It makes an interesting project to track down and listen to as many of the song versions as possible. OK maybe not for everyone but some Dylan fans, this one included, like that sort of research.

The trick for readers is to separate the griping by Odegard and some of the musicians from the reality. For instance, Charles Brown, the guitar player in New York, spends most of his time complaining about Bob Dylan’s lack of professionalism. Personally I take that with a grain of salt. I’ve been in bands with musicians who complain about everything – the song is in the wrong key, they don’t like the tempo, the drummer is off time and the singer can’t stay on key. That’s just the way it goes. People gripe.  Brown does not even have much good to say about the renowned producer Phil Ramone.

Bob Dylan likes to keep his recording sessions spontaneous. Excitement and emotion are more important in music than correctness. For example, Scotty Moore re-recorded the early Elvis Presley hits from the Sun Studio sessions in 1964 with a crack studio band in Nashville . The Guitar That Changed The World! has more technically perfect guitar work compared to the originals but the album is flat as day old beer, with none of the spontaneous excitement of the original recordings. Perfect is not the goal in recording. Emotional content is the elusive part of recording.

I won’t spoil A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by telling you everything that’s cool in the book because it has lots of interesting stories about the recording and events surrounding it. It reveals a lot about Dylan’s studio technique and his concern about his art. Just ignore the gratuitous opinions.

I am changing my rating from a 3 to 4 based on a third reading. The condescending parts are still annoying but there is plenty to entertain and inform the reader.
iTunes: Blood On the Tracks – Bob Dylan

 

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4 / 5 stars
 
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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