Keep Art Alive :: Art by Sungjun Kim

Tangled Up in Blue (live) :: Robyn Hitchcock

She was married when we first meet,
soon to be divorced,
I helped her out of a jam I guess,
but I used a little too much force.
We drove that car as far as we could,
abandoned it out West,
split it up on a dark sad night,
both agreeing it was best.
She turned around to look at me,
as I was walking away,
I heard her say over my shoulder,
“we’ll meet again someday on the avenue”


Tangled Up in Blue is a song by Bob Dylan. It appeared on his album Blood on the Tracks in 1975. Released as a single, it reached # 31 on the Billboard Hit 100. Rolling Stone ranked it # 68 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It is my all-time favorite Bob Dylan song.

The Telegraph has described the song as, “The most dazzling lyric ever written, an abstract narrative of relationships told in an amorphous blend of first and third person, rolling past, present and future together, spilling out in tripping cadences and audacious internal rhymes, ripe with sharply turned images and observations and filled with a painfully desperate longing.”

Tangled Up in Blue is one of five songs on Blood on the Tracks that Dylan initially recorded in New York City in September 1974 and then re-recorded in Minneapolis in December that year; the later recording became the album track and single. One of the September 1974 outtakes was released in 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.

Lyrically, Tangled Up in Blue is one of the clearest examples of Dylan’s attempts to write “multi-dimensional” songs which defied a fixed notion of time and space. At the time, Dylan was influenced by a recent study of painting and the Cubist school of artists, who sought to incorporate multiple perspectives within a single plane of view.

In a 1978 interview Dylan explained this style of songwriting: “What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening“.

Dylan continually re-worked the lyrics even after the album was released; the version on his live album Real Live (and throughout the ’84 Europe tour) has radically different lyrics. In the first studio version (NYC sessions, September ’74) and often in live performances he has sung some of the verses from a third-person perspective (usually “he was laying in bed,” but sometimes even “she was laying in bed“), as opposed to the first-person point of view in the Blood on the Tracks version. Dylan has said that the version recorded on the 1984 Real Live album is the best. Dylan has often stated that the song took “ten years to live and two years to write“.

I love that with each version of the song the story changes a little. It reminds me of how we all tell stories, and how we sort out memories, how age and time, distance and emotion, can alter our perspective, and in tiny ways, rewrite our histories. I love the details that aren’t given, the way it makes me close my eyes and fill in the spaces, writing Blue and her once lover, or friend, and how I see them.

I once wrote this little piece about a girl named Blue, with the unsung spaces of the song in mind:

Blue met him again years later, she had grown older, a few lines framing her eyes, and a slivering pulse of resentment in her blood, but she still knew how to make him smile. She had told him “someday”, even if she never quite believed it, and had wiped away tears as he drove his car off into the night. She was never as good as she was when she was his.

Another time I toyed with the idea that the woman in this song was Jane, the same Jane from Leonard Cohen’s “Blue” song, Famous Blue Raincoat, and this is what came out of that Blue-imagning:

I would love to pen a story about Jane. Perhaps she met up with Bob on the road, or in the topless bar; perhaps he wore a raincoat and gave her a rose before he left her that rainy morning. The rose, she pressed it between the pages of a well-worn copy of Kerouac’s On the Road, the one she tucked in her tattered patchwork bag, the one she took with her everywhere. It has a hole at the bottom, a seam that tore open on a bus ride up the coast, a hole that she patched up with crimson thread.

Perhaps Jane goes by the name Azure when she dances at the topless place, a connection back to that blue raincoat, the last glimpse of him that she caught as the bus pulled away. He never saw the tears rolling down her face as he walked away, he never did turn around, or ask her to stay. They never ask her to stay.

There are more moments, more poems and stories and maybe they could be songs that I’ve penned listening to this song. I’ve felt like Blue, too, especially when a boy I once loved said she reminded him of me (a hard comparison to live up to).Maybe that is part of what makes this my favorite Dylan song, and one of my all-time favorite any songs, the inspiration it brings, the muse it becomes, and the storytelling that inspires more of the same.

What do you think of the song? What do you think of Robyn Hitchcock’s cover? Do you have a favorite cover of this song? Do you have a favorite Dylan cover?

Tangled Up in Blue :: Bob Dylan


2 thoughts on “The past was close behind :: Under the Covers

  1. My favorite version of “Tangled” has to be recorded at Boston Music Hall, November 21, 1975 (second show) from Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue.

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