Why Bob Dylan is still God


There's something a bit strange in that Tom Cruise film, Jerry Maguire, and it's not just the acting: they use a Bob Dylan song as background music at one stage, Shelter From The Storm but it's not like any version of Shelter From The Storm (from the Blood On The Tracks album) that has been heard before. A quick bit of research, an even quicker phone call and 24 hours later I have the answer in my greedy hands. It's a famous Dylan bootleg called Blood On The Tapes and it comes complete with its own story.

The 11-track bootleg was recorded in New York in September of 1974 and such was the quality of material that Dylan he got it pressed up and was ready to release it as his new album. At some stage, though, he had a creative change of mind and scrapped the whole album, only to rerecord it a few days later: the result was the mighty Blood On The Tracks.

Just about everybody in the fevered world of Dylan fandom believes Dylan should have stuck with the original recordings. Quite right too: Tapes as opposed to Tracks is a largely acoustic affair and the songs are raw, unadorned and highly emotive. Dylan sings softly rather than nasally and plunders the emotional register with abandon. It's awesome stuff and once you've heard it, you won't ever be able to go back to the official release. All of which supports the theory that Dylan's unreleased recordings harbour his truest artistic statements.

The track listing of Tapes is familiar: If You See Her Say Hello, Lily Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts, Call Letter Blues (not on Tracks), Idiot Wind, Tangled Up In Blue, You're A Big Girl Now, Shelter From The Storm (the so-called "Jerry Maguire" version), If You See Her Say Hello (alternate version), Tangled Up In Blue (alternate version with much better lyrics), Up To Me (not on Tracks) and Idiot Wind (alternate version, again with better lyrics). Such is the sophistication of the bootleg industry now that Blood On The Tapes (or the least the one I have) even has a "record company" name: Columbus (a play on Dylan's real label, Columbia and a "serial number": in this case COL 21070). If you get the CD version of the bootleg, you'll find it comes in very professional artwork which mirrors the Blood On The Tracks artwork, only substituting the colour blue for red.

There is talk about Sony (Columbia's parent company) officially releasing Blood On The Tapes next year as part of a 25th anniversary bonus disc re-release of Blood On The Tracks. All very laudable, I'm sure, but you can't beat the illicit pleasures of a bootleg.

It's no coincidence that Dylan was also behind what is generally acknowledged as being the "first ever" bootleg. Holed up in a house in Saugerties, New York State in 1967 and out of public circulation while recovering from a serious motorbike crash, Dylan and The Band recorded reams of private-use material that later became known as The Basement Tapes (five CDs worth of music). These are probably the most bootlegged recordings in the whole musical world: officialdom finally relented and released The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 a few years back, but such is the "vibe" about The Basement Tapes that entire books have been written about them - as in last year's publication of Greil Marcus's rather good Invisible Republic. Apart from Blood On The Tapes and The Basement Tapes, the best Dylan bootlegs tend towards his middle years - or "High Dylan" which stretches from 1965 to the release of Blood On The Tracks in 1974. The most sought-after recording from this period is a bootleg called Guitars Kissing And The Contemporary Fix, which for the first time pieces together the famous/infamous Manchester Trade Hall gig - a semi-electric, semi-acoustic show in which Dylan was heckled by a purist, electric-guitars-are-the-work-of-the-devil folkie shouting "Judas", only for Dylan to retort "I don't believe you . . . You're a liar". He then turned to The Band and you can just make him out saying "Get f. . king loud" as they blast into the intro from Like A Rolling Stone. Marvellous, marvellous stuff.

Blood On The Tapes is available on the Internet or from any self-respecting dodgy record shop