Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Desire (1976)

(1976, Columbia Records)


(the momentarily famous TTLA sandwich from Whole Foods Market. A sandwich made famous by social media)

Desire? What does it mean to you? I don't know, but anyway you slice it, what a terrible name for a record! Okay, maybe George Clinton's Hey Man, Smell My Finger might be way worse. But this LP is considered by many to be one of Dylan's best studio efforts (after the other 7 great ones, or whatever). I don't know, there's just something so lifeless about standing around, talking music when one Dylanhead says to another "What's your favorite Dylan album?," and then the other Dylanhead leans close and whispers in the others ear "DESIRE....." I'm sure this has happened once or twice, at least. Maybe my second least favorite tittle after Planet Waves. Still trying to crack that code.

Anyway, welcome to Desire, Dylan's 17th studio album, and last of widespread critical and fan praise for the next 15-20 years. Basically, after Desire, Dylan's comeback as critical darling sank deeper in deeper as he became nearly forgotten in the '80s and had to slowly claw his way back in the '90s. So let's bid our Dylan farewell (and say a prayer for me as I will soon begin to tackle nearly a dozen LPs few care about.... Oh it burns... with Desire.....)

So, after the complete adulation of Blood on the Tracks, and the celebrated release of The Basement Tapes,  Dylan reportedly farted around for a few months, only having written 1 song by summer of 1975. To other musicians, this is sometimes called normal. To Dylan, disturbing. Around this time, he met Jacques Levy (playwright, director, songwriter) through Roger McGuinn of The Byrds in NYC. Together, the two began working on the remainder of the songs that would become Desire. The LP also features prominent violin work from Scarlet Rivera, someone Dylan reportedly found walking down the street, or sitting in her car, depending on what lore you wanna go with. Rounding out the record, the vocals of legend Emmylou Harris are all over this! At the time, the relatively unknown Harris was seemingly picked at random to be on the record when Dylan requested a "female" vocalist from Columbia Records. So there you have it. I call that DESIRE in a nutshell.

Some call this Desire in a Nutshell

One of the grandest things to come from Dylan's collaboration with Jacques Levy; the birth of the Rolling Thunder Revue. The RTR was a 2 part tour that bookended the release of Desire. The traveling "caravan" of musician roadshow directed by Levy traveled far and wide around North America, giving us famous pictures like this....

And this.....  (photos you can find in a college dorm, looking like Dylan fell face first into cocaine)

("you kids like clowns?"- Bob Dylan to his frightened children circa '76)

Finally, the LP cover? The photo was reportedly snapped at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Who could tell? It's just Dylan standing in front of a tree, smiling at.... his Desires? Who knows. No mention of the Plymouth Rock imagery, pilgrims. How 'bout a 12 minute song about the first Thanksgiving as told by Zimmy. Nope. A song about ship traveling across the ocean and the centuries of US horrors that have unfolded. Nope, nothing. Just desires? Desire. Repeat after me... "Desire. Desire...... desire"

Now real quick on my dinner of desires. I have purchased myself the famous-for-the-moment TTLA sandwich from Whole Foods. This sandwich is like the Elvis of sandwiches, literally the flavor of the month. It was turned into a national craze by actress and blogger Tabitha Brown. 

(Tabitha Brown eating the sandwich in question)

Since her review, this sandwich has blown up, flames and all. There's a lot of hype around it, and she calls the sandwich "life changing." We'll see... The sandwich contains vegan tempeh bacon, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. I would also like to add, that I made this sandwich at work, and then purchased it for $8.99. It also comes on a ciabatta roll, different from the panini style in the famed video. But that won't stop me from tackling this trendy sandwich of desires.  NOW, let's dig in!

Hurricane- Following the last 2 songs on Blood on the Tracks ("Shelter From the Storm," "Buckets of Rain"), one would not be remiss to think Dylan had gone into full blown meteorologist mode for good, since he is a man of invention. However, this is not the case. The song is less about weather allusions and 100% about Rubin "Hurricane" Carter ("Reuben" is also the name of a popular, delicious sandwich). You might remember him from Denzel Washington's depiction of said professional boxer who was thrown into prison for a murder of which he was later acquitted. Dylan takes a scathing shot at the Police state, racism, and the (in)justice system. Boom! Also, Dylan gets about as vulgar as he's ever gotten. Tipper Gore must have shat a nickel when she heard this one as Zimmy drops words like "ass" and "shit." Whoa!!!  Also, the song itself is a funky, hard edged hoedown that propels forward for 8 minutes and doesn't let up. A real fiddle driven punk-esque tune, years before Zimmy gave himself a mohawk outside of CBGB's at that Richard Hell show (I think)

(This is a goalie of the Hurricanes, waving a disavowing stick at American medical insurance, something Dylan probably has talked about)

Isis- Well, this is a touchy subject these days. Now, this blog will probably be on some sort of watch list. But hey, I'll take all the readers I can get, even you The Ghost of J. Edgar Hoover. Anyway, "Isis" is another super long, never ending cut. Fortunately, like "Hurricane," it's pretty damn cool. A slow jam full of dragging fiddles, piano pounding, and another empowered performance by Dylan. This song tells the overlong tale of a man lost in Egypt coming upon an empty tomb with his partner... Oh who cares. If you want a real story, read a book. In this case, just smoke a little wacky weed and take the trip with a man and his lost love, a girl named "Isis."

(Members of Isis being dicks, unrelated to the narrative of what our faithful narrator, Robert Zimmerman speaks of. These guys are terrible.)

Enough about Isis, and more about this TTLA sandwich. First off, is it life changing? Hmmm, let's see. Same amount of money still in my back account. I don't see any newborn children suddenly in my apartment. My limbs are still in tact, and a racist, reality television star is STILL our president. Nope, my life is about the same. However, it is DELICIOUS!  Let's continue on. More to come!

Mozambiqu- This ones a real WHALE of a song, virtually unpronounceable to the average grandmother who couldn't find it on a map. 9 minutes, baby! Strap in.  Apparently, cowriter Jacques Levy, wanted to see how many words he and Dylan could rhyme with the title, a South African country know best know for being a Bob Dylan song (not really). What they come up with in the end sounds kind of like if Jimmy Buffett started a not-half bad country jamboree band and invited Emmylou Harris to sing backups. Annoyingly catchy!

(like the song, here's a whale, one that sadly washed up on the shores of Mozambique) 

Back to the sandwich, which is half consumed and being eaten with great restraint. Now, anything with garlic aioli and avocado is going to be delicious. Really, if that's all that came on it, you've already got a winner. The garlic aioli alone is what DESIRES are made of. The smoky tempeh bacon is a vegan delight, adding a nice smoked finish to every bready bite. Wish the tomatoes were a bit more ripe, but such is the case when eating tomatoes in February. I would recommend toasting this. However, going at it cold is still delightful!

One More Cup of Coffee- Coffee is one of the greatest gifts the God has ever given us (but don't tell 1978 Dylan about no Gods, cause he's just a few short moves from going full-on religious zealot with a guitar). It's also a known fact, a fresh-faced boy known as Zimm-kid used to perform at coffee houses in a small town known as New York City, Manhattan. This is a 3 and half, middle-eastern meets spaghetti western tune, and it's the way to GO! Emmylou Harris adds some cool off-time vocal interludes, while you sit feeling like Rick Blaine waiting for a plane in Casablanca. 

Oh, Sister- Full disclosure. I have 1 brother, 0 sisters. So, according to Ancestory.com, this song is as close to a sister as I get. Here, Emmylou and Dylan mirror each other vocally as the fiddle screeches, the drums slow roll around, and the rest of the lot subtly move this impacting piece along. Basically, this song seems to have laid the template for a good amount of Will Oldham's work in the future. If you do not know Will Oldham's work, that ranks you in the majority of people standing in line at an Arby's.

Speaking of Arby's, they sell sandwiches, but they don't sell anything that compares to this TTLA sandwich. You may have the meats, but do you have the vegan meats? No, because you're "restaruant" chain is bullshit.

(another boner by Arby's)

Joey- 2 Also the name for a baby kangaroo, this song is actually not about that. Also, "Joey" is 4 letters, but this song is 11 minutes long. A staggering ratio! Brimming with confidence over Side A's opener, Dylan the Defendant tackles the story of mobster Joey Gallo who was gunned down in New York's Little Italy in '72. Well, unlike "Hurricane," this one seemed to find little sympathy with the general folk as Joey Gallo seems to have left his mark as somewhat of a historical scum bucket, eating lead due to his shitty dealings in the mob underworld. The song is one never-ending fiddle fuck fest; a bellowed ballad that lasts a year and day. If you zone out, it's bearable. This go-round, I find myself staring aimlessly at the walls, remembering why I usually skip right past "Joey."

(it is often believed the NY crime family syndicate was extinguished by one Richard Tracy, circa December '74, aka the release of The Godfather II). 

Romance In Durango- 2 So, being that "Joey" is 11 minutes long, that means my TTLA sandwich is about 10 min and 45 seconds gone. It was fun while it lasted. I DO recommend it, and I'm not being paid to say that. Grab one of these suckers, if your local Whole Foods participates in the craze. Now, back to the music....

Eww, if this ain't some doggone skin crawlin' title if I've ever heard one. Dylan, fresh off a Bowery burrito, shows off his bi-ligual chops, chops up tomatoes for a fresh salsa, and proudly sports his chops of mutton (see LP cover for reference). Overall, I could not care less about Dylan doing traditional Mexican themed music, even if he does have the wherewithal to name drop "tequila" mid song. While I like tequila in the right moment, I do not care for "Romance In Durango," a song which speaks of.... desires!

(Pictured: 2001 Dodge Durango; a possible place where one can experience romance, albeit in the roomy back-seating)

Black Diamond Bay- Things finally pick back up with the long, but killer song about an island blowing up via volcano eruption. Now, this is some Hollywood action you can sink your teeth into, once you're done with you TTLA sandwich! Apart from the handsome (if not goat-like) leading man, Zimmy Zimmerman killing it behind the mic, this song is a total hook filled, multi-layered narrative opus that propels its barbs and sticks to your skin like molten-lava. I'm not sure if lava has barbs though. Actually, molten-lava would burn through your skin at a tremendous rate, and is best when avoided by humans.

(Volcanologists speculate this song caused the filming of Dante's Peak, an unforgettable Bond film)

Sara- You might remember Sara as the thankless leading lady Dylan spent his entire album shitting on and sulking all over with Blood on the Tracks. She was also his one time wife, including being present in the studio of the time of recording; poor Sara, sitting bedside to her wordsmith husband, their lives coming undone and going their separate ways. Well, who am I to say all this stuff?  I ain't no marriage counselor. Actually, where Blood on the Tracks alluded to "Sara" and "marriage," this track basically says "hey world, I think I'm gettin' divorced!" The next year, it would become so. But here, Dylan weeps through 5 personal minutes of separating from his wife, the one he claims he'll never regret loving.....  unfortunately, Dylan had other deeeeessssiiiiiiirrrrres.

(Sara and Dylan, seconds after finding out he was a divorced man... with DESIRES)

So, who's up for something a little more light hearted?.... Oh, on that note, stay tuned at "Dinner with Dylan" for the rest of Robert Zimmerman's mostly underwhelming career! 

For my next dinner, I shall digest Dylan's 1978 Street Legal... where the ugliness begins to rear its head, forcing Dylan into a near 15-20 year creative coma!!!

"Say what?"- Bob Dylan, caught off guard for the next two decades.


  1. "Desire" is a fine, solid album - musically very strong, well-produced, with Dylan's singing voice in peak condition. I'm not sure he's ever sounded better than he does here.

    All that being said, I still consider "Desire" to be Dylan's most over-rated album. A lot of fans rank this one in Dylan's top ten, but to that I say, "No way". The reason is that the songs themselves are almost all second-tier, probably due to Jacques Levy's diluting influence. Also, Dylan is always at his least interesting whenever he's trying to be topical and "relevant" - as he is here with "Hurricane" and "Joey", both of which I started skipping over after a few listens. On the other hand, I never get tired of songs like "Isis" and "Oh, Sister".

    While I'm at it - the Rolling Thunder Revue is also totally over-rated. It's good of course, just not earth-shaking in the way that many Dylan fans seem to think. So I'm pretty lukewarm to Dylan's whole 1975-76 shtick - stupid hats, kabuki makeup, and all. Guess I'm just a thought-criminal.

  2. The "Desire" songs came across much better in the RTR live setting than on the vinyl. It's a shame that Bob won't perform any of these songs anymore. Rock on....I'm looking forward to your take on the upcoming religious material.