Never Ending tour: The Absolute Highlights. 4: Tangled up in Blue

By Tony Attwood, based on recordings collected and presented by Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet) for the series The Never Ending Tour.

This 1998 recording of Tangled up in Blue is not an easy listen – it is gritty, edgy, unsettling, difficult, and musically with a set of clashes between two guitars which take us light years away from the original.

Indeed in the original album recording I always have the feeling that Bob was reflecting plaintively on the way that he and she had lives that had become tangled together and could not be separated.  They are apart, they can’t happily co-exist in the same time and place but they can’t be apart from each other.   Hence those exquisite lines at the end – for me the most perfect insightful wonderful exquisite couplet in the whole of the entire history of popular music…

We always did feel the sameWe just saw it from a different point of view

And it is the contradiction within the unity of feeling the same that makes this piece of music open to so many interpretations, and here I’ve deliberately sought out one of the performances by Bob which emphasises the edginess of that relationship – that “can’t live with you can’t live without you” concept.

So while I could happily play the original recorded version of the song over and over, this version is not selected for its playability nor indeed one might say even for its enjoyment.  It is selected for its challenges, and because it reminds me that no matter how well life might be going there is always something that is on the edge.  If not, then it is not a full life.  I don’t want to be on the edge, but if I don’t have those moments, how am I to value fully those times of utter perfection and happiness?

From the opening chord changes we know what this is all about… we settle back for a much-loved favourite… but Bob’s voice tells us there are extra challenges ahead.

And interestingly, this is clearly a highly rehearsed version, rather than something Bob came up with on spot or during the sound check – and that is interesting, because of the way he manages to get so much angst into his voice.   Doing that once or twice takes a bit of thought and practice – doing it night after night in a song that is nine minutes long takes some doing.  OK a lot of the nine minutes are instrumentals, but even so…

If there is something that I am not totally taken by it is the acoustic guitar solo – for me it is almost too edgy – the lyrics have all the edge we need.  But what I do love is the fact that Bob has overcome his occasional tendency to sing the same notes for each line of the melody.  And actually looking back to the performance once again, no – I think Bob has got it right.  With what this song talks about there can’t be too much edge.  It is all edge.

But as we get to the second instrumental break even the oddness of the two acoustic guitars fighting each other have made the point.  And speaking of “point” just listen to Bob’s voice with the “started from a different point of view” line – it is choking with emotion – and by the next instrumental break the sheer chaos of the relationship is being relayed by the bucket load.  It is as if those repeated notes and the two guitars are each a perfect symbolic representation of the loving and fighting between these two people – something that is amplified in the prolonged harmonica solo which adds to the co-existing horror show and the desperate love affair.

But above everything it is the ending that envelops me completely and draws me back to this performance.  By the penultimate vocal verse Bob is getting fairly desperate, but for the last verse he has got more certainty and power.  And more than in any other performance I find myself believing this is a real autobiographical moment.

If I want a Bob “telling it like it is” moment it is this.

Don't know how it all got startedI don't what they do with their livesBut me, I'm still on the roadHeading for another jointWe always did feel the sameWe just saw it from a different point of viewTangled up in blue

It is far from comfortable, and not something I choose to listen to daily or I must confess even monthly, but it is something that challenges, something that takes us to the edge of the cliff, has a look over at the 1000 feet drop, and then…. leaves on just standing there on the edge.

Bob doesn’t jump.  She doesn’t jump.  I don’t jump.  But then neither of us takes a step back.   We just stand there.

Looking over the cliff edge.

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