Every Record I Own - Day 344: Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks
I’ll be spending a few days talking about Bob Dylan, but I’m going out of chronological order to start with the album that made me a fan.
I remember the first time I heard Blood on the Tracks. It was July of 1996 and I was in the summer break between my freshmen and sophomore year of college. My older brother invited me to go backpacking with him up to Glacier Basin in the North Cascades of Washington. We got a late start on a Friday afternoon, with our goal of camping out in the old mining ghost town of Monte Cristo overruled by dwindling daylight. We pitched our tent off a logging road with the new goal of hiking a steep six miles to the basin the next day.
We began our hike the next morning in 90+ degree heat. Portable water filters weren’t common back then, so we were treating all our water with iodine tablets, which, if you haven’t had it before, tastes like rain water that’s been sitting in a rusty bucket for six months. The hike out of Monte Cristo is known for being strenuous, and we were doing it with all our camping gear on our backs. Sweaty and fatigued, we made it to the basin late in the afternoon, then climbed the glacier to the ridge line which gave us a panorama of the North Cascades.
We slid down the glacier on trash bags; what had taken an hour and a half to climb took 10 minutes to descend. In hindsight, we were extremely lucky we didn’t slide right into a crevasse. We took a frigid dip in the alpine pond at the bottom, set up our camp, cooked dinner, and turned in for the night.
I woke up the next morning and my urine was the color of iodine water. I realized then that I’d been sweating so much the day before that I hadn’t had to pee at all. We packed up and made our way down the mountain on blistered feet and wobbly legs from the uphill climb the day before. It was still blazingly hot too. I’d fill up my canteen with water, add the iodine tablets, wait 10 minutes, and my water would already have gone from refreshing snow melt to hot metallic silt in a canteen. Overall, it was a beautiful but brutal trip.
We finally got back to the trailhead and drove to the first gas station we found. I bought to 32oz bottles of Gatorade and immediately guzzled them down. As we drove back to Tacoma, my brother put on “Shelter from the Storm” from side 2 of Blood on the Tracks. The simple, repetitious structure of the song combined with its minimal instrumentation and classic folk melody was already a pleasant salve, but the way Dylan’s lyrics captured this feeling of returning from a journey weathered and beaten but enriched with a trove of memories and experiences made the song feel profound. My musical diet was almost exclusively hardcore back in ‘96, but that one moment with Dylan made me a lifelong fan.
A few days later I bought this album for a couple of bucks at a used record store and immediately dubbed it onto cassette because I wanted to listen to it on one of our first Botch tours. I had this romantic mental image of pulling an all-night drive and listening to this from behind the wheel as the sun came up. And to this day, in the rare moments where I wind up with an all-nighter, I still try to greet the morning with this record. Nearly twenty-three years later, Blood on the Tracks still feels like an epic memoir of small victories and minor tragedies and remains one of my favorite albums of all time.