Sunday, June 22, 2008

Songwriting: Tangled Up In Blue



You could write a whole book about this great song (or at least a Wikipedia entry), but I’ll leave that for somebody else. I’m just using it to talk about editing in songwriting.

As music fans, we usually hear only the final, official version of a song. As a result, we risk assuming that the songwriter simply sits down with pen and paper (or guitar) and spits out the tune in its final form. (Actually, only Townes Van Zandt did this.) Most artists have to live with their songs for awhile, making several tweaks while getting comfortable. As a fan of songwriting, I love hearing early unreleased or live versions of popular songs for the chance to witness the editing process.

Here is an earlier unreleased version of Tangled Up In Blue that comes from the famous “New York Sessions” for Blood On The Tracks:

Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue (New York Sessions) [purchase]

This early version starts in the third-person and then switches to a first-person telling halfway through. The official version is in the first-person throughout the entire song, which I like better. Other major changes made from the New York Sessions version to the official release are (1) the replacement of the L.A. airplane factory with the a fishing boat in New Orleans, (2) changing "doctor's wives" to "carpenter's wives," and (3) changing the busy/stoned verse to the more intriguing story about Montague Street and "dealing with slaves." All improvements, I think.

The edits highlighted below show the changes Dylan made from the New York sessions before releasing the official version:


Early one morning the sun was shining
He I was laying in bed
Wondering if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said their our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And he I was standing on the side of the road
Rain falling on his my shoes
Heading out for the old East Coast
Lord knows he’s I’ve paid some dues getting through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when they we first met
Soon to be divorced
He I helped her out of a jam I guess
But he I used a little too much force
And they We drove that car as far as they we could
Abandoned it out west
And Split up on a dark sad night [Not "on the docks that night"]
Both agreeing it was best
And She turned around to look at him me
As he I was walking away
She said “This can't be the end
I heard her say over my shoulder,
“We’ll meet on another day again someday on the avenue,”
Tangled up in blue

He I had a job in the old Great North Woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But he I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
When he So I drifted down to L.A. New Orleans
Where he reckoned to try his luck
Where I was lucky just to be employed
Working for a while in an airplane plant on a fishing boat
Loading cargo onto a truck
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while he I was alone
The past was close behind
He I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped his my mind and he I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was working in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept looking at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I was just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “What’s Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered something underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type.”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the Thirteenth Century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

He was always in a hurry
Too busy or too stoned
And everything she ever planned
Just had to be postponed
He thought they were successful
She thought they were blessed
With objects and material things,
But I never was impressed
And when it all came crashing down


I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when it finally, the bottom, fell out

I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue.

So now I’m going back again
I’ve got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are doctor’s carpenter’s wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doing with their lives.
But me, I’m still on the road
Heading for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue


Nine years later Bob released a live version with even more changes--many substantial--to the lyrics:

Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue (Live 1984) [purchase]

Interestingly, Dylan went back to the third-person perspective for some verses of the Real Live version.

This is the first of at least two posts along these lines. Later in the week I'll post an earlier version of Springsteen's Thunder Road that really screamed for a red pen. Thankfully, Bruce worked it out.

9 comments:

boyhowdy said...

Well, that sets the bar pretty high, doesn't it? Lucky we've got a mess o'talent here at Star Maker Machine!

I've heard Springsteen's early version of Thunder Road; looking forward to this take on it...and if you want some covers to go along with the post, let me know; I have several...

Paul said...

Boyhowdy, please post as many covers as you want. I'm actually working on another Tangled Up In Blue post for this week, so I think it would be interesting to hear different versions.

boyhowdy said...

You're on, Paul -- when I see your thunder road post, I'll see if I can pull out my favorite "totally rewritten" version and do a short afterpost.

I want to be careful. Covering isn't writing. But as you'll see later today, I think the relationship between covering songs, and writing songs, is not as dichotomous as most people think.

It's going to be really, really interesting to have posts tie together like this -- both in compliment, and thematically by blogger, after weeks of discrete one-song posts.

Paul said...

Sounds great. I'm probably not going to do my second Tangled Up In Blue Post, so throw the covers up there whenever your ready.

boyhowdy said...

I see I wasn't clear first time around, so point of clarification:

I have covers of Thunder Road, at least one of which is so restructured that I think it can arguably count as a "re-written" song. Looking forward to posting it, with a short write-up, as an afterthought to your own UPCOMING post.

Meanwhile, I have a solid Indigo Girls cover of Tangled Up In Blue, but I don't think it's a rewrite.

My apologies for the confusion. Verbosity has its price, and its name is clarity.

Paul said...

Is it the Tortoise and Bonnie Prince Billy version? I LOVE that one.

boyhowdy said...

You bet yer bippy, Paul! :-)

Heck, I only wrote one entry so far, but his theme is great fun already!

davesap said...

Great post. Can't wait to hear Thunder Road.

D. said...

An early incarnation of Thunder Road - Wings for Wheels - is available on a Main Point bootleg (soundboard / radio broadcast) from Feb. 1975.