Monday, June 10, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Bob Dylan's "Desire": Gypsies, God, a Volcano, and a Divorce

by Garrett Sawyer

Cover of "Desire"
Cover of Desire
Bob Dylan's "Desire" had songs that wandered all over the map. What follows is just a sample of the wide variety of topics Dylan tackled in just one album.

It's still amazing to think that most of this album was recorded in a single tequila-ridden session in a New York studio.

One More Cup of Coffee

Dylan never seemed to run out of ways to write about his disintegrating marriage to Sara Lowndes. It could be argued that this was another.

In this song, a duet with Emmylou Harris which was written at a corner table in the Greenwich Village Other End nightclub in the summer of 1975, the singer is having a transient relationship with a girl from a family of gypsies.

He finds her intoxicating ("Your breath is sweet. Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky") but she does not return his affection because, it appears, she doesn't give her allegiance to any man.

He's about to leave her to "go to the valley below" (wherever that is) and they're pausing before he leaves, (ergo, the titled "cup of coffee"). He finds her desirable but incomprehensible ("... your heart is like an ocean, mysterious and dark").

Dylan seems to have an unusual talent for idolizing a woman in one line then criticizing her, sometimes sarcastically, in the next.

Oh Sister

How do you use God to court a girl? Dylan shows you how. Invoke the Big Man's name in your cause, implying that He would disapprove if she rejects you.

Heck, suggest that it might even be dangerous for her to cause you sorrow if He's watching. This never worked for me. Guys, I wish you better luck.

Romance in Durango

This lazy, laid back, South-of-the-border ballad is tantalizing but a bit ambiguous. He and his young lover are on the run in Mexico because he killed a man.

He doesn't explain why or what the circumstances are but he's matter of fact about the whole thing ("... what's done is done"). He's optimistic about his chances of escape and is vividly imagining how, once they've escaped, there will be drinking and celebration.

He intends to marry her in the local church. But at the last minute he's shot. He implores his love to take his gun, aim and fire where the bullet appears to have come from. Dylan leaves it up in the air whether he lives or dies, or what her fate is.

Black Diamond Bay

This song is definitely coming in from left field. A cast of colorful characters are going about their business at a tiny Island resort while, unbeknownst to them, a nearby volcano is about to blow its top.

Futility is everywhere. The casino is running full blast as one fellow with terrible luck finally wins it big but he doesn't realize that soon there'll be no place to spend his spectacular winnings.

A foreigner is busy composing his suicide note preparing to hang himself in dramatic fashion even though the volcano will soon obviate his efforts. A soldier proposes to a lovely lady just before lava insures that neither will ever have a life, together or separately.

And as a dull finale to it all the narrator (Dylan in a state of ennui, perhaps?) in the final verse watches news coverage of the complete and total destruction.

Is he affected by all this catastrophic loss of life? No. He simply turns the TV off, dismisses the story as insignificant, helps himself to a beer and laments that he was never going to go that particular Island anyway.


Dylan had written many oblique songs about his failed marriage to Sara Lowndes. This time, for once, he addresses her directly and candidly. She was even in the studio as he recorded it.

In the song he praises her as he loses her, finally pleading with her not to go. Simple, direct, straightforward and heart-wrenching. She filed for divorce a year later in March, 1977.

Bob Dylan wouldn't make another album like "Desire" for years to come. Rolling Stone would eventually rank it #174 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

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