We interrupt the summer break to bring you the first installation of a new column of Martha’s Version called “Music That Will Change Your Life“. The idea is simple: music, like books and war, changes lives. So why not write about it? This, I admit, is an old aspiration. Back when I first read Lester Bangs I decided I would be a rock critic; however, I wasn’t prepared for the job as I didn’t have enough chemical vices to fill out the application properly! And perhaps I didn’t even know how to write. But has that ever stopped anyone? Did that stop Bangs himself? The Ramones? You begin, then you begin to learn. So even if you grew up with some of this stuff, listen again with new ears. If not, enjoy! Here’s the first installment.
1. Blonde On Blonde—Bob Dylan
I arrived in New York City armed with a roll of twenties, my mother’s suitcase, and a portable tape player. I kissed mom goodbye, paid rent for a week (this was a hotel on the Bowery!) and went back upstairs to contemplate my life. I was barely twenty, freshly dropped out of artschool, and unemployed with few or no prospects. I remember throwing Blonde On Blonde into the tapedeck, lying back on my rented cot, and hearing the words that illustrated my predicament with what seemed an eerie truthfulness. The organ swerving through trickling guitars. That mercury sound. The nasal voice. “Well, the bricks lay on Grand Street…where the neon madmen climb.” I was two blocks from Grand Street! In the middle of the muddle of Dylan’s masterwork–this was why I had come after all! The Chinese fishmongers were still there, the street was indeed paved with bricks, everything shimmering in the bronze light of an early March sunset in Manhattan. Twenty-nine years after the album was cut. The first day of the rest of my life.
In time I must have memorized every word of this album, the most enchanting and eclectic of Dylan’s long career. It functioned like a treasure map of the city, as I followed its clues from point to point, navigating through the people and the places with unassailable curiosity, searching out the Dylanesque in every bookshop and bar. Years passed, and the traumas of life in the city brought me regularly back to Dylan’s couch in order “to find out what price/ you had to pay to get out of/ going through all these things twice.”
Marc Alan Coen, also in The Newyorkers section of this blog.