The Story Behind the Album Cover: Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde”

I have been enjoying listening to the new Bob Dylan release, The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol.12 (2015). The new package in the Bootleg series — which is available as a 2-CD, 6-CD, or 18-CD set — features outtakes, rehearsal tracks, and alternate versions of songs from the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde On Blonde (1966). So, while thinking about those classic albums, it is a good time to revisit the album cover for Blonde on Blonde.

In this video, Bob Egan from PopSpots interviews Jerry Schatzberg, the photographer who took the classic photo of Dylan that appeared on the cover of Blonde on Blonde. Together, the two men travel the streets of New York City to tell the story of how the album cover photo came to be. Check it out.

You may check out a similar video about the story behind the photograph on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Story Behind the Album Cover: Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”

    In advance of the release of Bob Dylan’s The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, rock scholar Bob Egan of PopSpots has been telling the stories behind the covers of the Bob Dylan albums of that mid-1960s era. In the latest mini-documentary, Egan explains how the cover of Highway 61 Revisited (1965) came to be.

    In the video below, Egan walks the path taken by Dylan and photographer Daniel Kramer before they ended up outside an apartment owned by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. Egan also explains how Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth ended up standing behind Dylan in the photo. For the most part, it seems, there was little planning that went into the iconic album cover photo. Check out the story behind the cover of Highway 61 Revisited.

    The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 will be released on November 6, 2015 in three different versions. The new album focuses on the period when Dylan first went electric, featuring outtakes from the albums Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966).

    What is your favorite Bob Dylan album cover? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Bob Dylan and the Fine Line Between Love and Hate

    The two Bob Dylan songs below, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and “Idiot Wind,” show a drastic range of human emotions.  Like several of Dylan’s songs, these two were inspired by his first wife, Sara Lownds, who is also the mother of Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers.  The songs reflect the vast divide between being in love and being angry at one you once loved.

    The first is “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” released as the final song on Blonde on Blonde in 1966, early in his 1965-1977 marriage to Lownds.  (“Lowlands”/Lownds, get it?)  The song is used to great effect in the recent movie “about” Bob Dylan, I’m Not There.  Although the lyrics are not a clear narrative, the poetry and the music convey pure affection:  “With your silhouette when the sunlight dims / Into your eyes where the moonlight swims  / And your match-book songs and your gypsy hymns.”

    The second song, is “Idiot Wind,” written almost a decade later in 1974 and released on Blood on the Tracks as the Dylan-Lownds relationship was crumbling.  The performance below from the 1976 Rolling Thunder Tour is amazing for its intensity and venom.  It’s Bob Dylan punk.  To his surprise, Sara showed up at the concert, and he is performing it for her.  You can see what he is feeling.  This blog post title’s reference to “hate” is not really accurate, as I should describe it more as pain and anguish covered to seem like anger.  But one may only guess her feelings hearing this song.

    Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
    From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
    Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
    You’re an idiot, babe.
    It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

    There is some debate about how much of the song is really about Lownds and how much is about other things going on in Dylan’s life at the time.  Dylan being Dylan, he leaves it ambiguous, as it is for the artist to let the listeners hear for themselves.  One of the brilliant touches is the final chorus where the angry finger-pointing evolves into a more understanding and humble “we’re idiots, babe. . . .”    That line sounds more convincing in a slower and sadder version of the song he initially recorded for Blood on the Tracks before rerecording the song and replacing it with the angrier version that ended up on the album.  That alternate version is worth seeking out.  It is available on the first official “Bootleg” series  his record label released in 1991, and it is also available on various unofficial bootlegs of the New York City Sessions version of Blood on the Tracks.

    Below is the angry live performance during the Rolling Thunder Tour with Lownds in the audience.  The performance, which is also available on the Hard Rain live album, is worth seeking out. If you’ve ever been angry at someone, put it on full screen and crank it up loud.

    Bonus: The alternate slower and sadder version of “Idiot Wind” from the New York Sessions may be heard here.

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