Tuesday, May 05, 2009

An Anniversary: Bob Dylan and Isis

"I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
Bob Dylan

When I first started listening to FM radio, in 1975, when I was a freshman in high school, a world of music opened up to me. I'd heard songs on AM radio since I was a baby, and had grown to love the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan through their hits. With FM, I discovered there was a hidden side of all of these artists-- great songs that never got played on AM-- the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps;" the Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil;" and later, in early 1976, Bob Dylan's "Isis."

"Isis" was on 1976's "Desire" album. Like its predecessor, "Blood On the Tracks," a lot of the material was about the breakup of his marriage. Indeed, "Desire" ends with a heart-breaking song called "Sara," in which he recounts "Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands'" for her.

There was also his return to protest after over a decade away, with "Hurricane." He wrote a number of story-songs, many with songwriter/theater director Jacques Levy. Among them were "Black Diamond Bay" and of course, "Isis."

Isis became one of my favorite songs. When I started taking piano lessons, I got myself a couple of Dylan songbooks, and "Isis" was one of the songs I wanted to learn.

A few years later, WXRT, the local "prog-rock" station began playing a live version of the song, from a promotional ep (extended play, for you youngsters out there) of songs culled from the "Rolling Thunder Revue." The Revue was part concert series and part burlesque show. He was joined by a number of others, including his ex-girlfriend Joan Baez, Byrds alumnus Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Kinky Friedman, T-Bone Burnette and others. At the beginning of the cut, he explains what the song is about: "This is a song about marriage. It's called Isis." I began to like this version as much as the much slower and cleaner studio version. I always searched the cut-out bins of records stores hoping to find a copy of the promotional ep that it was on, to no avail. Then, in 1985, Dylan released the great "Biograph" box set, and included the version that had appeared on the promotional ep on it.

I think that the vid is from "Hard Rain," a poorly-received 1976 television special that documented the "Rolling Thunder" tour. The performances were spotty, but this one was right on the mark. The violin player is Scarlett Rivera, who performed on the Desire album.


SkylersDad said...

I always wonder if he was coming up in the music business today, would he even get a look? Everything is so packaged these days.

Churlita said...

I've never been a huge Dylan fan, but my daughter loves him. The first concert she ever went to when she was 11 was his. My mom liked him too. Maybe it skips a generation.

Erik Donald France said...

Touche! "Isis" is one of the coolest songs. Yeah-man!