Dylan has often stated that this song took
ten years to live and two years to write
Rolling Stone ranked “Tangled Up in Blue” as #68 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The Telegraph (a UK newspaper since 1855) has described the song as
The most dazzling lyric ever written, an abstract narrative of relationships told in an amorphous blend of first and third person, rolling past, present and future together, spilling out in tripping cadences and audacious internal rhymes, ripe with sharply turned images and observations and filled with a painfully desperate longing.
“Tangled Up in Blue” is one of five songs on the “Blood on the Tracks” album that Dylan initially recorded in New York City in September 1974 and then re-recorded in Minneapolis in December that year; the later recording became the album track and single.
According to novelist Ron Rosenbaum, Bob Dylan once told him that he’d written “Tangled up in Blue”, after spending a weekend immersed in Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue. “Tangled Up in Blue” is one of the clearest examples of Dylan’s attempts to write “multi-dimensional” songs which defied a fixed notion of time and space. Dylan was influenced by his recent study of painting and the Cubist school of artists, who sought to incorporate multiple perspectives within a single plane of view. As Neil McCormick (a British music journalist, author and broadcaster) remarked in 2003:
A truly extraordinary epic of the personal, an unreliable narrative carved out of shifting memories like a five-and-a-half-minute musical Proust.
In a 1978 interview Dylan explained this style of songwriting:
What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening.
The lyrics are at times opaque, but the song seems to be (like most of the songs on the album) the tale of a love that has, for the time being, ended, although not by choice; the last verse begins:
So now I’m goin’ back again,
I got to get to her somehow…
We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point of view,
Tangled up in blue.
Dylan continually re-worked the lyrics even after the album was released; the version on his live album Real Live (and throughout the ’84 Europe tour) has radically different lyrics. In the first studio version (NYC sessions, September ’74) and often in live performances he has sung some of the verses from a third-person perspective (usually “he was laying in bed,” but sometimes even “she was laying in bed”), as opposed to the first-person point of view in the Blood on the Tracks version, and would mix the two. Dylan has said that the version recorded on the 1984 Real Live album is the best.