This was the last Dylan album I bought on vinyl. I remember at the time there was a buzz around it before it was released. Odd rumours about how Dylan had almost died of a heart condition and that the record was his response to his growing sense of mortality. Greil Marcus wrote a glowing piece of criticism before it was released. I was sitting at a computer terminal in the Chifley Library at the Australian National University when I read this article. My jaw sort of dropped. I thought gee, this is great news. I actually think that part of the marketing success of Time Out of Mind was that people were just getting to grips with the internet. Stories and information were easier to spread, the grapevine had just become digital and had spread its tendrils everywhere. Everyone who was into Bob wanted to hear this record. I printed out the Griel Marcus piece and mailed it through the regular post to a friend of mine in Sydney (as I said, people were just starting to get to grips with digital communication).
When it came out I bought a copy from Impact Records. For years Impact Records was the best record shop in Canberra. They were a little pricey, especially if you were buying imports, but they had a lot of stuff and they were the only store in Canberra with LPs. Everywhere else only had CDs by that time. My copy was reduced in price as the cover had been slightly damaged during transport. There were a few thin, deep scratches on the front. It was a double album. On one of the inner sleeves there’s a great black and white photo of Dylan in a bar. This photo isn’t in the CD copies.
Side One opens with Love Sick, a minor key blues that is Leonard Cohenesque though the production (by Daniel Lanois) is much better than on any Leonard Cohen album. It’s got a dark, brooding loneliness to it that is compelling. As soon as I heard that first song with Dylan’s flanged, echoed vocals and Jim Dickinson’s stately paced and spooky organ I knew the rest of the album would be great. I wasn’t dissappointed. In many ways Time Out of Mind is like a 1990s continuation of Blonde on Blonde. It’s a work that feels like echoes and images richocheting around the inside of a perpetually insomniac skull. “My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired and the clouds are weeping.” This is a record steeped in the blues but it also anticipates 21st century sensibilities. I like that there’s the sound of the room that the musicians played in, there’s space in the playing and there’s good use of microphone spill. There’s life in these recordings. It’s like the music and recording techniques from the 1950s just kept developing without being totally derailed by the sensibilities of 1970s and 80s. Time Out of Mind really helped propel that old/new sound that a lot of bands are into these days, that sonic warmth that comes from working with old equipment and utilizing old techniques (most importantly actually playing live in the studio, or doing most of the instruments live). It’s a good thing that it’s helped influence this trend.
This double album was on high rotation in my house for the first couple of weeks that I had it. I’ve listened to this a lot over the years. I never tire of it and every listen feels like I’m digging deeper and deeper into that sound. Time out of Mind doesn’t age. It almost sits outside of time.
In 1998 I got to see Dylan live with his band. Me and my girlfriend bought tickets to a show at the newly opened Wollongong Entertainment Centre because I figured that it would be easier to get better seats there than Sydney (all the seats in all the venues were the same price so it was first in first served and I didn’t think many people would travel to Wollongong to see the show but a lot would travel to Sydney.) My hunch worked, we got third row seats. Patti Smith was the opening act. She only played a short 45 minute set but she was incredible. Dylan played for ages, encore after encore. His grey Beatles style jacket was soaked in sweat. He was in fine form and so was the band. I loved that they did so many songs from this record and I loved that they did so many of his older songs differently to what they were like on the records. I heard a couple in front of me complaining that he wasn’t playing his hits. He was, every second song at least. They just weren’t recognizing them which was amusing. Dylan only spoke to the audience once. “This is my first show in years, I’ve just gotten out of rehab.” A joke. The same couple in front of me thought he was serious “Did you just hear that? This is his first show in years.” They hadn’t heard of the Never Ending Tour he was on I guess. Actor Jack Thompson was in the audience, he was standing right at the edge of the stage watching and singing along. He knew all the words including the words for folk songs that Dylan hadn’t recorded like Roving Gambler. I loved hearing Hattie Carroll live. It was good seeing Jack singing along. I walked up to Jack and said hello and I said that I loved his work or something stupid like that. I do love his work but why walk up to him during a show and tell him that? I went back to my seat. I’d smuggled a camera into the venue (this was back in the days when no one had mobile phones and those that did didn’t have cameras on them so it was still possible for security to control camera use). The camera I brought was a small, el cheapo instamatic, I didn’t want to take chances with a bigger, more obvious SLR. I’d covered any shiny bits with black tape so that it wouldn’t be easy to spot by security. The guy sitting next to me had his camera confiscated during the show. I was lucky I guess. I got several good shots. (Later on when I developed the negaties in the darkroom I push processed them since I guessed that they would probably be underexposed as the instamatic only took photos at a 125th of a second. The photos were as grainy as hell.)
After the show was over and people were leaving I walked up to Jack Thompson again and I apologized for interupting him during the show. “It’s alright mate” he said. He was a little drunk. I spoke to his brother a bit and then me and my girlfriend said our goodbyes and went back to her sister’s house where we were staying for the night.
Great record, great gig, great memories.