Embodied Expression in Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks

Timothy Koozin, University of Houston

The songs of Bob Dylan offer a compelling opportunity to study embodied musical expression, particularly in songs that feature Dylan as a solo performer. Dylan's critically acclaimed album, Blood on the Tracks (1975), is comprised of songs all originally recorded with guitar in open-E tuning. Half of the ten songs were later arranged and re-recorded, but the original tracks with open-E guitar tuning are now available. This paper asserts the premise that all the songs on the album can be related to one basic guitar move: a fundamental gesture that is elaborated differently in each song. The analysis explores the songs of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks from the perspective of developing gestural variation, drawing from writings by Robert Hatten, David Lidov, and Eero Tarasti in order to explore how musical gestures contribute to embodied musical expression in the songs.

The use of open-E guitar tuning applies a constraint that narrows the field of choice for the songwriter-guitarist, indexing the harmonic and rhythmic content of the song more directly to the bodily connections between performer and instrument. Specific attributes in the corporeality of the guitar playing may project symbolic implications that support, amplify, or contradict attitudes of personae projected in Dylan's lyrics. Directed stepwise voice leading in the guitar provides a lyrical accompaniment to Dylan's more speech-like declamatory vocal. In this manner, the guitar "sings" so that Dylan is free to distance his vocal persona, as if to comment as an observer. This distancing enhances the musical and social space for developing narrative in Dylan's balladic mode of storytelling.