This is, as he references by the inclusion of the eponymous album in the shot, ‘another side of Bob Dylan’: another another side. Bob looks moodily and directly into Daniel Kramer’s lens. He is surrounded by cultural artefacts: albums by Lotte Lenya, The Impressions, Eric von Schmidt, Robert Johnston, Ravi Shankar; a copy of Time has Lyndon B Johnson on its cover; a fall-out shelter sign sits in the foreground. In front of the fireplace is Sally Grossman, a lady in red, sultry and siren-like but no less direct. Even the cat is staring straight at the camera.
It is difficult to convey the reaction this album cover provoked back in March 1965. No track listing. No pretty boy PR shot. The image is square, the surround white, the text in red and blue centred, the lens soft-edged to focus our attention on the iconography. I didn’t know it at the time – back then, I didn’t even know the word in this context – but this is a concept.
And then I carefully remove the black vinyl from its paper sleeve, and place it on the turntable. The stylus hisses. ‘Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine. I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government.”
“Look out kid, it’s somethin’ you did. God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again.”
I hadn’t seen anything like the cover before. I hadn’t heard anything like this music before. Critics were concerned that it was electric. For me, it was electrifying. It was speaking directly to me on track after track. I listen, I laugh, I admire. I adopt lines and repeat them. I sit silent in reverence.
And then I turn over the album.
Just four songs. But each of them remarkable. Not electric, but even more electrifying in their very particular vision of the loss of innocence. Tambourine Man (“Though I know that evening’s empire has vanished into sand”), Gates of Eden (“There are no truths outside the gates of Eden”), It’s Alright Ma (“So don’t fear, if you hear, a foreign sound to your ear”) and then, finally, the infinitely beautiful It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (“Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you’”.
This is personal. And this is political. This is about Bob moving on. This is about me.
These epiphanic 45 minutes or so took place 50 years ago. Bringing It All Back Home is half a century old on the 22nd of March. Listening to it again has brought it all home.