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  • Writer's pictureFern

Blood on the Tracks

On a Saturday morning, in the Summer of 1992, I walked down Tinker Street to the Woodstock Library to check out the Book Sale in the barn. I’d moved to Woodstock a few weeks before and heard the buzz about it. Heading around behind the library, I spotted the whitewashed structure, dignified from age and appreciation. It looked like it had sat there for many moons, as indeed it had. Inside, the air was musty with the smell of old paper and accumulated years of mice running freely in the wintertime when it was closed to the public. The mud floor beneath my feet was hard and solid. The space was dank and cool despite the steamy July air outside. Browsers wore long sleeves, some wore sweaters.

But they weren’t browsers, they were serious book choosers, enjoying their hunt, armed with canvas bags for when they made their choices. Men and women advanced sideways slowly, along two facing rows of several tables loaded with hundreds of books. Concentration was evident in their faces and in the reverent way they approached the pick-up and short perusal of each book that caught their interest. There was an almost palpable, bibliophilic scent in the air. There was little conversation, except for the volunteers seated by the door to collect the money. I became an instant Library Book Sale junkie.

"...On Library Lane, facing Tinker Street, in a house whose oldest rooms may have been built as early as 1775, the house that is now the Woodstock Library, had been originally purchased by Victor Lasher’s grandmother, and prior to the "Club’s" occupancy, it was used as a doctor’s office and then an apartment for summer tenants who could do without running water and indoor plumbing. Within the year, the "Club" received a gift of $5000 to purchase the land from Victor Lasher and the Woodstock Club officially deeded the property to the Woodstock Library for $1.00. This has been the Library’s home ever since.

My attention was captured by the activity to the left of the tables, where some older gentlemen stood immersed in flipping carefully through several bulging boxes of ‘vinyl’ record albums, piled on and under one long table. I saw them extracting paper jacketed copies of old jazz and blues and classical albums. Some muttered, some exclaimed softly, at times shifting politely, or was it a little begrudgingly, to make space for each other. They collected their finds in large brown paper bags. Since they commanded the area, I crossed over to browse the books, most marked $1.00. Hard not to bag a bundle of books at that price.

When I saw the early bird gents filtering out with their scores, I drifted over to the boxes of vinyl albums. I was thrilled to find Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album, produced in 1975, when my world consisted of toddlers, Sesame Street, and Mr. Rogers. My music collection had been limited, dictated by lack of money and little time to devote to collecting. I picked up other gems in the barn that morning, some specifically for the shop that I had opened, selling vintage clothes and gee gaws: Bessie Smith, Edith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, and other thirties style female singers, as well as some outrageous crazy stuff, like dance hall polkas and a few subdued classics.

But it was Dylan that I returned to, again and again. Blood on the Tracks remains my favorite Dylan album. A visiting friend claimed that “Idiot Wind” later haunted her in her dreams. Today, almost thirty years later, that CD is the first one I put in the mix when I am downstairs painting.

I hold a very special memory of my introduction to the Woodstock Library Book Sale in the barn. In recent months, I, like others, have not been able to browse and find treasures, have missed that camaraderie felt among other enthused book finders. The pandemic has put the kibosh on all things communal, and we hopefully wait for next year.

End note: The New Yorker, Nov 2018 Alex Ross

“In September 1974, Bob Dylan spent four days in the old Studio A, his favorite recording haunt in Manhattan, and emerged with the greatest, darkest album of his career. It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Yet the record in question—“Blood on the Tracks”—has never officially seen the light of day.”

The Columbia label released an album with that title in January, 1975, but Dylan had reworked five of the songs in last-minute sessions in Minnesota, resulting in a substantial change of tone. Mournfulness and wistfulness gave way to a feisty, festive air. According to Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, the authors of the book “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ ” from 2004, Dylan feared a commercial failure. The revised “Blood” sold extremely well, reaching the top of the Billboard album chart, and it ended talk of Dylan’s creative decline. It was not, however, the masterwork of melancholy that he created in Studio A.

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