Death, where are your terrors now?
With the album "Time out of Mind" in 1997, Bob Dylan overcame a serious life and creative crisis.
The music shimmered like the air over malaria swamps, Adele and the White Stripes covered the songs.
Now the masterpiece is newly illuminated.
Is Bob Dylan still alive?
That question sounded far more disrespectful in 1997 than it does today.
Dylan may be approaching 82 today, but everyone knows that if the legend died, you would know.
A media earthquake would rumble across the globe.
If one had asked about the earthly whereabouts of the songwriter in 1997, one would have shrugged one's shoulders very often: The old Holzmichl?
Ask me something easier... Dylan was passé.
"Time out of Mind" changed everything.
The album tore the eyes and ears of the unprepared audience and suddenly put the then 56-year-old from the siding onto the path to the celebrated late work.
Songs that are based in the blues and yet shimmer strangely.
With texts that sound like the therapy protocol of someone tired of life, but give comfort.
The brainstorm out of the blue won three Grammys, was voted album of the year everywhere, and stands as a monolith even in Dylan's glorious discography.
An expanded new edition as part of the “Bootleg Series” now sheds light on the creation of the work with which the half-forgotten man pulled himself out of the swamp.
It's called "Fragments", which shows quite well how much the musician's life lay in pieces.
Dylan had already been awarded the Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1991 - it was practically put in the coffin
In fact, Dylan almost died back then.
Pericarditis, it was pointed to the button.
"I really thought I was going to see Elvis soon," his record label quoted him as saying.
But it wasn't just that. He hadn't recorded any new songs of his own for seven years, after the eighties had been catastrophic.
"Everything was shattered," he recalls in his autobiography, Chronicles.
"My own songs had become strange to me." Crisis of meaning, career break.
To make matters worse, he was also awarded the Grammy for his life's work in 1991, and at the age of not even 50 he was already laid in the coffin, so to speak.
Then, in 1995, his old friend and confidante, Grateful Dead boss Jerry Garcia, died.
Dylan was done.
And because it couldn't be any other way in this life peppered with volts and myths, Dylan pretends to have seen the burning bush in his deepest depression.
A verse from the Gospel of John stuck in his head: “We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day;
the night is coming when no one can do anything.” And Dylan went to work.
He wrote lyrics and sent them to Daniel Lanois, with whom he had previously worked successfully and who was known as the producer of U2, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno.
The songs flicker like the air over malaria swamps
The beautifully illustrated essay for "Fragments" quotes Lanois, who was dumbstruck: "I hadn't heard a single note or melody, but I was blown away.
The words were hard, deep, desperate, strong, and sounded like someone who'd lived a number of lives, and I think Bob has."
Lanois' contribution to "Time out of Mind" should not be underestimated.
While Dylan's new songs mostly followed the blues scheme, the Canadian covered them with reverb, layering effects on vocals and instruments.
Dylan now sounded as if he sparked from a realm between the living and the dead, and at the same time the sound flickered like the air over malaria swamps.
The songs are not stingy with lovely melodies, but "Not dark yet" leaves no questions unanswered: "I was born here and will die here, against my will.
Although I seem to be moving, I stand still.
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb.
It's not dark yet – but it will be soon.” Dylan trudges through these songs with no hope of salvation – the merits of the past aren't worth a damn anymore.
In the epic "Highlands" the narrator observes young people on the street.
He would swap his life for hers, "right now, if I could."
Of course, at some point the musician bickered with the producer.
Lanois wanted Dylan to make a hit, but he wasn't comfortable with modern studio tricks.
They fell out completely over the song "Mississippi", Dylan only released it on his next album.
Since then he has never hired a producer again.
In addition to alternative versions of individual songs, the new edition also offers a completely new, simpler mix of the album.
A re-appropriation worth listening to, but one that doesn't diminish the value of the original.
"Dylan is alive" was the headline of "Newsweek" - the "But for how long?" you had to think about it
"Time Out of Mind" was not only immediately recognized as a masterpiece, but also (mis)interpreted as the famous last words from the deathbed in light of Dylan's near-passing.
"Dylan is alive," headlined Newsweek.
You had to think about the “But for how long?”.
In the interview, the artist replied: Yes, maybe the album is about mortality - but not only about his own.
"It's the one thing we all have in common."
So it's no wonder that the radiance of the album is unbroken.
Artists ranging from the White Stripes ("Love Sick") to Adele ("Make You Feel My Love") covered the songs.
From now on, younger generations did not perceive Dylan as a relic, but as a relevant contemporary artist.
For him, "Time out of Mind" went from mortality to immortality.
A work of survival and a milestone at the beginning of his last creative period.
Who teaches: Dylan lives.
And if you write it off, it's your own fault.
Bob Dylan, Fragments - Time out of Mind Sessions 1996-1997: The Bootleg Series Vol.17 (Columbia).