Before iTunes was around I had an idea to compile a CD of different versions of Bob Dylan's Tangled up in Blue, arguably my favourite song ever. It would start with the original album version from Blood on the Tracks then include alternate versions from other Dylan albums, ie outtake and live versions (the Bootleg Series and Real Live), then unreleased bootleg versions, all containing lyrical and musical variations. Tangled up in Blues would be the first in a series of albums taking one song and including all its different versions. Of course (and I think I'm like this with everything – if I want something for long enough, by the time I get around to actually getting it, I don't actually want it any more), iTunes was invented, I could easily burn the album but figured, well, it's easy to do now, I can do it anytime, so of course I never did it and never will. If I do ever do it, I would have to include lyric changes from last year's live performances, the most significant variations in the song since 1984.
Well, she lit a burner on the stove
And brushed away the dust
Well, she looked at me, and she said to me
“You look like somebody I can trust."
Then she opened up a book of poems
And she said, "Just so you'll know,
Memorise every one of these lines
And you can use it when you're walkin' to and fro."
And every one of them words rang true
Glowed like burnin’ coal
And pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue.
Now I’m goin’ back again
I've got to get to them somehow
All the people that we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Well, some went up the mountain
And some of 'em went down to the ground
Some of the names are written in flames
And some of them they just left town
But me, I’m still on the road
And I'm tryin' to stay out of the joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point, point of view
Tangled up in blue
(New lyrics in bold)
If I wanted to take it a step further, I could go the John Oswald way. In the 1980s Oswald coined the term Plunderphonics. As its name suggests, Oswald took pre-existing sounds to make his own music, in the style of William Burroughs' cut-up technique. His Grayfolded album uses over a hundred different performances by the Grateful Dead of their song Dark Star between 1968 and 1993.
I could do a similar trick with Tangled up in Blue, each line – or even word, a different performance from a different show, with forty years of live versions to sift through. After all, the song was always meant to be told from different points of view.
I had a similar notion with film, too. I was going to take one actor – I chose Robert de Niro – and try to make a narrative film using clips from all his films. I forgot this idea for years but watching The Clock (2010) by Christian Marclay got me inspired again. 24 hours long, this 'staggering artistic montage' consists of thousands of clips from films and TV illustrating the concept of time. So it could be a shot of a clock (usually Big Ben), someone looking at their watch, someone saying the time, or the sun going down, sundials, Peter Fonda throwing his watch away in Easy Rider... But the amazing thing about the film is it all takes place in real time, so the time of the clip in the film is the actual time in real life.
Again, the technology finally caught up with me (when I first thought of it I would have had to use two VCRs plugged together), but now I don't have the time or inclination.