Song of the Day #980: ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ – Bob Dylan

I started the week with Sea Change, Beck’s haunting breakup album, and I’m ending it with the greatest breakup album of all-time.

Released in 1975, Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks is the high point of an unparalleled career (one I’ve explored exhaustively over nearly a year’s worth of Bob Dylan weekends).

On tracks such as ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ ‘You’re a Big Girl Now,’ ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ and ‘Idiot Wind,’ Dylan explored the disintegration of his marriage through raw poetry and aching performances. Even the lighter, more romantic, songs — ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’ — are run through with sadness.

Perhaps the most poignant song on this most poignant album is ‘Simple Twist of Fate.’ The verses sketch out several scenes between a man and woman whose relationship has fallen apart. Skipping around chronologically, Dylan doesn’t focus on the big moments, but on the little ones… a saxophone playing in the distance as the light hits the window in a certain way, the neon sign at an old hotel. Isn’t that how memory usually works?

I love that this story is told in the third person but occasionally lapses into first person, a trait it shares with other songs on Blood On the Tracks. “They walked along by the old canal,” Dylan sings, “a little confused, I remember well.” The confessional way he delivers that line always gets me.

The final verse is a killer. I love the line “I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring.” In a college creative writing class, I wrote a short story inspired by this song, touching on several small moments in the dissolution of a romance. I titled it I Lost the Ring, and the professor wrote something like “Needs a better title.” Jackass.

They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones
’Twas then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate

They walked along by the old canal
A little confused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel with a neon burnin’ bright
He felt the heat of the night hit him like a freight train
Moving with a simple twist of fate

A saxophone someplace far off played
As she was walkin’ by the arcade
As the light bust through a beat-up shade where he was wakin’ up,
She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate
And forgot about a simple twist of fate

He woke up, the room was bare
He didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care, pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate

He hears the ticking of the clocks
And walks along with a parrot that talks
Hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailors all come in
Maybe she’ll pick him out again, how long must he wait
Once more for a simple twist of fate

People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #980: ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    As I have said before, this is, hands down, my favorite Dylan album, and it would certainly be in the running for my top 20 albums of all time.

    By the way, on a humorous related note, check out Jimmy Fallon doing Dylan–after completely nailing Neil Young, he manages to do it again with Dylan:

    http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/blogs/2011/03/bob-dylan-sings-the-charles-in-charge-theme/

  2. Clay says:

    That’s hilarious. He’s very talented.

  3. Jeanne Miller says:

    I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. The best album ever! Graceland may be the only other contender.

  4. Amy says:

    Love your professor’s constructive criticism!

    One of the most powerful signals of a piece of art’s value is its ability to inspire other artists to want to build on it. When a song inspires another song or a film or a painting, when a painting inspires a novel, when a song inspires a short story… that original art work is clearly something special.

    (Of course, sometimes lesser works inspire parodies for that very reason, and the latter works wind up superior to the original, but that’s another blog entry comletely. Still, since I just saw someone’s “Bob Dylan” inspired version of “Friday,” the song/video currently gone viral, I figured I’d mention it)

    This song is pure perfection, and this album is one for the ages. Great choice.

  5. Amy says:

    Here’s the Friday video, in case you’re interested:

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