Episode 43. “Sara.” Desire. The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5: Rolling Thunder Revue. Bunker. Recorded January 18, 2018.
“Sara” was recorded on July 31, 1975. The last of those 5 takes is on Desire. It is one of two songs for Desire not co-written with Jacques Levy (“One More Cup of Coffee” being the other). This is a companion to 1974’s “Wedding Song” and Blood on the Tracks. Dylan would play “Sara” for Sara, from Ian Bell:
Jacques Levy would tell Larry Sloman that ‘Sara’ had been written at the house in East Hampton. In On the Road with Bob Dylan, ‘Ratso’ Sloman would describe the night of 31 July/1 August as a quiet session in which a good deal of time was spent listening to playbacks of previous recordings. Then, it seems, Dylan turned to his wife, said, ‘This is for you,’ and performed ‘Sara’. As noted, it was not done in the single take pop legend might have required. Nevertheless, the song was greeted by those present, in Sloman’s account, in the kind of silence generally described as ‘stunned’. The only important biographical detail is that Sara Dylan remained ‘impassive’.
Like a number of songs (and one unreliable memoir) which appear to be honest expressions but really play hard and fast with the facts, ‘Sara’ was Dylan’s way of creating a certain distance from reality for the sake of himself, first, and his audience, second.
When asked about “Sara” in 1978, Dylan said:
Well, some songs you figure you’re better off not to have written. There’s a few of them layin’ around.
Kelly dives into Sara Dylan. This podcast has taken the long view on subjects of Dylan’s life, but this seems inevitable. This is a primer for so much to come.
Song Itself (20:30)
Yet the song can’t be saved.
You could call ‘Sara’ one of the great love songs. You could also call it a piece of sentimentalised emotional blackmail. — Ian Bell
One cannot deny Scarlet’s violin, or the unique waltz atmosphere, but, then again, those denying don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t know Desire well enough. “Sara” is fodder for a prolonged discussion about Bob Dylan and women, in general. The mileage for each listener will vary: this is either Dylan at his most honest or most mendacious. Daniel pokes holes through anyone thinking this is Dylan being “honest,” so that leaves only the latter. At best, you’ll cry as you cringe out of your skin. At worst, you’ll think it couldn’t have gotten worse after “Joey” but you were wrong.
Coming from the pen of a man whose ‘personal life is so painful and fucked up he is afraid or unwilling to confront it in his art,’ it makes an awful kind of sense that Dylan was trying to retie the bond in song. Unfortunately for his personal well-being, that “enemy within” was just as anxious to unlace the selfsame straps. Are we expected to believe it mere coincidence that he chose to sandwich the five takes of “Sara” he recorded on the thirty-first between ‘Abandoned Love’ [featuring the closing lines: Won’t you descend from the throne, from where you sit? Let me feel your love one more time before I abandon it, which he’d play for her as well, with “Sara” in the setlist] and ‘Isis?’ Or did his other self know that, for all such protestations, he would not hold on to her very long? — Clinton Heylin
Mixed Up Confusion
In addition to enduring “Sara,” we also recorded a special Mixed Up to celebrate Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries who passed away this week. Kelly and Daniel listen to the entire Cranberries catalog and talk Dolores, the ’90s, and the evolution of the band.
Kelly spent the entire week with The Cranberries.
Daniel finished T.J. Stiles’ Pulitzer-winning Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. Daniel notes the epilogues choice notes for the present –
They now endure incessant cultural appropriation by a majority society in the United States that celebrates an idealized American Indian but ignores reservation life—the economic blight and marginalization of what are, in effect, national internment zones, exacerbated by federal inattention and mismanagement. In Indian country there are also thriving cultural traditions and creative genius, but these often receive little more recognition than the problems.
and the memory we all carry (emphasis mine) –
His sudden offstage ending left him suspended forever between east and west, past and future, to be mis-remembered as needed by each new generation.