So this is the album where Bob Dylan mentions Ashtabula.  Yup, in the song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, Dylan sings “I’ll look for you in old Honolulu, San Francisco, Ashtabula”.  Is he referring to Ashtabula, Ohio, the largest city in Ashtabula County, the northeastern-most county in Ohio in which your humble narrator spent his first 18 formative years?  Well, according to Wikipedia (the greatest resource on the planet for trivial knowledge), Ashtablua can also refer to a township in North Dakota (with an accompanying Lake Ashtablula), a plantation house in Pendleton, South Carolina, and a genus of jumping spiders.  But since Bobby D is referencing two other cities (granted they are much larger cities: Honolulu, population 374,658; San Francisco, population 812,826; Ashtabula, population 19,096 and dropping), I am pretty sure he is actually singing about the town just 9 miles from where I grew up.

You see, Ashtabula (which means “river of many fish” in Iroquois) wasn’t always a hell-hole.  I actually have very fond memories of Ashtabula from when I was a kid.  The downtown area was an old fashioned shopping area with a five story department store named Carlisle’s, a Sears that had a playable demo Telegames system (basically, an Atari 2600 with a Sears logo on it), and several other cool shops and restaurants.  There was a beautiful old hotel, aptly named the Hotel Ashtabula, where mi madre used to take us for Thanksgiving dinner.  At Christmas time, the whole strip of shops was lit up like something out of “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  In the summer, there was a city park across the street from the library.  I remember getting Hardy Boys novels from that library and reading them in the park next to the fountain.  I got my first saxophone when I was in the fifth grade from the music store next to Carlisle’s and I learned how to play the notes G, A, and B while sitting in that park.  As I got older, there was a cool record store there called Jerry’s Records and Tapes that would special order anything you wanted (yes, that is where Black Cloud and I special ordered our copies of The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack).  Later its named changed to Slappy’s, and sadly it just closed recently.

I don’t mean to ramble on about Ashtablula.  I just have so many memories of the place.  It used to be a great city, but the harsh economic times (not just the Great Recession…the economy has been bad in northeast Ohio for about 20 years, maybe longer) have turned the downtown area into a ghost town.  Ashtabula Harbor seems to be doing okay though.  At least there are still some businesses down on Bridge Street near the famous lift bridge, and there are two beautiful parks down there, Lake Shore Park and Walnut Beach, that have been well maintained.  I still like to go to Lake Shore Park every so often and feed the ducks (although the geese seem to have taken over recently).  Hopefully the economy will turn back around and Ashtabula will bounce back along with the rest of northeast Ohio, but well, I’ve got a feeling the area is going to continue to struggle for awhile.

So I guess I better talk about this album a little bit.  It’s good.  Real good.  Bobby’s lyrics seem to be very personal on this record, mostly talking about failed relationships instead of his usual political rhetoric.  Many of the songs are heartbreaking (“If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Simple Twist of Fate”) while others are embracing the good things before the inevitable break-up (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Shelter from the Storm”).  “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is a great narrative, while “Idiot Wind” is one of his most scathing insult songs.  I picked this up at Used Kids Records for $3 back in June…a great deal for great music (I just wish the case wasn’t cracked).

Other lists: “Tangled Up in Blue” is #68 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

My favorite track: “Simple Twist of Fate”

Honorable mention: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” (However, I would have preferred an Oxford comma in the title)

Quote: “People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act.  Their minds are filled with big ideas, images, and distorted facts.”

 

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