Desire is my favorite Bob Dylan album. Why? The stories. The high drama. The wildly inaccurate tales of actual people like Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Joey Gallo. The legend of Dylan's time with a gypsy tribe in Spain. The myth of Isis. Bob and Sara on the beach with their kids. The Greek and the natural disaster on Black Diamond Bay. All these stories and the characters are beautiful and full like a Megan Bell painting and yet they leave plenty of space so they go on and on in your imagination after the music fades.
Why? The players. Rockin' Rob Stoner and his dancing bass. Emmylou Harris, who felt like she was not keeping up and broke down in tears and must not have noticed the powerful spell she was casting over the whole thing, especially Joey. Scarlet Rivera, whose violin and Bob's harmonica should be a train wreck on paper but merge and wail like a mystical spirit on tape.
Why? Because like so many other Bob albums, the recording method shouldn't have worked but it does. Too many players on too few tracks resulting in an erratic mix, confusion, discord, legal issues over the lyrics about actual people, and as always no rehearsal, chord sheets, or lyric sheets for the players. Just follow Bob. Watch his hands. Listen hard. It shouldn't work, but the performances are magnificent, spontaneous expressions of joy and sorrow.
Why? The collaboration. As a devoted fan who wants Bob to be well and happy, who believes that after all he's given us that he deserves to be well and happy, I like that he wrote a bunch of these songs with someone. Jacques Levy, a playwright, contributes to the cinematic quality of the best songs on the album. I imagine them having fun, late nights writing and creating together and I'm glad for Bob.
Why is Desire my favorite Bob Dylan album? Because all those things occurred to me when I was asked the question. I could just have easily said Time Out Of Mind and how it seemed eerily to speak directly to me the first time I heard it in September of 1997. I could have said Highway 61 Revisited and the way I involuntarily barked laughter, disturbing the peace and quiet of the St. Olaf music library, the first time I heard Jesus say, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken!" I could have said Blood On The Tracks, of course. And who knows what will happen this afternoon, when I listen to Tempest for the first time? I could go on, honestly and sincerely, for at least this length about any and all of them. So yes, Desire is my favorite Bob Dylan album. But ask me again in five minutes.