Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home Part 2

Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

Okay, one more post on this monumental documentary/CD, as it's either this or Brangelina. I caught the second two-hour episode of No Direction Home Tuesday night, and wanted to give some thoughts. First off, Part 2 would seem a better option for the casual Bob Dylan fan, jumping into his story at the start of the 1960s. Director Martin Scorcese focuses on his music and life until about 1966, with concert footage, interviews, and clips from other documentaries from the time. No stories about his childhood and upbringing, more footage of the man himself as opposed to talking heads discussing him.

Man, the footage. Scorcese has come up with some wonderful scenes of the man live, including his infamous performances at Newport in 1965 and London in 1966. I think that the clips reminded me of what a powerful performer he was, able to captivate any audience, inspire them to tears or anger or whatever. Okay, okay, the main thing I took from the movie was an even worse case of adulation for the man, the myth, the legend. It's funny, because the main thing one takes from Dylan's words during the movie is his discomfort with the fan's obsession. He loathes the mindlessness that fandom encourages, and I agree completely.

And yet. I don't know, seeing Dylan walking around in shades, singing on stage, and being a total dick to idiotic interviewers is just cool to me. For real, the bol hung out with Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles, everyone and anyone from that era. Hearing "Visions of Johanna" brought me to tears, as it is a song that strikes me like little else ever has. Seeing him on stage, booed and heckled by his "fans," made me love him even more, as did his response: telling his band to "Play it fucking loud!" He's just cool, the embodiment to me, and it makes me feel pathetic and lame.

As for the documentary itself, it was an incredible letdown. First and foremost, it amazed that the film literally ends in 1966, with nothing about the next 40 years of the man's life or art. I mean, nothing on Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks. His addiction years, his return to glory over the past 10 years. Nothing, not a word.

The entire documentray betrayed Scorcese's bias, as it focused most of the second episode on the early 60's period, you know the one, the young Greenwich Village folkie, "Blowin' In The Wind", singing at the Washington Mall at the Civil Rights protests. For the love of G-d, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary "fame" is the most quoted person during the entire hour and a half. I think that No Direction Home is the greatest example yet of this syndrome, the inability of Dylan's early fans to see him as anything other than a protest singer. I must point out David Greenberg's article in Slate, "The 60's Trap: Why critics ignore the rest of Dylan's career". David Greenberg argues that this movie is but another product of this country's 60's fetish, a result of the power and numbers of the baby boomer generation.

Guess what people? He didn't stay a 20 year old singer, and he didn't sing the same series of folk solks, the same Woody Guthrie covers. Why? Because he was an artist, unafraid to experiment, to move on, to disappoint, to fail. There was a quote in the movie, which went something like "Dylan was one of the few artists whose fans came to the music, his music didn't have to come to them." That sums it up pretty well, and it is a shame that Scorcese didn't listen more closely to what was being said. Instead, we get a myopic, incomplete failure, a work unable to comprehend or deal with its complex, difficult subject.

Here are a few more tracks from Volume 7 of the Bootleg Series, both of these from the second disc. It's a strange disc, in all honesty, containing mainly outtakes from Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. There are a few live performances, but nothing that has been unheard or a cover or anything shocking. Looking at the tracklist to these two discs, I should have been better prepared for Scorcese's uninspiring, unremarkable movie. He was not willing to go beyond his preconceived notions or established taste to explore the man and music. A shame, as what could have been! I mean, a documentary by the director of Mean Streets about Bob Dylan. Pound for Pound's wet dream was actually just like being a Philly sports fan: high hopes become disappointment, despair and anger. Grrr.

P.S. The Phillies appear to have blown a chance at the playoffs during the last few days.

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