Monday, September 26, 2005

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (pt.1)

I relented tonight and decided to watch the new Scorsese documentary on the early years of Bob Dylan on PBS rather than wait for my DVD set to arrive. I knew I wouldn't have the will power to hold out. What can I say...I crave anything I can read, see, or hear about the man. I've been an avid consumer since '89 or so. Urged on by my friend Jason, I fell deeper and deeper under Dylan's spell and have collected several thousands of hours of bootlegs in both audio and video format.
Naturally, with a career spanning four decades, there are countless myths and legends about the man both true and false. With the release of the first book in his trilogy of autobiographies earlier this year, it's finally given Dylanologists the opportunity to wade through the bullshit and hear the real story straight from the horses mouth. The documentary not only gives us the story from Dylan's perspective, but also the chance to hear it from those around him during his formative years as one of the most influential and inspirational artists of all time.
I haven't got the time or energy to retell the story top to bottom, but rather will pinpoint those moments from Scorsese's movie that rang true or made an instant impact on me. I'm also going to post a gallery of screen captures from the vast archives presented in the documentary. And away we go...

Certainly one of the funniest stories retold in the film concerns a man names Paul Nelson who was a folk historian of sorts. Not a musician, but a collector of folk records whose vast archives impressed Dylan so much that, when given the opportunity, he broke in to Glover's house while he was out of town and "borrowed" a number of Woody Guthrie recordings on vinyl. Arriving back home, it didn't take Nelson long to figure out who had stolen the records given that the subject matter leaned heavily toward Dylan's preference. Paul and friend searched long and hard to track down Dylan and were surprised to find that many people thought that Dylan must be something special considering the amount of people trying to track him down. After much searching, they did track him down and confronted Dylan with a bowling pin in hand. The heated discussion went back and forth with both being impressed with the others knowledge of folk music and musicians. Nelson's friend would then realize why he was there and the discussion would heat up again with the bowling pin being held above Dylan's head once again. In a recent interview with Dylan, his only excuse for swiping the records was, "I saw myself as a musical expeditionary." That's a good one, Bob.

Another memorable incident was captured on film backstage during his historic 1966 tour of England with the Hawks(aka The Band). Having been heckled during the entire tour, it's reported to Dylan that someone in the audience has informed the house manager that there is a shotgun being brandished by a concertgoer. The scene opens with Dylan being informed of this and the ensuing shock and nervous banter that follows. Dylan proclaims, "I don't care about being shot. I just don't want to hear about it!" Dylan retires to a chair and starts to read a music rag when he is approached by a man who kneels and whispers out of earshot, "Don't push too hard." With a nervous grin on his face Dylan replies, "DON'T PUSH TOO HARD!!!"
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During one of their 1966 performances, the lens catches Dylan and Hawks between songs with a hostile audience screaming insults as Dylan perches himself behind the piano. Cries of "Go Home", "Get off Bobby", and "How about switching it off?" are hurdled in their direction. Bob merely flashes a defiant smile and rips in to a blistering version of "Ballad Of A This Man" with its acid tinged chorus proclaiming, "Something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?"
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The next scene finds Dylan and Robbie Robertson fleeing in a limo and mocking the crowd that surrounds the car. Dylan states, "It's hard to get in tune when they're booing." Robertson interjects, "Who wants to get in tune when they're booing?"
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Joan Baez retells a story in which she and a then unknown Dylan pull in to town and, because of his "ragamuffin" appearance, Dylan is refused a room. After pulling some strings, Baez is able to convince the hotel owner to relent and give him a room. She marvels in her remembrance that it was that very evening he penned the song "When The Ship Comes In" condemning those that doubt him and his abilities.
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In an interview with one of Dylan's childhood friends, the man recalls how Dylan returned to Hibbing, after being in New York for only a few short months, having acquired musical talents that far eclipsed his previous abilities. Dylan, interviewed now wearing a black leather jacket and a thin moustache, slyly grins, his eyes glittering, self-mocking his own mystery: "I went to the crossroads."
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In one of the more powerful stories told in the film, Allen Ginsberg recounts the first time he heard "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". He realized after hearing the song that the torch had been passed from the Beats, his generation, to the new one. With that epiphany, he wept.
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At the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, Liam Clancy recalls seeing Dylan on stage and amazed at his transformation. "He was Charlie Chaplin, Dylan Thomas, Woody Guthrie." Claming Dylan almost seemed possessed with the spirit of these men and an uncanny chameleon-like ability to change with his surroundings and ape those who inspired him.
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And finally, again at the '63 Newport Folk Fest, there's footage of a sheepish Dylan being led on to stage by a confident Baez. She simply states to the adoring crowd, "We just have to sing something together." With that, they begin a riveting duet of Dylan's "With God On Our Side." Breathtaking!
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Waiting impatiently for tomorrows installment...



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iPod Song of the Day: "Pocahontas" from Neil Young's Unplugged

2 Comments:

Anonymous Logan said...

Hey, I loved the post on No Direction Home. You sound like a huge fan. Part Two is awesome as well, and that really confrontational moment where a heckler screams, "Judas!" is so awesome to watch.

If you ever want to trade bootlegs or something, email me at AxelsonL@hotmail.com

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said

BLUERADIO

2:32 PM  

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