Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mixing Up the Medicine: No one has mentioned yet the Scorsese treatment of Dylan in his three-plus-hour movie that recently aired on PBS. I don't remember if this is the week that Eno doesn't like PBS, but in any event, I thought I'd give it a shout-out.

The "movie" (which is really just an editing job by Scorsese with a few interviews thrown in) covers Dylan's rise to folk-glory, and leaves us just as he's turning on the amps, and belting out "Like a Rolling Stone". Here's what made an impression on me:

1. We all know Dylan's debt to Guthrie. He is the first to acknowledge. What I didn't know was that he really went out of his way to meet the man, and then, rather than just copy him, he decided to take the spirit of Guthrie's songs (hope tinged with cynicism, stripped down message, no holds barred), and then invent his own version of folk. He did a spot-on mimicry job of Woody, when the moment took him, but he never was reduced to just flat-out copying.

2. Dylan was a master with the press. Some of the funniest scenes were these "square" newspeople trying to get Dylan to define himself or his songs. I really don't think he was trying to be evasisve; Dylan spent time working on his songs, but didn't ever consider where they fit in the "protest movement," or try to market his image. So, when one moron wearing a Trotskyite fur hat and thick-framed glasses tries to get Dylan to state what the significance there was to his wearing a Triumph Motorcycles t-shirt on the cover of "Highway 61 Revisited", we get this response: he just happened to be wearing the shirt on a day he was sitting on the steps on a day someone took his picture. The interviewer, not to let his dissertation topic be so utterly eviscerated, then said, well, what about your use of motorcycles throughout your songs as imagery? Dylan responds: "Well, we all like motorcycles, don't we?" The room erupts. Other similar examples follow (my other favorite is the woman who asks him whether he likes subtle or direct imagery in his songs. Dylan asks what that means. She admits she read in a movie magazine that he prefers subtle imagery -- essentially confessing she has never heard one of his songs).

3. I never quite grasped the collective angst over Dylan turning to the dark side of "rock" (i.e. electric guitars). People would boo him, yell at him, and give these awful reactions to anything that wasn't a straightforward rendition of "Hard Rain" or "Tambourine Man". It was funny seeing him play half a concert with acoustic and harmonica, then invite what was soon to become The Band out to get bluesy. Near riots; amazing. Like the audience is ever right. Dylan was obviously conflicted about it, as he idolized some of the folkies (like Seeger), but he wasn't, again, about to pigeonhole himself for the comfort of others.

Anyway, a good show for those who needed to brush up on Dylan, like me. Even during his current interview, that runs throughout, he comes across as sensible and likeable, which, quite obviously, have not always been his strong suits.


Flyer said...

You better worry if this is the week Eno likes Dylan or not (Minnesota suburbanite, can't pass up the easy rhyme...oh, I know we'll hear it all).

I didn't catch the show, but I'll have to look out for a rerun. I'd like to see it.

Razor said...

Wow, like you read his mind or something...based on the post which appears above.

Again, I wasn't extolling his virtues as much as I was the movie's. It was very interesting as much for what it said about Mr. Zimmerman as it did about his contemporaries.