The Bob and Marty Rave: No Direction Home
Take the greatest living American director, I'd say the greatest director of all time (Martin Scorsese), and the greatest living musician/songwriter/performer/artist (Bob Dylan) and what do you get? Pure genius is what. Pure unadulterated genius.
The double-CD of "No Direction Home", the soundtrack to the new Scorsese-directed Dylan documentary of the same name, was recently released and features 28 Bob songs, 26 of them previously unreleased (studio outtakes, live versions, home recordings, etc.). It's simply and absolutely an amazing collection of great music. Pure genius is way too much of an understatement. The guy was writing better songs at the age of 21, 22 and 23 than almost anyone else has ever recorded at any age. Never mind what he was up to by the age of 24 and 25 in 1965-66 (when this collection ends).
Once I finally got it last week, I sat down and listened to the entire 2 discs, two and a half hours straight. It was magical. And here's where those of you without any real passion for music will think I'm a bit nuts, but I don't care because I'm not the one who's lacking: Listening to all this brilliant unreleased stuff, especially the second disc focusing exclusively on the peak years of 1965-66, brought tears of joy to my eyes. That's right. Real live tears of joy. To hear so many alternate takes of such classic songs, some even with slightly different lyrics; to hear 2 whole "new" (as in, never heard before) verses to "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"; to hear the studio outtake of "Visions Of Johanna" with The Band backing The Bob up in a totally different, and totally rockin', version; to hear the fantastic alternate takes of "She Belongs To Me", "Tombstone Blues", "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and, especially, the incredible alternate version of "Desolation Row"; and to hear just how differently these and other classics were sometimes recorded, often within the same recording session; this was all a bit much. A bit much of exactly what I needed! A bit much meaning give me more!
And, just like when I first got The Bob's "Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3" box set back in 1991, hearing these new songs, verses, words and arrangements gave me a glimpse, even if just a tiny little one, into what it must have been like for those who got to go out and buy albums like "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde On Blonde" right as they were released back in '65 and '66. Can you imagine what that must have been like? To return home with your new album and to suddenly find yourself listening, for the very first time, to songs like "Desolation Row" and "Like A Rolling Stone" or "Visions Of Johanna" and "Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands". It would have simply been too much to take. A bit like seeing "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas" for the first time. It's like "Holy shit! What the hell was that?!" It takes a little while to process such overwhelming works of brilliance.
And speaking of works of brilliance, let me mention just one other masterpiece by Scorsese. I've always considered his film "The Last Waltz" to be the greatest rock 'n' roll movie of all time. For those of you who, sadly, have yet to see it, it's a film about The Band and their big farewell concert back in 1976; a show that featured many stellar guests and great performances. There was Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, etc., etc. However, no one was better than The Bob - he was on fire that night! If you haven't seen "The Last Waltz" yet, it's never too late to start living life to the fullest - go out and rent (or buy) it today!
So, anyhow, who better to direct a full-length (207 minute!) feature documentary on The Bob than Martin Scorsese? One genius profiling another. I bought the 2-DVD set yesterday and we watched the whole thing straight-through last night... and it was simply fantastic... amazing... incredible... and perfect! Bob gave Scorsese unprecedented access to the vaults (music, film and photos); and to himself: he sat down for hours of interviews - and not as his usual extremely guarded self either.
The film focuses on the years between Bob's arrival in New York City in January 1961 and the absolute peak of his abilities/genius/influence (and stardom) in 1965-66. As usual, Marty has us flying all over in both time and place, but by the end he brings it all back home in a wonderfully coherent way.
There are interviews with most of the key people from those days, at least those still living, including Bob's old flames Joan Baez and Suze Rotolo, as well as Dave Van Ronk, Allen Ginsberg, Al Kooper, Pete Seeger and many others. However, there's, strangely, no interview with Robbie Robertson, who is featured prominently on stage in the footage from the famous tour of the British Isles in 1966 (with half the crowd booing the new electric material and the other half cheering). The interviews with all these famous and not-so-famous people are fascinating, but it's the discovery of so much old footage (from on tour, in the studio, on old TV shows, etc) that I found the most interesting. And the way Marty pieces it all together - the music, the old footage, the interviews - is perfect. Paced almost like "Goodfellas" the 207 minutes simply fly by, or at least they did for me. For those who have no interest in The Bob and much prefer, say, Perry Como or Paul Anka or maybe even Britney Spears or Mariah Carey the 207 minutes might feel more like 2070, but for all those interested in great music and great filmmaking, even those not necessarily big Bob fans, this, I guarantee you, is an extremely entertaining film.
One of the highlights for me was seeing all the footage of the folk fans after the electric shows and their total and utter contempt for "electric" music and/or any type of rock 'n' roll. Their complete ignorance and outright rejection of such pure brilliance, of such incredible music, of such genius, and of some of the greatest music ever recorded (or performed live) is mind-boggling. He was offering them "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Visions Of Johanna", but all they wanted was more and more "Blowin' In The Wind". It reminds me of all those who wrote off Picasso as he forged ahead into new realms last century, leaving the simple-minded far behind. Or all those who thought Marlon Brando couldn't act, condemning his "mumbling" and claiming to much prefer Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Or all those fools who voted for "Ordinary People" over "Raging Bull" as the "Best Picture" of 1980 at the Academy Awards.
Anyhow, the lucky thing for all of you is that you don't have to go out and buy or rent the DVD (though if you don't, you can't see all the extras), you can simply watch it for free, in 2 parts, on Monday and Tuesday next week (September 26th and 27th) on PBS here in North America and on BBC over in Europe. Don't miss it! It's actually (for once!) must-see TV. Then all you've got to do is head down to your local CD shop and pick up the soundtrack. Thereafter Bob and Marty will have made you complete. You may have been feeling like a complete unknown. You may have even felt at times like there was no direction home. But now you have the answers and everything's going to be ok. Watch the movie. Pick up the CD. It's all so simple. If only the rest of life could be this easy.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, September 23rd, 2005
To read my two - yes two - recent rave reviews of Tell Tale Signs click here: Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement
And for a rave about another great film about another musical icon try this: The Neil Young Rave: A Film, Two Albums and Incarnations For Everyone
And for much more on all things Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)
Or for more on other artists and albums click here: Music Homepage
Or here: Music: Album and Concert Raves