There’s a scene in Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese through which Bob Dylan and Joan Baez speak with uncommon candor about their much-mythologized relationship. Dylan, who infamously dumped Baez throughout his 1965 tour of England, tells Baez they could have ended up collectively if she hadn’t gone off and gotten married. Baez factors out that it was Dylan who bought married first. Dylan, who appears a bit spaced-out, pauses for a very long time. Then the reply comes: “Yeah, but I married the woman I love.” Baez replies, “And I married the man I thought I loved.”
At that, Dylan goes from bashful to gloating in file time. Thought, he needs Baez to know, is what ails her. “Thought will fuck you up! See, it’s the center; it’s not the top.”
The trouble required to unpack this single scene tells us so much about each the impossibility of ever getting a straight model of Dylan’s story and the way in which that problem is met by Martin Scorsese, who first captured the singer-songwriter on movie in 1978’s The Final Waltz, and later directed the seminal biographical documentary No Route Dwelling: Bob Dylan (2005). To start with it’s not even clear if the Baez-Dylan encounter is actual life or performing. The rationale we now have a lot revelatory footage of 1975’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour is that Dylan employed two movie crews to doc it for what grew to become the practically four-hour artwork movie Renaldo and Clara, through which Baez, Dylan, and his spouse, Sara, type one thing like a doomed love triangle.
Rolling Thunder Revue barely acknowledges the existence of Sara, who would break up from Dylan in a messy, costly divorce simply two years later. However in keeping with his much less charitable biographers, Dylan in 1975 was frantically making an attempt to win her again—at the same time as he was rumored to be sampling the various sexual alternatives accessible to him as maybe the world’s most celebrated rock-and-roll genius. Baez, for her half, had amicably divorced her husband in 1973. Who cherished whom, and who simply thought they had been in love? Arduous to say.
One factor is for positive, although: Dylan actually did consider that thought will fuck you up. How a lot of this was technique, and the way a lot was sheer perversity, is open to debate, however the impact was the identical. The Rolling Thunder tour represented a breakthrough in Dylan’s understanding of how manufactured chaos and enforced spontaneity may allow him to pierce the bubble of wealth, energy, and fame that had enveloped him over a decade earlier, so he may make some music with a real spark of life.
Scorsese’s implied thesis is that this effort by a burned-out singer-songwriter to recapture his muse had a bigger that means. It was a quest on the eve of the Bicentennial to resuscitate the optimistic, can-do spirit of America, which had run aground on the dual shoals of Vietnam and Watergate.
I’m not satisfied that’s what Dylan was actually making an attempt to do. After saying that “life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything,” he finally cops to looking for “the holy grail.” However that strikes me as his common wordplay-as-evasion techniques. However, I believe there are classes for 2019 America on this very 1975 journey. And so what if there aren’t, after we’re having a lot enjoyable, and listening to a lot nice music, with so many sensible, proficient, fascinating, and/or enticing folks?
We’re informed that Rolling Thunder was Dylan’s effort to re-create the old-timey ambiance of a touring carnival or medication present, like those that may go to his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, when he was a child. We’re not informed that it happened not less than partially as a result of Dylan had just lately began hanging out with musicians in Greenwich Village once more throughout a separation from Sara. Irrespective of. Dylan’s bizarre and sensible imaginative and prescient was impressed. He recruited Roger McGuinn of the Byrds; an exquisite and enigmatic violinist named Scarlet Rivera (who got here to Dylan’s consideration when she crossed the road in entrance of his automotive someday); Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson; the legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg; the Jewish-doctor’s-son-turned-cowboy-singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; the long run Grammy winner T Bone Burnett; and Joan Baez, who acknowledges her misgivings in a current on-camera interview, however explains, “Everything is forgiven when I see Bobby sing.”
Dylan also hired the aforementioned film crews to document everything, the director Jacques Levy to design the stage show, and the playwright and actor Sam Shepard to write something—it was unclear what. This superlative supergroup played mostly unannounced shows in small New England venues. Dylan wore face paint (inspired in part by Gene Simmons of Kiss, amazingly, who was dating Rivera) and a cowboy hat garnished with fresh flowers. On at least one occasion, he wore an actual mask. “When somebody’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell the truth,” he explains. Patti Smith hung around early on. Joni Mitchell stopped by one night and wound up joining the tour. An unknown, teenage Sharon Stone begrudgingly accompanied her mother one night and happened to catch Dylan’s eye. He asked her to join the tour too. (It’s unclear how long she stayed on.) Future president Jimmy Carter called one night to ask Dylan to add future Tennessee Congressman John S. Tanner to the guest list. Tanner was stuck in Niagara Falls on a layover, and Carter told him, “This is your lucky night.” Another night in Canada, the whole group had a jam session at the home of Gordon Lightfoot, and Mitchell enlisted Dylan and McGuinn to play backup guitar on a song she’d just written, “Coyote,” which she’d go on to perform in The Last Waltz.
It was a circus, in other words, that was also the place to be.
The circus-ness was a product of Dylan’s commitment to manufacturing chaos. If thought will fuck you up, he seemed to believe, not knowing what the hell to think will set you free. That belief manifested itself in a stubborn refusal to ever explain anything. He wouldn’t tell Shepard what he’d hired him to write, wouldn’t respond when the film crew asked him questions, and never even spoke to Mick Ronson.
The whole undertaking could have been comical, or even sad, if Dylan weren’t such an obviously important cultural figure—and if the music hadn’t sounded so great. But Dylan, whose live performances have historically ranged from transcendent to trying, with not much in between, was 100% in the pocket. If you ask me, his voice had never sounded and would never sound better: he sang from his chest, not his nose, with a clarity that endless touring would later scratch. And the arrangements were first-rate: revelatory but coherent. Dylan was between two commercially successful albums, both of which chronicled his travails with Sara: Blood on the Tracks and Desire. No one in the audience had heard Desire tunes like “Isis” or “Hurricane,” but they cheered wildly for them anyway. They were just that good. And classics like “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” had a rock-and-roll energy that a performer less interested in defacing his own ’60s legend might never have dared.
Yeah, about that legend—and Dylan’s career-long efforts to complicate it. There were two public Dylans in the ’60s: first the folk social justice warrior, and then the rock-and-roll hipster who delighted in triggering the very folkies who’d launched him to fame. Then came the fabled motorcycle crash, his period of seclusion in Woodstock, and his domestic idyll with Sara. Throughout this time, Dylan struggled to make music that lived up to his best work of the ’60s. He kinda seemed like a has-been. Sam Shepard’s Rolling Thunder Logbook begins with a conversation about how Dylan had lost it.
Then, in the mid-’70s, Dylan put himself together again, his earnest and cynical sides in harmony at last. You can hear it in the brokenhearted brilliance of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, and you can hear it in the way he handles himself onstage. When an audience yuckster instructs him to “play a protest song,” he declines—probably on principle. But the fact is that he had written a protest song, for the first time in a decade. “Hurricane” was “Hattie Carroll” with a pragmatic goal: “If you got any political pull, you can help us get this man out of jail and back on the streets,” Dylan says before performing the song in Worcester, Massachusetts. And, as Scorsese’s documentary shows, Dylan’s song really was instrumental in securing the release of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who had been convicted—falsely, in the view of his supporters—of a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey.
Rolling Thunder is probably not Dylan’s true creative peak—that in all probability encompasses the albums Freeway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde—but it surely’s his most synthesized second. And his most optimistic, regardless of his ongoing private turmoil. And in some ways, his most pleasing for a fan. It’s the one through which he places equal quantities of power into songwriting and efficiency, people and rock, protest songs and love songs. It’s the one through which he’s made peace along with his demons. He’s discovered a method to work with them. He needs Joan Baez to know that he needs her, and that he is aware of he can’t have her. He needs to sing the outdated songs, and he needs them to sound new. He needs to put on the masks, and he needs to inform the reality.
Dylan and Baez’s duet on “I Shall Be Released” has been one in every of my all-time favourite recordings ever because it was launched as a part of the Bootleg Sequence in 2002. On the audio observe, you’ll be able to hear Baez responding to somebody within the crowd because the track begins, who mentioned, “What a lovely couple!” And it’s true what the fan says. Dylan and Baez are eternally interesting as people music’s all-time woulda-shoulda couple, and the movie makes a very good case that they actually had been one another’s one which bought away.
Dylan doesn’t say something to the fan. Clearly uncomfortable, he can’t take a look at Baez or the gang. It’s left to Baez to interrupt the awkward silence. “Don’t make myths,” she says, laughing. “Couple—couple of what?” Then in a gesture of heartbreaking tenderness, she places her hand on Dylan’s neck as they start to sing.
For those who’re Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese, you’re taking the alternative recommendation. On this case the mandate is: do make myths, truly. On the finish of the day, Scorsese’s “Bob Dylan story” just isn’t the one his proverbial trash-picking biographers would let you know. He’s not asking uncomfortable questions on intercourse, medicine, and no matter went on between Dylan and teenage Sharon Stone. But it surely’s not a whitewash both. It’s essentially the most sincere model that Dylan himself—to not point out the very worthwhile Dylan Inc.—is prepared to allow you to see. It’s change into cliché to consult with Dylan as our Shakespeare, however to borrow a special literary metaphor, we’re fortunate to have, in Scorsese, such a talented Boswell to Dylan’s Dr. Johnson.
So be at liberty to sit down again and let the movie’s mythology wash over you want a pull from a very good joint. A flawed hero however a hero all the identical, Dylan was misplaced, after which he discovered himself once more. With just a little assist from his associates. He picked up the items of his personal damaged legend, and located a brand new method to put them again collectively. Alongside the way in which he entertained hundreds of individuals and gave them hope that the dream of the ’60s didn’t must die with Kennedy or Watergate or Altamont or no matter. He additionally began his By no means Ending Tour, which gave form and focus to the remainder of his profession. If he may do all that, possibly we may do one thing prefer it too. And possibly there’s a dream that we shouldn’t hand over on but, regardless of what we see on the information every evening.
It’s a pleasant thought, if nothing else. One thing to hold our hopes on. In spite of everything that’s what myths are for.