Thursday, October 06, 2005

No Direction Home

The new Scorsese film about Bob Dylan is a powerful testimony to Bob Dylan's gifts as a poet and performer. Our friend Anna Altmann shared with us her copy of No Direction Home, and we've just watched Part One. Old footage from Newport and the clubs in Greenwich Village are juxtaposed with Dylan now. Is it fathomable that Bob Dylan wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" when he was 21 years old? That song, as one o the interviewees says, could have been written yesterday or two hundred years ago. It is timeless.

Why is it that so many of my closest friends are songwriters? When I was watching the film I was thinking of Ryan Wugalter (because in some shots he somewhat resembles the young Bobby) and Krista (thankfully no resemblance). But also Mike and John, Amy, and Alex. This is part of who they are... digging down deep or just hearing it from somewhere that is near their spine or aorta or cerebellum. Or soul.

I'd listened to Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits since I was thirteen or fourteen, but I remember the first Dylan song that really got to me was "When He Returns" off Slow Tain Coming. Matt Friesen gave me a taped copy of his parents' record the summer I was seventeen. The first chords of Gospel piano just slayed me....

The iron hand it ain't no match for the iron rod,
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears.
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.

Later Emmylou's version of "Every Grain of Sand" did the same.

But of course that was written 1979, when Dylan was quite close with Keith Green. This part of No Direction Home focused on the early years... when he was learning the folk idiom and chanelling Woody and playing with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. "Well my name it is nothing, my age it is less..." Such purity of vision and soul. Liam Clancy said Dylan was "possessed..." and Ginsberg says it was the American collective unconscious that possessed him, if you believe in that sort of thing. In the interview Dylan almost always has a mercurial laugh just below the surface, as if he's not quite sure about all that. He says he just had to say something, and so he had to write the songs so he could play them, say them.

What are your thoughts on Dylan? Love him? Does he grate on you? What are your top 3 Dylan songs and why?


Anonymous jump rope for heart said...

It is hard to believe that Bob Dylan is just a human being. But he is, he's just a dude who writes songs. Somehow that doesn't seem fair. Some people say Dylan can't sing, but, in my opinion, those people don't have any soul. You gotta have soul to dig Dylan. Top three Dylan songs...that's a hard one. There's so many! OK..."Ballad of a Thin Man" for sure, from Highway 61 Revisited. It's been my favourite since I got that record probably close to ten years ago now. It's the lyrics..."You've read all F. Scott Fitzgerald's books / You're very well read, it's well known / Because something is happening but you don't know what it is / Do you, Mr. Jones?" There's a million great lines in that song. "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" because it is eerily close to what's going on in my life right now. And, realize this list cannot be considered definitive or exhaustive in any way..."Dear Landlord" off "John Wesley Harding" or "4th Time Around" from "Blonde on Blonde" or "Moonshiner" or "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." Oh, and let's not forget "Tombstone Blues" and "I Want You" and "Masters of War" and all of "Desire." Sorry, I got carried away there. Yes, Dylan is amazing.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Thanks Ry. Apparently he leads an extremely 'normal' day to day life with his family when he's not touring.

"Ballad of a Thin Man" is brilliant. Lately I've been really loving "Hard Rain" off Freewheelin.

9:24 AM  
Blogger 5cent said...

I would have to say my three favorite Dylan songs would come off of "Blood on the Tracks."

"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
"Meet Me in the Morning"
"Simple Twist of Fate"

That stuff is some of the most beautiful music in the world. I would say Bob Dylan ranks up there with Mozart.

Thanks for you thoughts Matt. Working at Starbucks, I've been hearing Bobby's "No Direction Home" and that "Gaslight '62" album (because we are selling both). Somehow I just can't get sick of him. And I've been wondering about the Scorcese film, since it is tied to the album of the same name. I'm glad I could hear your synopsis of it. Very good.


9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ISAIAH! Yeaaaay..

I think Elise makes the shortlist of contempories too. It's incredible how potent her words are sometimes, and yet spoken with extreme gentleness. Come home. We want you guys back, so much.

Matt, I saw this very piece the other night on TV and young Dylan reminded me somehow of a hybrid of ....Cameron and Todd.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay hold on. could there possible be:

TWO cool cats,
named isaiah,
that also enjoy Mozart,
that work at starbucks?

i'm thinking yes.


2:05 PM  
Blogger Droughtweeks said...

Hey Matt,

I think the first Dylan I ever heard was "Live at Budokan" (seriously, there is such a Bob Dylan record) that my parents owned for some reason, but didn't particularly like. But after a bit I started getting into Dylan a bit more, especially through cover versions of his stuff and by the fact that Bob Dylan songs were fairly straightforward to learn.

Lately though, I've really been enjoying Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes record. It's full of really off-the-cuff performances and strange whimsical humour mixed in with heartbreaking numbers like 'Tears of Rage'. There's actually a Greil Marcus book amount the songs called "Invisible Republic", although I think it's name has been changed to "The Old Weird America". And the songs can get pretty weird. I put one on a mix tape not too long ago that goes something like, well, follow the link. And they're sung with a kinda of moonshine enthusiasm that makes them just that much more interesting.

Hey Matt, remember that article you showed me in MoJo reviewing that Dylan show where he and his band had started playing while people were still filing into the concert hall and then after two and a half hour he said "Goodnight" and just left the stage. That's Dylan to me, following his own muse to the complete exclusion of any outside influence. This seems to make him equally genius and asshole.

8:50 AM  

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