Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dylan is good.

So, this post over at Speaking as a Parent is very interesting and articulate on the interesting and articulate subject of Bob Dylan and is well worth a read.

I, on the other hand, just have a couple of things to say about the amazing Martin Scorcese two part documentary, No Direction Home, on Dylan which was aired in Britain earlier this week, and about Bob himself, and I'm a bit worried they might be really pretentious !

To me, calling it a documentary is a bit like calling Phoenix Nights or the Office sitcoms. It's a fair description, but it comes with a set of expectations which won't be met - in the case of those two sitcoms, I mean stuff like laughter tracks, studio sets, wisecracking teenagers etc etc, and in the case of the Scorcese film, a traditional documentary might be expected to "explain" Dylan, or have a plot, or deal with the "meaning" of his more esoteric lyrics, but Scorcese is not a normal documentarian.

What was brilliant about this film was the artistry of it, and the way in which it painted Dylan as a classical tragic hero, driven by the Muses to become the "voice of a generation" by absorbing and channeling Woody Guthrie and coming out the other side of the process as an exponent of probably the finest folk protest music ever written. But then, as is the wont of the Muses, he was driven to a further plateau, one which alienated him from the people who had worshipped him, drove the man himself to rocking in his chair and looking for another Dylan to take his place. There was a moment in the film where Dylan performed Mr Tamborine Man at what was captioned "Topical Song Workshop, Newport Folk Festival" intercut with a promoter who had been a huge fan of Dylan's talking about feeling betrayed by his new direction. The painful irony of seeing someone complaining about the direction of the man producing the finest poetry of the 20th century, set to beautiful music was mirrored in the crazy anger of the young folkies complaining about Like A Rolling Stone (finest poetry of 20th century, beautiful music etc.).

The film ends with the motorcycle accident in '66, which in a classical tragedy would have been the end of Dylan, the Muses finally driving him to death and distraction, but of course Dylan didn't die, and he ended up taking a break from the incesant demands of the Muses, writing John Welsey Harding and Blood on the Tracks, then becoming a Christian and being driven by a different set of impulses.

Until finally, the Muses, who couldn't get him with a motor bike got him to begin a Never Ending Tour, which goes on to this day.

But recently there's been a bit of a shift. First there were the grammies for Time out of Mind, and then there were the Chronicles, which sought to address the mythology that had built up around him, and now films like this, where he's alowed to speak for himself, and you can see he's just a man, driven by an extraordinary talent, trying to live in a world which has rarely understood him...

I did say it might be pretentious! Anyway, I like Dylan, he's incredibly important in the history of popular music and I dug the film a great deal!