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Bob Dylan

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Things Have…Changed?


“It feels silly to make this point for the umpteenth time, more than half a century after Dylan released his debut album, but here goes. Bob Dylan, history has shown, is a wily and willful character. Arguably the only through line in his career is his tricksterish determination to upset expectations; to thumb his nose at his fans and hagiographers; to épater la bourgeoisie, especially by acting bourgeois.”

New York Magazine music critic Jody Rosen argues Bob Dylan is having a laugh in his new Superbowl Chrysler ad. “Dylan hasn’t recorded a protest song in decades, but make no mistake: The car ad and the yogurt ad, they’re protests.”

“When Clint Eastwood did his Chrysler Super Bowl ad, he was introduced with a silhouette, and there was never any doubt; once Dylan appears the ad does everything short of superimposing a neon arrow labeled ‘Dylan’ and directed at him. At one point, he actually goes into a guitar store, stops, and brings his face close to a rack of books with his name and pictures on their covers.”

Meanwhile, The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson argues it was a dumb ad anyway. “It’s not even the best car ad Dylan has ever made; he did a better job for Cadillac.” (And for Victoria’s Secret, for that matter.)

Like Rosen, I think this was very much in keeping what Dylan does these days. And like Davidson, I thought the ad could have been better — Even the syncing of Bob’s voice and face seemed off.

My biggest issue, intentional or not, was that the sincerity of Bob’s pitch was completely undercut by the song in the background — “Things Have Changed”. It’s a little late in the day to try and repurpose Dylan’s existential classic, and an obvious riff off the almost snide self-assurance that Good Will Inherently Prevail in “The Times They-Are-A-Changin’,” into an upbeat marketing anthem.

Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove…You can’t win with a losing hand…All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” Theoretically, Bob is telling us to Buy American, Buy Detroit, but all I could hear was the ode to not giving a good-goddamn about a broken world anymore. “Highway 61″ or the jaunty “Stuck Inside of Mobile” would’ve made more sense.

Still Not Selling Any Alibis.

“‘The effect can only be surrealistic if the channels are realistic,’ says Vania Heymann, the video’s 27-year-old Israeli director. ‘In reality, channel-flipping is a very passive act. You’re sitting back in your house, doing nothing. We wanted to make it an active thing, reediting the song itself to make a new version.’

As making the rounds today: Forty-eight years after that trademark snare-shot first “kicked open the door to your mind,” as Bruce Springsteen once put it, Bob Dylan’s seminal “Like a Rolling Stone” gets a spiffy official interactive video. I clicked on this yesterday and didn’t even notice the lip-syncing on every channel. In my defense, I may have gone to the finest schools alright, but I only used to get juiced in them.

Heard that Hoot Owl Singing.

The Roots on New Years’ Eve notwithstanding, I’ve been derelict about posting on live entertainment I’ve seen this year, like Louis CK in Baltimore, The Motherf**ker with the Hat at Studio Theater, The Last Five Years in Shirlington, Dean Fields in Arlington and The Postal Service at Merriweather Post.

All that being said, since there’s an especially clear precedent here — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 — I shouldn’t neglect to mention I caught my tenth Dylan show two weeks ago, as part of the Americana Music Festival (with Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, and Wilco). Here’s the setlist:

Things Have Changed | Love Sick | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Soon After Midnight | Early Roman Kings | Tangled Up In Blue | Duquesne Whistle | She Belongs To Me | Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ | A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall | Blind Willie McTell | Simple Twist Of Fate | Thunder On The Mountain | All Along The Watchtower | Ballad Of A Thin Man

Perhaps it’s because the setlists are fluctuating less this tour, or he’s playing a shorter set, or he’s just inspired by the bands he’s touring with, but this was actually the best I’ve heard Bob sound in awhile. He seemed animated and his voice, while always gravelly these days, sounded more mellifluous than it’s been in many a moon. “Things Have Changed” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are always favorites, but the highlight for me this time around was finally catching Blind Willie McTell live — You can see it as well above, thanks to Joanna’s Visions.

Also, due to the vagaries of having a job and all that — the festival started at 4:30pm over in Columbia, MD — we missed Ryan Bingham’s set and all but the last song of My Morning Jacket, but here was the evening for the Wilco-inclined (who were also very good):

Ashes of American Flags | Bull Black Nova | Blood of the Lamb | Christ for President | I Am Trying to Break Your Heart | Art of Almost | Jesus, Etc. | Can’t Stand It | Born Alone | Passenger Side | I Got You (At the End of the Century) | Heavy Metal Drummer | I’m the Man Who Loves You | Dawned on Me | A Shot in the Arm | The Lonely 1

Llewyn Davis’ 115th Dream.

The Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, whose trailer I posted a few weeks ago, gets a domestic distributor in CBS Films. “[T]he film stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake.” That’s Isaac — the best thing about a couple of underwhelming films so far — above, and Mulligan and JT below.

The Freewheelin’ Llewyn Davis.


“Oh, hello! I’ve heard your music, and heard many nice things about you from Jim and Jean and from others.” One of my most anticipated films of 2013 gets a trailer: Inside Llewyn Davis, a.k.a. the Coens’ riffing on Dave Von Ronk‘s memoir and 60′s Greenwich Village, featuring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, and F. Murray Abraham. Looks like it was filmed through Todd Haynes’ Claire and Robbie filter. Can’t wait.

Tempest Fugit.

Today sees the release of the 35th studio album of Bob Dylan’s career, Tempest. The album is great, and of course it’s great—at this point, 15 years after Time Out of Mind announced his return to some entirely new type of form, that statement seems expected and unremarkable, and that unremarkableness is nothing less than astonishing

Fifty years after his first album, and eleven years after a memorable 9/11 also brought forth Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s Tempest drops today.

Update: Been settling in with the album tonight, and it’s already my favorite since Time Out of Mind. It’s very dark — Bob’s in full-on Blind Willie apocalyptic mode. This is dead land, this is cactus land. Eliot’s in the captain’s tower & the Titanic sails at dawn.

Speaking of which, what with the 14-minute titular track about the Titanic, “Desolation Row” obviously comes to mind. But there’s a little John Wesley Harding here as well — My early favorites are “Scarlet Town” and “Tin Angel,” the latter very much a frontier tale like “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” or “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and the opening track and first single, “Duquesne Whistle,” is much like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in that it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album. Anyways, a few listens in, I really like it.

Whistle while you Work.

The music starts faintly, as if in a vintage pleasure palace, with the band…playing rock and roll ragtime off in the corner. The electric guitars sound almost like clarinets. Everybody’s swinging! But what’s that in the distance?

NPR’s All Songs Considered gets their hands on “Duquesne Whistle”, the first track from Bob Dylan’s forthcoming Tempest, due out September 11th. True, there is something Basement Tapesy about it upon first listen.

Another Night of Poetry and Poses.


At the Lincoln Center talk, the Coens compared their movie to “Margot at the Wedding” (Noah Baumbach was on stage with them) suggesting that, like that film, their new work will offer natural dialogue and a feeling of being dropped into the middle of a world. They also said they expected the film to contain musical performances.

As breaking over the weekend, the Coens’ next project may well be a look at the sixties folk scene in Greenwich Village, based on the life of Dave Von Ronk — above, with Dylan and Suze Rotolo — and his memoirs, The Mayor of McDougal Street. He shouldn’t overpower the story, but I do hope Jack Rollins get his due.

The Man in the Long Black Coat.


I love to hear a song that changes everything. That’s the reason I’m in a band: David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion (Lies),’ Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing,’ Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power.’ But at the top of this dysfunctional family tree sits the king of spitting fire himself, the juggler of beauty and truth, our own Willy Shakespeare in a polka-dot shirt. It’s why every songwriter after him carries his baggage and why this lowly Irish bard would proudly carry his luggage. Any day.

As part of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday celebration in the pages of Rolling Stone — the actual date is May 24th — Bono, as one of many artists picking their favorite Dylan songs, sings the praises of the magazine’s namesake. Also of note: Sinead O’Connor on “Idiot Wind”: “The way he delivers the words is fantastic. This voice just snarling, not bothering to hide anything. The rest of us are all busy trying to be nice people, when actually we’re f**king bastards underneath it all – whereas he was quite comfortable letting the bastard hang out. He was way ahead of his time on that. The only people getting close to him now are rappers.

And Rolling Stone isn’t alone with the encomiums: See also AARP Magazine’s 70th birthday tribute, which includes comment from Maya Angelou, Bill Bradley, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Shaffer, Bruce Dern, and a host of others. For example, here’s Nick Cave:

I was sitting, on my own, in a bar, in New York — it was the first time I’d ever been to that city — and I went over to the jukebox to have a look at what was on offer. I saw a song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan, and thought that that was a great title for a song, so I put it on, and that, as they say, was that. I was knocked down. What I heard seemed so simple, yet so full of ideas — chilling, funny, absurd, perverse, audacious, but heartfelt and mind-bendingly beautiful. I felt like grabbing the guy next to me and saying, ‘Did you hear that song?’ I felt like running out on the street and waving my arms around and yelling, ‘Hey! Has anyone ever heard of Bob Dylan?’ It was like I’d missed the moon landing or something.

So, I started a slow trawl backwards, down the years, through the records, and it was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave — there it was, oceans of the stuff — all the terrible love and beauty you could ever want to hear.

She once was a true love of mine.


[S]he read modern poetry, studied art and drawing, and immersed herself in Bertolt Brecht and other avant-garde playwrights. When they became a couple, Rotolo introduced Dylan to these worlds. Close friends noticed the change: ‘You could see the influence she had on him,’ said Sylvia Tyson of Ian & Sylvia. ‘This is a girl who was marching to integrate local schools when she was 15.‘”

Suze Rotolo, author, activist, and Dylan muse, 1943-2011. “‘A Freewheelin’ Time’ is one of the first histories of the folk music years written from a woman’s perspective…it goes beyond gossip to ask a pointed question: How did it feel? Rotolo writes the era mattered because ‘we all had something to say, not something to sell.’

Tales of Yankee Power.

What better way to celebrate eleven years of GitM than a ninth cuppa Bob (and my first in three years)? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The freewheeling Bob Dylan continued his never-ending tour Saturday night at George Washington University, and while the haters are hatin’, I knew what I was getting into — Dylan croaking his way through rockabilly versions of his classics — and had a grand ole time. Here’s the setlist:

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 | Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power) | Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues | Just Like A Woman | Rollin’ And Tumblin’ | Tryin’ To Get To Heaven | Summer Days | Desolation Row | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Simple Twist Of Fate | Highway 61 Revisited | Ain’t Talkin’ | Thunder On The Mountain | Ballad Of A Thin Man

Encore: Jolene | Like A Rolling Stone

So, if you’re keeping score, that’s a full five tracks from 1965′s Highway 61 Revisited. For me, the highlights of the evening were Ballad of a Thin Man, from that album, and especially Senor, from 1978′s Street Legal — one of my top 10 favorite Dylan songs (and one I missed during Bob’s 2005 Beacon stand.)

As far as the new stuff goes, I’d rather have heard any other Time Out of Mind track over “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” (well, except “Make You Feel My Love“), and “Ain’t Talkin’,’” off of 2006′s Modern Times sounds to me like Dylan trying a bit too hard to be Dylanesque. That being said, “High Water (for Charley Patton)“, off of 2001′s “Love and Theft (is that album really a decade old now?) sounded as lean, mean, and vital as I’d ever heard it. It’s rough out there, high water everywhere…but it’s good to know Bob’s still keep on keepin’ on regardless.

You Will Start Out Standing.

Since then, Dylan has changed, nearly died, been reborn, gone electric, gone Christian, and gone back to his roots. But this recording captures him before all of that has happened, at age 22, eager, in a hurry, and alone in a tiny room on 51st Street in Manhattan.

Slate columnist and Dylanologist John Dickerson spends some time with The Witmark Demos. “There are secret songs that would never be published and storytelling of a kind he later abandoned. We get to sit in on the sessions where his songwriting evolved, as he takes on the subjects of love, death, and war first from one angle and then another. And some of the songs are beautiful.

For Christmas, Buy her a Drum(stick).

Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Must Be Santa.” Put away the Mannheim Steamroller — In order to help Feeding America, the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan will release a holiday album, Christmas in the Heart, October 13. “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone — 12 million of those children – often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I…hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.

THAT Direction Home.

Motorists who follow Dylan’s directions, however, may take some time to reach their destination. “I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and you heard my voice saying something like, ‘Left at the next street…. No, right… You know what? Just go straight.’ He added: ‘I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place – Lonely Avenue.’” By way of a friend, Bob Dylan plans to voice a satellite navigation system. Yes, please.

Trickster on the Borderlands.

Ask Muhammad All why he fights one more fight. Go ask Marlon Brando why he makes one more movie. Ask Mick Jagger why he goes on the road. See what kind of answers you come up with. Is it so surprising I’m on the road? What else would I be doing in this life — meditating on the mountain? Whatever someone finds fulfilling, whatever his or her purpose is — that’s all it is.” As a companion to Douglas Brinkley’s recent cover story on “Bob Dylan’s America”, Rolling Stone publishes excerpts from their various interviews with Dylan over the years. (I haven’t read the Brinkley article — it’s not online — but that “United States of Bob” conceit is one Greil Marcus already pretty thoroughly explored in The Old, Weird America (nee Invisible Republic) — listen to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” for a good intro on the subject, or consider how much antebellum history Dylan was able to squeeze into three verses in “As I Went Out One Morning.”)

In other Bob news, and in keeping with the trickster on the borderlands” persona Dylan adopts for much of the zydeco-flavored Together Through Life, there’s a thin line between love and hate in the surprisingly violent new video for “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” exclusively over on IFC. “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” it isn’t. At best, you can consider it in keeping with a traditional murder-ballad-type ditty like “Delia’s Gone,” I guess. But those who believe Dylan has serious problems with women are going to find plenty of ammunition here. (And that’s before they even get to “My Wife’s Home Town.”)

The Ship Comes In.

There he lies. God rest his soul, and his rudeness. A devouring public can now share the remains of his sickness, and his phone numbers. There he lay: poet, prophet, outlaw, fake, star of electricity. Nailed by a peeping tom, who would soon discover…even the ghost was more than one person.

Whatever happens in IN and NC, at least we’re all assured of one excellent piece of news on Tuesday: My favorite film of 2007, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, comes out on DVD tomorrow. (See also my pre-Oscar Youtube appreciation.) Due to my imminent move, I’m mostly divesting myself of extraneous possessions at the moment. Still, I’m very much looking forward to picking this up tomorrow.

No…McCain, a monomaniac? C’mon!

Lisa Bonet ate no basil, Warsaw was raw. Was it a car or a cat I saw? Rise to vote, sir. Do geese see God? ‘Do nine men interpret?’ ‘Nine men,’ I nod.” By way of THND, Weird Al Yankovic channels Dylan through palindromes, in the manner of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” I’m Not There, and “Royal Jelly.” (McCain palindrome via here.)

It’s Not There!

As the Oscars are tomorrow night (remember to get your entries in for the annual Web Goddess Oscar Pool), as my favorite film of 2007 got snubbed in most categories, and as I spent an hour or two last night trawling around Youtube (which reminded me, for example, how irredeemably goofy the ending of There Will Be Blood was), here are some musical clips from the year’s maligned masterpiece, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. (Note: The Weinstein Company has posted almost all of Cate Blanchett’s performance for Oscar purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend watching those clips unless you’ve already seen the movie, since they’re taken from all over the place and disrupt the careful interweaving of all 6 Dylans.)

Subterranean Homesick Blues“: I’d never seen this before, but here’s the international trailer for the film, featuring all six incarnations doing the classic video from Don’t Look Back.


I Want You“: Robbie (Heath Ledger) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) fall in love (directly following this scene.) Note the freewheelin’ beginning and that fateful motorcycle.


Ballad of a Thin Man“: There’s something happening here, but BBC’s Keenan Jones (Bruce Greenwood) don’t know what it is…other than that it somehow involves Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Stephen Malkmus, circus geeks, and the Black Panthers.


Going to Acapulco“: In downtown Riddle, Billy Story (Richard Gere) attends the public funeral of young Mrs. Henry. She has slit her own throat, an ominous harbinger of dark times to come. (That’s Jim James of My Morning Jacket in the Dylanesque whiteface, along with Calexico.)


When the Ship Comes In“: Wunderkind Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) wows some kindly Middle American folk with his musical wherewithal.

The trailer for I’m Not There, opening…uh…a few months ago (and available on DVD May 6.)

A Hard Walk’s Run.

Charles, Cash, Curtis, Dylan, Strummer…Given the glut of rock biopics and documentaries we’ve seen in recent years, it’s well past time that influential musical chameleon Dewey Cox got his due. Unfortunately, just as James Mangold’s Walk the Line felt too staid and conventional to capture the true appeal of the Man in Black, Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story — which I saw in the days before Christmas — never really gets inside the head of the Giant Midget. Sure, it covers most of the important facts about his life — the childhood tragedy, the struggle with smell-blindness, the breakout single, the dark f**king middle period, the LSD decade, the selling out. But, while John C. Reilly does what he can as Cox (and the resemblance is admittedly uncanny), I never felt while watching Walk Hard that Kasdan actually “got” the man or his music…or his monkey or giraffe, for that matter. Given his famous father and his earlier affiliation with Freaks & Geeks, Kasdan seemed like he would be the guy to do Cox justice, but this is sadly a missed opportunity. It’s just too bad Todd Haynes was busy with I’m Not There…Once again, nearly fifty years after the fact, Zimmerman will be walking-hard away with all Dewey’s laurels.

Kasdan’s take on Dewey’s story begins just before Cox’s final performance at the Lifetime Achievement Awards — You may remember Eddie Vedder’s memorable tribute speech, and the Jewel/Lyle Lovett/Jackson Browne/Ghostface Killa mash-up of “Walk Hard” got a lot of radio run over that summer — before flashing back to that defining moment in the White Indian’s life as a boy, the famous accidental cleaving-in-two of his prodigy brother. (“I’m cut in half pretty bad, Dewey.“) Rallying to his brother’s fallen musical standard, the teenage Dewey soon finds himself thrown out of the house, married young (to Edith, as played by SNL’s Kristen Wiig), and working as a busboy at a local black club, where he one day wows the crowd with a version of his early hit, “(Mama) You Got to Love Your Negro Man.” Soon thereafter, he lands a band and a record contract, and after the cutting of “Walk Hard,” the rest is history: Cox buys a monkey, lapses into a vicious drug habit, falls for his voluptuous backup singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), gets clean, lapses into another vicious drug habit…well, you know the rest.

Ok, ok, let’s go ahead and break the fourth wall. As a played-straight parody of the rock biopic genre, Walk Hard is admittedly uneven most of the time. But, it makes for a relatively amusing two hours if you’re in the mood for it. It’s nowhere near as funny as the original Airplane or Top Secret, but I’d say it holds its own with the Hot Shots flicks, and it’s miles above Scary Movie and its ilk. Yes, the film can be unfocused and scattershot (There’s even a decently funny recurring gag involving the kitchen sink.) A lot of the jokes seem like leftovers from the last Will Ferrell script, and, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America, Walk Hard occasionally follows the beats of its object of parody so closely that the movie loses its edge. Still, there are definitely some quality moments therein, from Tim Meadows trying not to seduce a naive Dewey into a marijuana habit to Cox meeting Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz, inspired casting) and the Fab Four (Surprisingly, Justin “Mac Guy” Long is far and away the funniest as George, while Jack Black’s Paul is woefully bad and Paul Rudd’s John is just…strange.)

At any rate, I’m not going to give all the jokes away here, suffice to say that Cox’s black-and-white Dylan period tickled my funny bone the most. Dewey does two Dylanesque ditties here: The first, “Royal Jelly”, is a gloriously inscrutable poetic epic a la “Desolation Row” (“Mailboxes drip like lampposts from the twisted birth canal of the coliseum, rimjob fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum, O say can you see ‘em?“) [See it live.] The other, “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)“, is an un-PC The Times They Are A Changin’ screed directed at the injustice faced by all the, uh, little people. (“Let me hold you, midget man, pretend that you’re flying in space. Let me hold you, little man, so the dog will stop licking your face.“) High art it’s not, and I can’t recommend rushing out and seeing it or anything. But, for a few solid chuckles over the course of two hours, Dewey Cox and Walk Hard deliver the goods decently enough. Someday — perhaps soon, given that Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Drillbit Taylor are all due next year — the helium will probably leak out of the Judd Apatow comedy factory’s balloon. But Cox, thankfully enough, isn’t the canary in the coalmine just yet.

His Back Pages.


A song will lift, as the mainsail shifts, and the boat drifts on to the shoreline.” If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you probably already know that I drank the Bob Dylan kool-aid a good while ago. So, more than likely, my opinion of Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, which I raced down (on the D-train, no less) to catch at the Film Forum this morning, should be taken with at least a shaker of salt. And, to be honest, it’s hard to imagine how this film plays to people who aren’t all that into Dylan — If you don’t already have a basic sense of his story and his various periods, I could see it being as incoherent and irritating as Southland Tales (although it’s assuredly better-made.) But, if you do have any fondness for Bob, oh my. The short review is: I loved it. Exploding the conventional music biopic into shimmering, impressionistic fragments, Todd Haynes has captured lightning in a bottle here. The movie is clearly a labor of love by and for Dylan fans, riddled with in-jokes, winks, and nods, and I found it thoughtful, funny, touching, and wonderful. Put simply, while No Country for Old Men is right up there, I’m Not There is my favorite film of the year. I can’t wait to see it again.

Like Navin Johnson, Bob Dylan was born a poor black child. (Marcus Carl Franklin) Ok, perhaps not. But Hayne’s movie doesn’t really aim to tell the story of one Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota. anyway. — He’s not there. Instead I’m Not There refracts Dylan through a prism of sorts, giving us multiple versions of the man (and myth) at various stages in his life and work. And, so, after a first person POV shot of “Dylan” (us?) taking the stage in ’66, and a title shot involving a potentially-momentous motorcycle, we are introduced to one Woody Guthrie (Franklin), an 11-year-old folk wunderkind traveling hobo-style along the rails, singing union songs and making up his past as he goes along. But the times they-are-a-changin’, and, as a kindly matron informs Woody, the old songs don’t necessarily do justice to the problems of 1959. Enter Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), an earnest young troubador who once lit Greenwich Village on fire with his ballads of social protest (“finger-pointin’ songs”), and, having rejected the folk scene and found Jesus, is now the subject of a No Direction Home-style documentary. (Julianne Moore does a Joan Baez impression here, straight out of Scorsese’s doc, which is pretty hilarious, and maybe even a little mean — note the business with the cat.)

By now, you probably see where this is going. Post-Newport, Cate Blanchett shows up as Jude, a.k.a. the reedy, combative, drugged-out, and dog-tired Dylan of (blonde on) Blonde on Blonde and Don’t Look Back. (It takes a woman like her, to get through, to the man in him.) Ben Whishaw shares the load of society’s probing as Arthur Rimbaud, a Bob who spends most of the movie facing down some unknown interlocutors. Heath Ledger’s Robbie is the romantic and the womanizer, the Dylan who woos the heartbreakingly beautiful Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing an amalgamation of Suze Rotolo and Sara Lownds), looks for solace in a normal life outside Woodstock, and eventually stares into the abyss of Blood on the Tracks. And Richard Gere is Billy, an aging outlaw hiding out in Riddle, MO, part of the mythical American landscape conjured by Bob in “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” “Desolation Row,” John Wesley Harding, The Basement Tapes, “Blind Willie McTell,” and countless other songs.

Each of this fellowship of Dylans does quality work in the role. Cate Blanchett is getting the most press these days, perhaps deservedly so, but I was as impressed with Bale, Whishaw, Franklin, and particularly Ledger — After seeing the extent of his range here, it’s pretty clear he’s going to kill as the Joker next summer. And other actors resonate here as well. I already mentioned Julianne Moore and the exquisite Charlotte Gainsbourg. (My crush on the latter, already simmering after The Science of Sleep, will no doubt grow by leaps and bounds now, particularly once you factor in her fragile, breathy version of “Just Like a Woman” on the soundtrack. With a face that’s at once honest, open, statuesque, and melancholy, she’s the perfect sad-eyed lady of the lowlands.) Also notable is David Cross, the spitting image of Allen Ginsberg, Michelle Williams invoking Factory Girl Edie Sedgwick, and a well-preserved Richie Havens delivering a Joe Cocker moment with his version of “Tombstone Blues.” Bruce Greenwood (of Thirteen Days, The Sweet Hereafter, and recently John from Cincinnati) does particularly impressive work as Jude’s nemesis, a BBC newsman who wants to pin both the mercurial singer and the meaning of his (her) music to the wall like a butterfly. Clearly, something is happening here, but he don’t know what it is…

Do you need to know a lot about Dylan going in? Well, it undoubtedly helps. I’m Not There is rife throughout with Dylanalia, and, yes, at times it’s dropped as blatantly as the groaners in Across the Universe: Jude mutters “Just like a woman!” at one point as a punchline, and an LBJ on the wall during a party strangely exclaims “It’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” But, others are more obscure, hidden in the fabric of the film like a crossword puzzle for Dylanophiles. Many of the strange denizens of Gere’s Riddle recall characters in songs or various Dylan incarnations, from the whitefaced troubador at Ms. Henry‘s funeral to the Union solders and passing Lincoln on stilts. As Robbie and Claire (Renaldo and Clara?) have one of those tired, terse phone discussions that signifies the end is near, a movie poster over her shoulder reads “CALICO” (i.e. “Sara,” the “calico sphinx in a scorpio dress (you must forgive me my unworthiness.)“) Or, in the scene accompanying one of Dylan’s masterpieces, “Visions of Johanna,” the Ledger Dylan, a movie star of sorts, is bored on the road and skirt-chasing one of his co-stars. As this goes down, we happen to see some elderly crones in neck braces (“the jelly-faced women all sneeze“), Ledger walking in a museum (“Inside the museum, Infinity goes up on trial“), the Mona Lisa (who “musta had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles“), and the co-star he’s tailing, of course, is named Louise. (“Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near. She’s delicate and seems like the mirror. But she just makes it all too concise and too clear that Johanna’s not here.“)

If this all is starting to sound like two and half hours of insufferable inside-baseball for Dylanheads, well, I guess it might be. But I really don’t think it plays like that. (And I also don’t think that was the appeal for me either. Both Masked and Anonymous and Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are-A Changin’ trafficked in similar inside gags, and I didn’t enjoy those anywhere near as much as this film.) Basically, I’m Not There is too vibrant and enthusiastic to feel smug, remote, or exclusive about its fondness for Dylan. It never purports to define the meaning of any particular song, showing instead that more often than not their beauty lies in their ambiguity. (For example, both defenders of the cultural Old Guard and the Black Panthers feel “Ballad of a Thin Man” is about them.) And it often pokes fun at the Dylanophiles among us, throwing in a number of disgruntled fans at various times (particularly after Bob plugs in) and having Jude get pestered by an overeager amateur Dylanologist after hanging with the Beatles (a very jolly cameo indeed.) Plus, for all the reverence, Dylan himself isn’t as whitewashed as he was in No Direction Home — His drug habit, his youthful arrogance and occasional thin skin, and some questionable views on women poets are all on display here.

A talented artist in his own right (case in point: Safe and Far from Heaven), Haynes employs all the magic of the movies to tell Dylan’s story. The Robbie-and-Claire scenes are filmed in color occasionally as riotous as in Hayne’s homage to Douglas Sirk, Jack’s social protest and Christian periods are told in faux-documentary fashion, and Jude’s England tour is all black-and-white cinema verite, a la Don’t Look Back. That’s why I’m pretty sure i’m Not There will work even for people who don’t know the first thing about Dylan. It remains visually interesting throughout, and never falls into the usual biopic rut, that standard, hackneyed rise, fall, and rise again narrative which tends to bring down even otherwise well-made entrants in the genre like Walk the Line.

And, of course, it benefits from having one of the better soundtracks out there, and Haynes has expertly weaved Dylan’s music (and some quality cover versions) into almost every moment of the film. Let me put it this way: Within the first five minutes, I’m Not There features some period NYC subway footage set to the irrepressibly toe-tapping “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” (Also another visual pun — the subway folk are “stuck inside of mobile.”) From that moment on, the movie pretty had much me. In the end, I don’t know if non-Dylan folk will vibe into it or not, but I found I’m Not There a splendid gift from one Dylan fan to the rest of us, and assuredly one of the more inventive and captivating biopics in recent filmdom. “And the sun will respect every face on the deck, the hour that the ship comes in.

Drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac Car.

You know what’s even better than a great road tune? Not having some DJ talkin’ all over it…unless, of course, that DJ is me.” Sigh. On behalf of his XM radio show, Bob Dylan hawks Cadillacs. To be honest, I much preferred when he was pushing ladies’ lingerie. At least that’s a product I can get behind.

Where is the harmony, sweet harmony? (Pst…in Conn!)

So where are the strong? And who are the trusted?> Why, Bob and Elvis, of course, and they’re in the Nutmeg State, or at least they were last night. As promised, I caught the traveling Dylan-Costello tour over the weekend in (relatively) nearby Bridgeport, CT. The setlists:

Elvis: (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes | Either Side of the Same Town | Veronica | The River in Reverse | Down Among the Wine and Spirits | Bedlam | From Sulfur to Sugar Cane | Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said | (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? | The Scarlet Tide

Bob: Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat | It Aint Me, Babe | I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight | You’re a Big Girl Now | Rollin’ and Tumblin’ | Workingman’s Blues #2 | ‘Til I Fell In Love With You | When the Deal Goes Down | Honest With Me | Spirit on the Water | Highway 61 Revisited | Nettie Moore | Summer Days | I Shall Be Released

Encore: Thunder on the Mountain | Like a Rolling Stone

Taking the second act first (well, third — as in Bob’s Beacon stand in 2005, Amos Lee was the *real* opener), Bob’s set — as you can see — was heavy on the Modern Times, which is an album I never really listened to all that much. (It came out just before I was kicked to the curb last year, at which point it just got consigned to the iPod shuffle dustbin.) And, as I’ve said before, when it comes to new Bob, I prefer the looming darkness of Time Out of Mind to the rockabilly antics of Love & Theft, which was also represented here a few times. Still, there were a few gems interspersed throughout the set. Bob’s post-apocalyptic croak these days doesn’t really suit tender ditties like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and on “I Shall Be Released” I was thinking it might even be time to go the Leonard Cohen backup-singer route. But he still got a fair amount of mileage out of “Like a Rolling Stone” and the raucous opener, “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat,” and he looked spry as ever while playing most of the new stuff. Plus on this, my eighth Dylan show (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), I happily got to scratch off “You’re a Big Girl Now” on my own mental checklist of songs to hear the man play live. And, while I’m not sure last night’s version quite did the song justice — A line like “I’m going out of my mind with a pain that stops and starts!” needs the plaintive howl of 1975, not the world-weary rasp of 2007 — I was glad to hear it made the list regardless.

If I’m being a bit harder on Dylan than usual, it may be because Elvis had just left the building, and he pretty much tore the roof off the place in his set. When I heard he was on the bill, I was wondering who his back-up band might be: The Attractions, The Imposters, or some other permutation thereof. Well, as it turned out, this was a solo stand: just Elvis in black, a few guitars, a spotlight, a microphone, ten chords, and the truth. He played more of his standards when I saw him at the Beacon, but that wasn’t a problem here; His too-brief set included a few well-known hits (“Veronica,” “PLU”), some golden oldies (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, “Radio Sweetheart”), some as-yet-unreleased songs (“Down Among the Wine and Spirits,” “From Sulfur to Sugar Cane”), and even a cover of Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said,” and each one burned with clarity and conviction. Among the highlights for me were “Either Side of the Same Town,” my favorite song from The Delivery Man, “The River in Reverse” (from his album with Alan Toussaint — it was a blistering call-and-response number last night), and the anti-war lament “The Scarlet Tide” (also from Delivery Man.) (To his credit, Costello also had a remarkable amount of Bridgeport-specific stage patter last night, from name-dropping the old arena there to paying respect to the father of show business, Bridgeport native P.T. Barnum. Somebody had done his homework.)

Yes, I received your letter yesterday.

Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine, I’m on the pavement, thinking about the government. And Tessa? Well, she’s sending me this swanky link to the new Dylan messaging site, where you can create your own version of the seminal 1965 Subterranean Homesick Blues video. (Also up here is the video for Mark Ronson’s brand new remix of “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine.)” I’m not sold on the horn section, to be honest, but it’d be hard to improve on Blonde on Blonde in any event. Time will tell, just who fell, and who’s been left behind…)

But he breaks like a little girl.

She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back. (Although if I had to guess, she’s been watching the heck out of Don’t Look Back lately.) With (a non-levitating) Bruce Greenwood in tow, Cate Blanchett channels Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan and meets never-nude Allen Ginsberg (David Cross) in this brief You-tubed clip from Todd Hayne’s forthcoming I’m Not There. Other Dylans in the production: Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw.

Of Baltar and Lear.

I grow; I prosper: Now, gods, stand up for bastards! As you may or may not know, both Battlestar Galactica and Slings and Arrows end their third seasons tonight. All in all, a solid evening of quality television…Get thee hence to the Tivo, so say we all. Update: There‘s too much confusion, Saul can’t get no relief? Ok, that’s just plain bizarre. Update 2: FTL Jump the Shark? In case you skipped the comment thread, Ron Moore talks about last night here, and seems to confirm the goofiest aspects of the Season 4 finale. Huge spoilers if you haven’t watched yet.

Seuss Gave Names to All the Animals.


It doesn’t seem to play nice with Internet Explorer at all, but this parody mash-up, Dylan Hears a Who: Seuss via Zimmerman — sent via my sister Tes — is definitely worth checking out. The joke aside, whoever put this together did a great job of capturing that vintage Dylan sound — I particularly like the “Ballad of a Thin Man”‘ed up version of “Miss Gertrude McFuzz,” but all seven tracks are surprisingly catchy and on point. Huzzah.

Love Songs ’07.

Oof, Valentine’s Day. Not a holiday I’ve been looking forward to of late, even if it does provide the chance to write up some favorite songs here, as per recent tradition. As many of y’all surely know, V-Day and all the attending hoopla is rarely much fun when you’re single, and it’s even worse when you’re walking wounded, as I’d number myself these days. To wit: Late last year, I got kicked right in the teeth by someone I was really fond of, and even though it’s been many months now since it all went down — long enough that I really should’ve just gotten over it and moved on — most days since then are sadly still kind of a struggle.

But, oh well…no hope, no harm, just another false alarm. I’ve loitered on the Injured List before — in fact, you could say much of my adult romantic life has been Grant Hillish to the extreme, all burgeoning potential cut short by season-ending injuries — so I’m pretty sure, at an intellectual level if not yet a gut one, I’ll get back in the game someday. In the meantime, here’s some music for ya. Usual rules apply: the files will be only up for a few days, right-click to save them, and please don’t link to them directly.

“We knew from the start that
things fall apart, and tend to shatter
she like that s**t don’t matter
when I get home get at her
through letter, phone, whatever
let’s link, let’s get together
s**t you think not, think the Thought went home and forgot?”

For all the genre’s many strengths, the slice-of-life relationship song isn’t normally what you’d consider a central feature of hip-hop. Cuts like Method Man’s “All I Need,” Outkast’s “Mrs. Jackson,” or the Tribe’s “Bonita Applebaum” notwithstanding, shake-your-booty jams and odes to the playa lifestyle outnumber romantic ditties by at least five or six to one. “You Got Me,” from the Roots’ 1999 album Things Fall Apart, numbers among the exceptions.

Co-written by Jill Scott (who performed the song in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party and on tour for the Roots) and co-sung by Eykah Badu (on the original cut and video), “You Got Me” is a story of a meet-cute (“We used to live in the same building on the same floor and never met before until I’m overseas on tour“) that grows into a relationship that works despite the odds (“When you out there in the world, I’m still your girl“), and despite the loose talk all around. (“Lies come in, that’s where the drama begins.“)

It ain’t easy for the couple in “You Got Me,” but they’re making do. They got each other, and most of the time, that’s enough to get by. (And bonus points for ?uestlove’s infectious drum-and-bass outro — our time with this pair ends with the fade, but their story clearly continues.)


You Got Me — The Roots feat. Erykah Badu (3.9MB, 4:19)
(song removed)
From Things Fall Apart.

[Update:]

***

Situations have ended sad,
Relationships have all been bad.
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud.
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair,
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.

I picked a Bob Dylan song last year (“Most of the Time”), and I freely admit that, however brilliant, Blood on the Tracks is now one of the hoariest of breakup-album cliches. Still, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was on my mind a lot over the past year (see also my review of The Fountain), so it’s going up anyway (and, hell, maybe I’ll pick a Dylan song every Valentine’s Day from now on — he’s got enough to go around.)

Here, unlike most of the cuts on the album, Bob is actually happy (“I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.“) — Life is good to him, he’s got a good woman by his side. But, though he’s ignoring it, the insurmountable problem — “the crystal…in the steel at the point of fracture,” to borrow a phrase from All the King’s Men — is already manifest, a tiny speck on the horizon soon to loom over everything. Despite his euphoria, Dylan can already recognize that this relationship is finite: Eventually, “Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know.” So, Dylan listens to the crickets and the river instead, and does his best to relish what happy moments still lie ahead, before the axe inevitably falls.

(Everybody and their brother owns Blood on the Tracks — if you don’t, buy it! For you and your brother! — so I’ve also thrown in a cover version by Mary Lou Lord. It’s a bit alt-chickish, sure, but I prefer it to other versions I can name, such as Elvis Costello’s too-jaunty-by-far take on Kojak Variety.)


You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go — Bob Dylan (2.8MB, 2:55)
(song removed)
From Blood on the Tracks.


You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go — Mary Lou Lord (5.3MB, 3:46)
(song removed)
From Hard Rain: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, Vol. 1.

[Update:]

***

If you want a boxer, I will step into the ring for you.
And if you want a doctor, I’ll examine every inch of you.
If you want a driver, climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride,
You know you can…
I’m your man.

Canada’s answer to Dylan, the inimitable Leonard Cohen has also been mining the joys and perils of romantic entanglements for four decades now. To be honest, I’m hit-or-miss with his early stuff, but I just can’t get enough of his “Satan’s lounge act” later period. (As I’ve said before, and as with Dylan, Tom Waits, etc., I’m basically a sucker for the “broken, gravelly voices with tales to tell” genre.)

Like “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan,” “I’m Your Man” is one of the better-known songs from Cohen’s later incarnation (and the name of a recent tribute documentary to him, which I haven’t seen.) “I’m Your Man” combines a lot of Cohen’s strengths — that debauched, plaintive, and world-weary croak, a knack for memorable imagery and earthy allusions (even at his most bathetic, Cohen never lets you forget there’s a primal beast that “won’t go to sleep” raging inside him, one with carnal appetites inseparable from his professions of love — see also “In My Secret Life,” “Waiting for the Miracle,” or countless others), and a second-act twist that complicates what initially seemed to be a straightforward pop ditty.

Here, what appeared to be a confident ode to that special gal in his life becomes instead a hail-mary plea for forgiveness. (“I’ve been running through these promises to you, that I made and I could not keep“), one that he already knows is not going to shake out as he desires (“A man never got a woman back, not by begging on his knees…“) The joke is, Cohen’s not her man anymore. No matter how many times he says otherwise or tries to contort himself to regain his muse’s affections, Cohen is stuck being himself, the guy who blew it somewhere along the line. Sorry, Leonard. At least you got Manhattan.

I’m Your Man — Leonard Cohen (6.1MB, 4:25)
(song removed)
From I’m Your Man.

[Update:]

***

They said :
‘There’s too much caffeine
In your bloodstream
And a lack of real spice
In your life’

I said :
‘Leave me alone
Because I’m alright, dad
Surprised to still
Be on my own.’

Oh, but don’t mention love
I’d hate the strain of the pain again…

Since I already lyric-checked the Smiths earlier in this post, why not go straight to the source? Maybe they just captured a certain zeitgest of feeling alone, different, and melancholy in the Reagan-Thatcher era. Still, the Smiths have a lot to answer for their part in helping to fashion a generation of angst-ridden, self-absorbed romantics (in which I include myself.) Either way, nobody does “way over yonder in the minor key” quite like Morrissey, Marr, & co., who built an entire career on the twisted, solipsistic pleasure one comes to take in excessive moping.

What the Smiths perfectly capture in song after song is the narcissism of the whole enterprise. With all the horrible things happening in the world every day to people who don’t deserve them, it takes no small amount of self-absorption and lack of perspective to luxuriate in a slough of despond for weeks on end. And yet, we all do it all the time, dwelling on our own petty problems while the world seems to crash and burn — it’s virtually inescapable.

In “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours,” probably my favorite Smiths song (well, along with “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”), the band brings this irony front and center. In the lyrics’ biting condescension even in the midst of gloom (“people who are uglier than you and I, they take what they need and just leave“), in the vague disreputability of the land-grab metaphor at the heart of the song (“A rush, a push, and the land that we stand on is ours! It has been before, so why can’t it be now?“), and in Morrissey’s trademark wailing, swooning, and growling, “A Rush, A Push, and the Land Is Ours” captures both the varied emotions and uglier facets of heartache that will attend all too many of us this holiday Wednesday. (Also, courtesy of Youtube, here’s what appears to be the vintage video.)

A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours — The Smiths (3.5MB, 3:00)
(song removed)
From Strangeways, Here We Come.

***

However you stand on this Valentine’s Day, have a safe and a happy one out there, as always. (And, as I noted last year, if you want more music, Fluxblog does the mp3blog thing day in and day out, and is considerably better at it than I am. And Max of Lots of Co. offers choice dance/techno/pop mixes around the start of every month.)

Play a Song for Me.

The freewheelin’ Bob Dylan has a lot to answer for in this intermittently amusing Post Show send-up of Dylan’s No Direction Home. Admittedly, this guy’s singing-Bob impression is pretty funny. (By way of Tes.)

Distant Thunder.

“The pistols are poppin’ and the power is down, I’d like to try somethin’ but I’m so far from town…” Ok, I’ll admit it — I reupped for more time, to catch up on political news. And, while doing so, I discovered that Slate, of all places, is not only premiering Bob Dylan’s new video for Thunder on the Mountain, which is chock-full of vintage Dylan footage, but offering a chance to win a guitar signed by the man himself. Cool…but is it strung lefty?

Cate’s in the Well.

Found while looking for an online version of the recent Rolling Stone story on Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (which includes a shot of Cate Blanchett as the Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan), writer Jonathan Lethem picks out some forgotten Dylan gems as a sidebar to his recent cover story on Modern Times.

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