The Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story
I loved Martin Scorcese’s Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. It seemed unusually synced to Dylan’s creative spirit, a major statement about where his talent came from. And also about where, more generally, talent comes from. Scorcese’s new Dylan movie is a weirder thing. Alan Light wrote a good piece in the NY Times about its provenance. I was new to New York when Dylan started prowling the clubs in 1976, playing impromptu shows at the Bitter End that featured a cast of new characters playing Dylan’s music on random nights. I had friends who went, though I never did. I suspect money was an issue, but whatever. This was also the time when Patti Smith and the Heartbreakers and the Ramones and Television and Talking Heads were playing in the East Village, and Steve Forbert and the Roches were playing at Kenny’s Castaways, just over from the Bitter End. Plus Max’s. We didn’t lack for music in those days. So what’s striking about the new movie is the intensity of Dylan’s performances all the way through. This was true in No Direction Home as well, in the film/video it is impossible to miss the intention and direction he brings to every action he takes, every nuance he conveys, even while professing he wants to run a circus. His intensity isn’t his only talent, but the intensity he brings to these performances is the talent that raises him above most. Obviously this isn’t a story of remnants, but it is a story of a superstar and his band playing at being remnants, playing small halls, disregarding commercial considerations, and making a rock ‘n’ roll tour into a work of art. Highly recommended. On Netflix. The version of Hattie Carroll in the movie is fantastic, equally Dylan and Joan Baez, who shines singing harmonies, and so is more exuberant and vivid than this also excellent version that lacks Baez, but is still an amazing song.
I was way too young to have ever thought of attending, so outside of Hard Rain and an earlier Official Dylan Bootleg release, this was my introduction to actually seeing Rolling Thunder beyond the Tangled Up in Blue clip. Most of the reviews I’ve read focus on the sleight of hand that’s used from Van Dorp to the Tanner guy from the HBO show meeting Dylan to fictitious meetings with Sharon Stone. While masks and tricks are synonymous with Dylan, I think you summed it up the best with your take on Dylan and the idea of remnants. The intensity, seeing his eyes sing these songs were what I took away from it. In those couple of sentences, you nailed it.