Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More Bob Dylan Talk
I thought last night's Part II of the Scorsese documentary was better than the first. Really remarkable footage. A few thoughts:

1. Al Kooper's description of how he met Mike Bloomfield at the Rolling Stone session, and how he snuck his way in as organist on that track was hilarious and maybe my favorite part of the whole film. And his admission that he was fearful for his own safety during the subsequent touring was a telling instruction about just how much animosity existed among Dylan's "fans" at that time.

2. Media reporters today can't hold a candle to reporters of the mid-60s in terms of asking the stupidest imaginable questions (though Charlie Rose gave it a run in the post doc interview). The press conferences Dylan had to endure, somewhat like the famous Beatles Q & A sessions but Dylan had to do it alone, would be enough to make anyone insane. My favorite was when one asked him how many of the other singers out there, if he knew, were interested in conveying a message. Dylan said about 136. What else can you say? So, the enterprising reporter, not knowing or caring that he was being made fun of, followed up to nail Dylan down. "so you're saying 'about 136' or 'exactly 136?'" The nonsense was unbelievable.

3. He was so young. If you saw last night's chapter, you heard Scorsese himself read from the text of Dylan's "acceptance" speech for an award he was given by the Emergency Civil Liberties Union. The whole thing is even more surprising than the parts that were read. Naturally, the group - which should have known better - was offended. Even more interesting though, scroll down and read his follow-up reply, addressing the concerns of the organization. He was 22 years old, tormented, uncomfortable, driven. After watching the whole thing, and thinking about how much his song-writing has changed, I wonder if he didn't ultimately sacrifice some of his poetic intensity for the chance to live somewhat more comfortably with the rest of us. Only a rarely focused soul--maybe Allen Ginsburg?--could maintain that kind of intensity for a lifetime, and doubtful he could have under the public pressures Dylan faced. And all Bob wanted was a band to help soften the blow.

4. Folk fans are really rabid. Some of it was like attack of the norman rockwell painting. Very bizarre. And it was kind of scary to watch an embarassed Seeger clearly lie through his teeth to explain away his angry reaction at Newport as being merely over bad sound quality. Every other interviewed eyewitness to those events contradicted him and painted him as wildly angry over the music.

5. There are any number of stanzas I could point to, but today my head is swimming with this:
Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An' the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
and this:
Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it
What kind of 23-year-old mind envisions sky-cracked poems of church bells, singing their own beatitudes of justice and freedom, through the clanging of "wild ripping hail"? I know, it's easy to make fun of him now, and I'm tempted. But any writer with the catalog of songs he has to his credit is deserving of better. I'll write thousands of entries here before I'm done, and who knows maybe a bushel of songs if I'm lucky, but will never manage a truth so beautifully said as hundreds of his.

I had an important professor who taught me that a composer can be genius with just one moment. (Yes, I remember lots of them: McCoy Tyner's, Stevie Wonder's, Mozart's Dissonant Quartet opening, the crazy E-flats in Beethoven's F Major scherzo, If I Fell intro, the first 3 seconds of Tropicalia 2, Willie Nelson copying Paul Simon copying Bach copying someone nobody remembers, Ornette...everywhere) One perfect moment/chord/turn of phrase/well-chosen verb in just the right place. That's how hard it can be to do, and how great it is when it's accomplished. Dylan did it time after time.

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