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Thread: No Direction Home

  1. #16
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    Bob Dylan has always been a matter of taste to many people of my generation. There were many folk singers back in the 1960's: Peter, Paul and Mary; Simon and Garfunkle; Crosby, Stills, and Nash (all did solo stuff); Joan Baez; Joni Mitchell; John Sebastian; Arlo Guthrie (son of Woody, grandfather of the protest song); et al.

    My best friend and I used to argue for hours about who was the best. Dylan attracted the rebellious element growing with the dissatisfaction of most American youth by the mid-1960's. I had to admit, Dylan was definitely the poet of our generation. But like many song writers who have musical writing talent but lack performance skills, Dylan had me until he opened his mouth. Then all I could focus on was his horrible voice. His stage presence was even worse. I once watched him fumble and mumble through over an hour on stage before he decided he'd had enough and walked off without so much as an apology. But then I saw Miles Davis and Eric Clapton do the same thing.

    Everyone on the above list wrote and performed protest songs against the war in Vietnam, and other government atrocities. Few of us liked LBJ, and none of liked Nixon. He was easy to hate, along with his cronies (sort like Bush, Jr.). To me, Dylan was no better than they were, a point many music historians and critics could argue endlessly about.

    Bob Dylan is a favorite with the New York crowd and had a huge following coast to coast. In the history of folk music, he had the greatest impact in terms of how seriously people took his music. However, Dylan's lyrics stand alone, as they spoke to so many young people beginning in the early sixties with how they felt about the changing climate in our society. College Professors in the late 60's were fond of quoting Dylan along with other "beat" poets from the late 50's and early 60's. In that regard, I can relate to a certain level of Schumann's experience. I only wish Dylan had left the singing and performing to someone else, and left his genius for others to portray. Some say that this peculiarity is his charm, but I never got past it. To this day, I cannot stand the sound of his voice. I would rather hear the sound of seagulls. Give me someone like Graham Nash any day. ("Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own. This summer I hear them calling, four dead in Ohio.") He rallied a generation to bring down a convention in 1968, not Dylan. Him, I could listen to all night.

    "Find a song of freedom, buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you. Lay your body down." Graham Nash.

  2. #17
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    I get your point, but I think Dylan's voice is haunting and inseparable from his songs, like Johnny Cash's from his, only more so. You don't have to have a good singing voice to be a folksinger. It's not about operatic quality (which opera or lieder require) or sexy delivery (which rock or pop may require). It's about authenticity. And he has that. Clearly from films he could be a riveting performer at times. I would always think somebody else singing his songs would water them down. Joan Baez did some of them beautifully, but it sounds plastic compared to him. But I'm not sure all this has to do with the Scorsese documentary compilation exactly. I'd like to go beyond my own personal recollections of Dylan in my life (a slim volume indeed) and see what new information is there.

  3. #18
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    Dylan's voice

    Thanks for commenting. Many people feel as you do but I'm afraid I don't. I think Chris' comments are more in tune with how I feel. What Dylan's voice lacks in musicality, he more than makes up for with an authenticity and passion that plays over and over in the mind. I'm surprised you didn't address the central theme of the film and of my essay, his altering his persona to achieve a different, and some might argue, a broader appeal.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  4. #19
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I get your point, but I think Dylan's voice is haunting and inseparable from his songs, like Johnny Cash's from his, only more so. You don't have to have a good singing voice to be a folksinger. It's not about operatic quality (which opera or lieder require) or sexy delivery (which rock or pop may require). It's about authenticity. And he has that. Clearly from films he could be a riveting performer at times. I would always think somebody else singing his songs would water them down. Joan Baez did some of them beautifully, but it sounds plastic compared to him. But I'm not sure all this has to do with the Scorsese documentary compilation exactly. I'd like to go beyond my own personal recollections of Dylan in my life (a slim volume indeed) and see what new information is there.
    I agree. Although his performances later in his career tended to be lacking, his early concerts were mesmerizing.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  5. #20
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    Plus I could add that in Pennebaker's Don't Look Back it's clear how much he wanted to charm the audience. He might be a put-down artist in otehr settings then, but on stage he was a little boy needing to be loved.

    That voice has been widely immitated. It's been a great influence. Again, vocal perfection is uninmporant outside the classical world.

    I'm sorry I haven't yet seen the film -- I don't have cable, and havn't seen the DVD-- or I would be delighted to comment on it. When I can I will, I promise. Dylan is one of those whose influence only grows with time.

  6. #21
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    NO DIRETION HOME

    MARTIN SCORSESE: NO DIRECTION HOME

    A review

    Chris Knipp

    Portrait of a young genius in the throes of self-creation

    This documentary is about a young man from nowhere who knew nothing and was nobody who became the poet of his generation and the spokesman of the rebellious American spirit of the Sixties, the great moment of ferment and excitement and freedom that split apart the twentieth century. Is that important? The question isn't worth asking. One quickly uses up superlatives describing such a film, and its remarkable subject.

    What No Direction Home shows us is Robert, Bobby, Zimmerman gradually but visibly turning into Bob Dylan, finding himself, creating himself, becoming himself, finding a platform to stand on and a voice to speak with and an identity to present that was an amalgam of Blues and Country and Protest and Woody Guthrie -- whose avatar and descendant he became -- a young man who looked like a wiry boy (and not a little like Rimbaud) who enrolled in college but didn't attend, read Verlaine and Rimbaud and Baudelaire in apartments and houses where he crashed, stole rare recordings, and then sang and wrote like crazy and began to emerge from the crowd of folksingers and be noticed -- notably by one of twentieth century America's great discoverers of musical talent, John Hammond.

    The first album was a bunch of mistakes. He immediately regretted it. He should have used nothing but his own stuff.

    But listen to his second album and you still see today what a genius this 20-year-old from Hibbing MN had.

    The purity and directness of that voice. The purity of the vision. The verbal imagination. The originality. The irresistible charm even as one was being shocked and shaken. The gifts that this young man had were and are simply and literally stunning. You watch the contemporary audiences and the contemporary press and you think: These people were at the same time? On the same planet? Dylan was a meteor. I think Ginzberg says he had become a shaft of light. Scorsese captures this.

    The genius of the documentary is that its art is seamless. Much of it is made up of existing footage, smoothly intercut with commentary by the Dylan of today. This is unobtrusive, and the older Dylan is always apt, just, and wise in his remarks. As you're watching the cocky, angry, sometimes frustrated young man, you're struck by how mellow the current Dylan is, and yet how true he is now to who he was then. Dylan has gone through as many stages and permutations as Miles Davis or Picasso. It's sometimes the mark of a great talent; it's true of Coltrane, whose fans also turned against him as Dylan's did when he went electric. But these are just part of staying fresh and moving forward. They don't mean he rejects or is embarrassed by his earlier self, whom he seems to still be in close touch with today, which makes his commentary the more relevant and enlightening.

    Obviously, most of the footage is from elsewhere. Scorsese didn't film the young Bob D. Pennebaker and others did. For this viewer however there seemed to be plenty of new stuff to see, and it is well edited. The good thing about No Direction Home is that the craft is invisible. The performance cuts are fairly well sustained, and the face of Dylan today as commentator comes in unobtrusively.

    Hard to describe the excitement, the joy, for an American of roughly the same generation to watch this story unfold. It all came easy then, Dylan says, the verses. It flowed out of him, Joan Baez says. Ah, youth! Ah, genius! You don’t have them often and no one has them long. We’re damned lucky that we still have Dylan today and he’s there to talk sense to us.

    The film gives a good depiction of the Baez/Dylan relationship of those days, which went sour on the UK tour; excellent interview with Baez to express her side of things. Again, the mature artist is totally in touch with her young self, though she sees that her tagging along on the UK tour was a painful mistake.

    A good depiction also of where Dylan fits -- and refuses to fit -- not only into the molds for him the public and the press created, but into the politics of the time.

    The only objection I can see is the way the early electronic concerts are intercut early, without explanation, as a harbinger obviously of how the young folkie public was going to turn against Dylan and boo him and call him "Traitor!" These are popped in initially without explanation, in what is otherwise a logical and chronological presentation. Perhaps on repeated viewings this will make sense; perhaps not. This is the only flaw.

    But the electronic music, and the Band as they became who toured with him when he made that change, seems completely inevitable. The folk guitar voice had had its moment. It was time to move on. The only "betrayal" was of cliché and received opinions, which were never what Bob Dylan was about. Baez is eloquent about how Dylan's daily need to change, never to do a song the same way, is a mark of his gifts but made him hell to tour with.

    The other talking heads are unusually eloquent, apt, and well chosen.

    Even if you don't really care for the music or wouldn't wait in line for a ticket for Metallica or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc., music films about them or other pop groups are quite often fun to watch. When it's a significant popular artist like Dylan and the filmmaker is someone of the caliber of Martin Scorsese, it may be considered required viewing.

    Seen on the dvd's bought and watched in NYC on New Year's Eve, 2005 in the Village where Bob Dylan first became Bob Dylan.

  7. #22
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    Re: NO DIRETION HOME

    This film seemed to have moved you almost as much as it did me.
    The folk guitar voice had had its moment. It was time to move on. The only "betrayal" was of cliché and received opinions, which were never what Bob Dylan was about.
    I'm not quite sure what you are getting at here. Are you saying that Dylan was better than all that "folkie" stuff? First of all, he was never a traditionalist in the sense of other folk artists who collected songs and reinterpreted them. He was more in the class of interpretive artists who took a genre and molded it to his own style, I suppose in the same way as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Pete Seeger. So he was not a folk singer as such, though it is one of the most venerable traditions of world music. He was a singer who spoke out against injustice and spoke with passion and eloquence about civil rights and peace and an individual's right to self expression. So why was it "time to move on"? Is the need to speak out limited to only a certain period in one's life?

    The betrayal was never one of cliché since there was nothing clichéd about anything Dylan sang or sang about. And I'm not sure what "received opinions" is all about. Dylan was the spokesman for a new generation that was seeking to expand their awareness and express their outrage against war and injustice. His betrayal was felt by those who believed they had found a voice that would not be silenced.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  8. #23
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    Of course the film moved me. It would move anybody. Now do you want to get into an argument with me about it!?!
    The folk guitar voice had had its moment. It was time to move on. The only "betrayal" was of cliché and received opinions, which were never what Bob Dylan was about..
    That may be confusing. I put “betrayal” in quotes, note. In moving away from acoustic, which was a new direction Dylan personally had to take, he was not betraying anything, but he was rejecting repeating himself. The “folk guitar voice had had its moment” for him. When you ask, “So why was it 'time to move on'? Is the need to speak out limited to only a certain period in one's life?” You tell me. In some cases I guess it is. Dylan identified with topical protest more during the early Sixties, than later. But in his mind he was never quite the protest singer you seem to describe him as. He spoke out against injustice in his songs of that period, but he didn't see that as his role in life. He was not speaking out against injustice in "HIghway 66 Revisited" or "The Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." He had lots of other ideas and themes. He did not wish to be pigeon-holed.
    The betrayal was never one of cliché since there was nothing clichéd about anything Dylan sang or sang about.
    Here you are simply misreading me. As I pointed out above, my meaning is that he didn't "betray" anything, but he rejected what for him would have been a cliché to go on doing. There was no betrayal of cliché . There was no betrayal at all. And what Dylan rejected in musical style and /or content was not cliché for other people, it's simply that for him to continue doing it would have felt like cliché for him. He was a shape-shifter, and he had to shift shape.
    His betrayal was felt by those who believed they had found a voice that would not be silenced.
    No, I don't think there was really a betrayal. In thinking Dylan had "betrayed" them, a certain public was mistaken, because he had never meant to be their voice in the first place. He was taken to be the poet of his generation and the spokesman of protest and revolt, but he was really not thinking of himself that way. That was pigeon-holing. He moved on. That doesn't mean that protest is cliché or that folksinging is some kind of moldy-fig thing, since as you correctly point out, a lot of original aritsts were folksingers, or could be seen as such, like Woody Guthrie..

  9. #24
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    Making a difference

    I showed the Dylan documentary to Marc and Rebecca tonight so I got another chance to sort out my feelings. Basically, I am too close to it to really be able to look at it objectively. So I have massive conflicts about it. On the one hand, I recognize his genius and the direction he took that revolutionized rock music, setting the trend for the next fifty years. I totally love songs like Visions of Johanna, Like a Rolling Stone, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and others. So I think the world gained a lot from his transition but I also think it lost a lot.

    It wasn't just a question of being pigeon holed into one genre, it was a total transformation from caring a lot to not caring at all and getting heavily involved in drugs that led to his accident. I don't find it relevant what he has to say about it now. It's like Martin Luther King had lived to 75 and looked back and said I never wanted to be a civil rights leader and that isn't really who I am. That would be outside of my experience as is what Dylan is saying now.

    As I said in my initial review, Dylan was great no matter what he did but I for one think he could have made a bigger difference if he had continued to use his voice to help change the direction of the world.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  10. #25
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    But in his mind he was never quite the protest singer you seem to describe him as. He spoke out against injustice in his songs of that period, but he didn't see that as his role in life. He was not speaking out against injustice in "HIghway 66 Revisited" or "The Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." He had lots of other ideas and themes. He did not wish to be pigeon-holed.

    This is precisely the central idea of No Direction Home. The basic theme and the dramatic core of the documentary. The media and his early admirers kept trying to force him in a certain direction (at their most benign: "he could have made a bigger difference", etc.) and the man simply wouldn't give up his freedom of choice. He just wouldn't stay within the confines of labels and definitions others had chosen for him. His most political album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", featured 8 songs (out of 13) devoid of a single line that could be interpreted as political by any stretch. Yet some wanted to force him to walk around with PROTEST FOLKSINGER tatooed on his forehead.

  11. #26
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    Thank you, Oscar. As I suggested in my eulogy/review of the documentary, I see this stubborn resistence to being pigeon-holed as a sign of the largeness of Dylan's genius, hence I compare him to Picasso and Coltrane in that regard, as one who went through many phases or periods in his work.

    It may be that popular acceptance of "folksingers" who sang of protest was just peaking when Dylan moved in another direction, and that's why the kids on the UK tour act so het up.

    I don't find it relevant what he has to say about it now. It's like Martin Luther King had lived to 75 and looked back and said I never wanted to be a civil rights leader and that isn't really who I am.
    That is completely unbalanced. However disappointed you are that Dylan took a non-political path, Howard, the truth is his current remarks are very germane, acute, and obviously aware of and in touch with his earlier self. I also noted that in my review. It is clear as Oscar notes commenting on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," Dylan's most political songs were merely intense moments, even at first, and were never his single focus overall as a songwriter. It was his 'fate' to be so good at everything he did, then, that people thought he should do it always, but he was moving on.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2006 at 09:32 AM.

  12. #27
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    That is one way of looking at it, now of course the acceptable opinon, regurgitated by Dylan, Scorcese, and the mainstream media. So you and Jubis and Dylan can say whatever you want, for those who were in the middle of the youth revolution in the early 60s, the experience was quite different. He was a galvanizing voice that inspired countless number of young people.

    He was booed in London because his fervent supporters and admirers felt he wasn't being true to himself and had sold out to commercial interests. As I have repeatedly said, I don't entirely agree with that point of view and I can see where he may have been vindicated by history, but I can certainly see where they were coming from.

    Today, Dylan's statements are simply self serving and disengaged from the reality of who he was and what he contributed in the early 60s. No one could have written Blowin the Wind without feeling a passion for justice very deeply. It was not just an "intense moment", but something that came from his inner core.

    Of course, reinventing himself and saying fook you to those who believed in him did not stop with his conversion to rock. He tantalized lovers of country music, then supporters of Las Vegas style shows, then born-again Christians, then Jews who supported Israel. The list goes on and on. To all of those who supported him in each one of those reincarnations, he simply said "fook you" and "moved on".

    I'm not denying his genius and if you read what I wrote, you would see that I am a lover of his music (all of it) and a strong supporter.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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