Adam Zero's ramblings and rants on popular music, culture, politics, folklore, religion and related skullduggery.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No Direction, Period

The much-hyped Martin Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan's early career to 1966 has arrived on U.S. airways, thanks to PBS' American Masters.

I'm not sure what the point of this series is, beyond heaping homage and glorification on hand-picked American Artists, and then communally basking in their glow. After all, we as Americans "created" them. Don't we deserve some of the credit--if only sitting passively through documentaries informing us of the importance of these "Masters"?

So it is with Bob Dylan--via Scorsese. The hype is through the roof on this one. "The Best Film About Anybody," one headline screams. Another says this is Scorsese's best picture.

As Dylan himself wrote on the back of one of his albums, "Whaaat?!"

There is nothing that unique or informative about the Dylan opus--shown in two 2-hour installments. Dylan's own playroom attempts at film hold more stylistic interest. No, despite the hype, this is not on the level of Raging Bull or Taxi Driver (to be honest, Dylan's just not as interesting as Jake LaMotta or Travis Bickle). No, unlike Werner Herzog who has made some truly visionary documentaries that complement his fictive work, Scorsese has yet to turn that corner. His attempt at documentary is garden variety--"newly found" vintage clips interspersed with candid interviews with friends capped with "authorized" words by the man himself. (Is there a reason why some of the musicians interviewed have to be holding their instruments awkwardly, as if they were an extra appendage--e.g., Pete Seeger?)

We wander through the familiar narrative of Dylan's life--the us-vs.-them agon of hipster and folkie. The hero-artist performing for booing audiences. The genius typewriting late into the night, fed by any number of cross-indicated stimulants.

The upshot of the film seems to be: "golly gee whiz, Dylan wrote all these amazing songs, suffered to such for it, he must be a Genius or something." He's touched by the holy spirit (according to producer Bob Johnston) or a shaman (according to Allen Ginsberg). Or he's the supremely talented dope (according to Joan Baez, who seems closest to the voice of sanity in this thing).

What you don't get from Bob himself is any key admissions. Like, "sure, man, going electric at Newport was pure gold publicity-wise." Or, "I was a real asshole to Joanie for not letting her play on my Britian tour after she'd virtually created an audience for me." Or, "I don't know why I can't write songs like I used too--maybe it was just the drugs, after all." Or, "I was so stoned at the time I can't remember what I saying in that clip and, frankly, I'm a little embarrassed by it now."

No regrets for the D-man.

Of course there's no mention of drugs--although during the last third of the second installment he looks so wired you only have to guess what he's abusing. It'd be interesting if someone had explored the "shaman" claims with the obvious drug-use to explore how Zimmerman morphed into Dylan (and the degree to which the latter was a creation of mind-altering chemicals). But that clearly would have been too arcane for American Masters. We like our mysteries simple. "Funny looking little feller's a genius, by God!"

Or if someone had looked at the possibility of obsession/compulsion in Dylan's lyrics that border on mental illness. (The first version of "Like a Rolling Stone" had fifty verses--I mean, when this guy hates, he hates.) Joanie gives a nice insight to the writing of "When the Ship Comes In" to Maynerd-Krebs-like Zimmy being refused a room by a provincial hotel desk-clerk.

I wish someone had had the guts to explore Dylan's sense of revenge and even cruelty in his lyrics. Is the anger in "Like a Rolling Stone" justified in the same way that it is in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"?

And why did Dylanophiles respond so warmly to such anger? Did they want to blame the culture for their own lack of place in it--watching Bobby Z shadowbox with the straw men he had created for their solipsistic destructive amusement?

While Dylan was being called "Judas" at the Manchester City Hall, he wasn't damning the Vietnam War or showing solidarity with writers behind the Iron Curtain. He wasn't taking sides anymore (except for his own, which he had pretty much taken from the beginning, one thinks.) (Sure, he would revisit topical song occasionally for George Jackson or Hurricane Carter, but he never seems to have sustained much public interest in any cause after 1963.)

Dylan's revolution was a non-revolution. Contrary to Allen Ginsberg's pronouncements, the '60s was not the world's first bloodless revolution. It wasn't a revolution at all. The baby-boomers didn't change the world, just enlarged their sense of entitlement and self-absorption, retiring to the suburbs in SUVs and plugging in their iPODS.

Dylan playing with straight-laced and -tied reporters hardly amounts to a revolution (btw, the Beatles are much more entertaining in their interviews than Dylan, who looks more blank/stoned/tired than magisterial in his non-answers to stupid questions). In fact, you want Dylan to have the guts of a John Lennon who could claim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" and really tell the press what he thought about them, their society, etc.

But then Dylan was always better with straw men than real men. One of the best clips is a "confrontation" between Dylan and a nitwit interviewer/cameraman who wants him to pose for a picture by putting his glasses arm back in his mouth. Geninuses of the time nibbled on their glasses, I suppose. Dylan, of course, refuses, and tells the man he can put the glasses arm in his mouth if he wants to.

What's the point? Dylan is holding a press conference and obviously wants press. But he wants to play the game his way. He's smarter than the system. The stupid pressmen. He's not going to nibble on his glasses arm. He'll show them. But then the situation peters out.

What's the point?

Maybe it's that Bob was always better with a typewriter than the spur-of-the-moment. (I guess, the Holy Spirit needed the Corona in the room--something solid.)

Or that when it came to image-creation, Dylan preferred to remain an "auteur"--whose authority Scorsese referentially (slavishly?) maintains.

As for the fellow musicians interviewed, it's odd that only Mickey Jones gets on-air time about the famous/infamous 1966 tour. You don't hear from the living Band members (such as Levon Helm, who quit because of the booing--his voice would have been an interesting one to hear). I was a little bit startled by Mickey's appearance until I recognized him as the bearded character actor in Home Improvement and any number of TV and movie parts. (Mickey, by the way, made a home-movie the '66 tour which he's selling on his website.)

So, we get yet more hype about the much-hyped Dylan who answers questions for the camera now, almost amiably, wanting to build his legacy or some-such dream and be compared to Picasso or Shakespeare or some other eternally protean visitant of the Holy Spirit/Muse.

We are told that he is our man for the ages. The boomers can soak themselves in reflected glory and join in the orgy of self-satisfaction. ("Our guy, right up there with Mickel-angelo!")

Who knows, maybe it will happen for him. Maybe, several hundred years in the future people will look back at the '60s as we look back to the Italian Renaissance and make incredible pronouncements about pop music's achievements, crowned by Bobby's. They'll recognize that he bested the zealot-folkies and the stupid pressmen and the Blue Meanies.

He fought the forces of popular music and beat them at their own game.

"Like a Rolling Stone": number one on the Billboard charts, baby, NUMERO UNO! With a song that was A-R-T!

Maybe, if the Gods who rule over things like public TV see fit, it will happen.

But as the Boy-Bard himself once said, tomorrow is, regretfully, a long time. And neither he nor we will be around to enjoy the sweetness of that final revenge and self-justification.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whaatt ??

9:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

more dylan less you zero

10:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

get a life

wish i had the time to sit around and criticize all day...

i'm sure zeroes like you would make my list

the jokes on you though ignoramous...half of dylan's songs of the 60s were written about angry, "hear myself talkers like you". that's why he is so popular, so i can see why you don't get him.

you an jesse helms need to get together and write. you could just play off of one another...

"you ain't worth the water that runs down my drain..."

north carolina

10:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought "Like A Rolling Stone" only made it to #2 on the Billboard charts. Of course, Rolling Stone magazine recently anointed it the #1 Rock song ever.


10:50 AM

Blogger kim said...

entertain serious skills...
find solace in your hands
let them make you sound topical
take a breath before pondering
the reason we all read

12:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

U P up!

12:31 PM

Blogger adamzero said...

Joyce, now there's a man for the ages!

12:34 PM

Anonymous Liam said...

You're a dick. Bob Dylan was the most talented song writer known to man. If you don't have the sense to appreciate that then your fucking mouth shut instead of making a fool of yourself.

1:11 PM


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