Original Started Date: 7/9/2021
Published online Date 7/11/2021
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan is split into two parts, directed by Martin Scorsese, co-produced by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen: released in 2005. The director paints a picture that mimics Bob Dylan's Royal Albert Hall (RAH) performance, and the essence of Bob's first world tour. To be sure, the RAH performance is one for the history books (H/T, Loren's Royal Albert Hall Review
). Taking a step back, in this inaugural blog post I plan to share some common religious and historical themes married to most agents of musical change worth note; touch on the dichotomous yet intertwining nature of the intro acoustic set and the polyphonic electric soundstage close; loosely riff on some musical influences and relate to lived experiences. In addition, I highlight some choice Bob Dylan quotes in the footnotes taken verbatim from the Scorsese documentary. My dear readers, I am but a fan of the art, not a critic, hoping to create something self-sufficient in its very nature of existence. Poetic justice, reflection, and doing the right thing are the impetus for what’s next.
Part one of the Scorsese film is a homely account of Dylan's Minnesota coming of age. I too grew up in Minnesota, nowhere near Hibbing or Duluth, but both of my grandfathers hail from the mighty north country that is Dulut'. I found myself learning something new about the songwriter’s past with each interview clip, and as I learned more I kept seeing, perhaps hallucinating, parallels between his upbringing and some of my own experiences. For example, Bob Dylan was born in Minnesota (MN), and grew up in New Mexico (NM), Dylan desired to attend a military school, Dylan was briefly a Sigma Alpha Mu at the University of Minnesota, and Dylan made a deal at the crossroads on a quick trip to New York. Wow, perhaps an erudite geometer would chuckle and call the parallels a literal quadrilateral. On a personal note, I am the grandson of a jazz drummer, unfortunately, I did not inherit the gift of rhythm. The similarities of Dylan's early years and mine made the Midwestern son in me smile, especially when Dylan mentioned the names of his first two girlfriends, but I'll save all direct quotes as footnotes for my dear readers.
The slow build and simple aesthetic of the introduction to Dylan in the documentary felt akin to the acoustic sounds of his RAH concert and how Dylan tried to introduce himself to the world. Not to be confused with a one-trick pony, a drastic change in tone occurs when Dylan reaches the song "Tell Me, Momma" in his setlist. "Tell Me, Momma", was never officially released, and each time Dylan performs the song, he changed the lyrics and the notes — imagine a writer scribbling in a notebook, crossing out phrases here, trying alternative verbiage there. The air of creative providence is palpable in Dylan’s comfort with live experimentation. On a black Stratocaster, one can hear him fingerpicking and the band fiddling together trying to find a tune for a solid 46 seconds before everyone finds the groove for the particular RAH venue and audience. Dylan belts out the chorus, "TEEELL ME, MOMMAAA!", "WHAT IS IT? WHATS WRONG WITH YOU THIS TIME?" accompanied by a marvelous ensemble performance. In fact, some random audience members described the second half of his iconic performance as pop, but I would respectfully disagree with that characterization, and Dylan himself had some choice words for journalists seeking to put his creativity into any type of box (see footnotes).
Music is an ancient tradition with deep roots in civilization, religion, and creative expression. Across Christian Europe, the Renaissance was a time of change; whereas most arts changed tacks under the humanistic influence, music did not. For example, the Council of Trent (1525 – 1594) serves as a landmark guidepost with respect to the evolution of spiritual music. To summarize the Council of Trent
(a music theory essay I wrote in 2014 ... idk, the grade was an A, tbh not that that should matter now): although never passing papal legislation, heavily influenced the performance and style of both sacred and secular music. One might opine Dylan’s RAH performance is the epitome of the best of both worlds: the contrast between the intricacy of Catholic's choral polyphonic music competing with the endearing simplicity and tradition of monophonic music continues even in modern music and demonstrates how music, indeed a single musicians' performance, can change culture just as easily as culture influences music. Plato would probably turn in his grave and shut the academy down if he only knew artists and poets would become the heirs to the philosopher King's reputation. The folkies in the UK were akin to the Calvinists and A Capella purists of the renaissance era. Dylan, the prophet, might as well as nailed up 95 theses on the concert venue on his way out. OK, enough philosophy babble, let's get back to the jams.
This diatribe would go awry if I did not acknowledge and close with the infamous RAH heckle and Dylan's genius retort
. Keep in mind, Dylan literally changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan; a pen-name some believe inspired in part due to, perhaps, racial, but more likely anti-Semitic social norms ingrained into aspects of Minneapolis culture. I wonder why it's all about the Benjamins? Circling back to RAH, a heckler cries out Judas, like a shot through the heart of our dear generational songbird, the loaded slander triggers the essence of musical progression toward timeless beauty or something. Dylan doesn't miss a beat, and responds in kind, "I don't believe you", continues to strum an electric melody, "You are a liar", about-faces to address the band, "play it fuckin’ loud", turns to face the audience, raises his pick hand as a visible gesture, and proceeds to give the most memorable performance I have ever had the privilege to witness — live or recorded. One can hear words slur while Dylan's emotions, amphetamines, and experiences come together to produce a legend, not a myth but a bonified living legend that was, and still is, wise enough to prioritize the creation of something worthwhile above all. Indeed, in that RAH moment, Dylan’s musical inspirations of Robert Johnson (dear reader, pls see appendix for a righteous tangent on Robert Johnson) and Woody Guthrie would surely have been beaming with approval on from beyond, nodding in time with the rhythm of a future Nobel Laureate.
“Time … You can do a lot of things that seem to make time stand still, but, of course, you know, no one can do that.” - BD
“The sound of the record made me feel like I was someone else. And that, uh, you know that I was maybe not even born to the right parents, or something” - BD.
“I had ambitions to set out and find like an odyssey of going home somewhere. I set out to find, uh, this home that I’d left a while back and couldn’t remember where exactly it was but I was on my way there. And encountering what I encountered on the way was how I envisioned it all. I didn’t really have any ambition at all. I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be and so I’m on my way home, you know”. - BD
“I began listening to the radio, I began to get bored being there. I thought about going to Military School, but the military school I envisioned myself going to, uh, I couldn’t get in, which was West Point (OK, Annapolis or Merchant Marine for yours truly). You know I could always envision myself dying in some heroic battle somewhere. So, I mean, [stammers] maybe that era that … is … gone.” - BD
“I really can’t say if the girls took a liking to me or not from playing around town. The first girl that ever took a liking to me, her name was Gloria Story, I mean that was her real name. The second girlfriend was named Echo. Now that is pretty strange. I’ve never met anybody named Echo. I serenaded her undeath a ladder that went up to her window. And both girls, by the way, brought out the poet in me.” -BD
“Time, you know, time kind of obliterated the past that was around when I was growing up. Just time and progress, really.” -BD
“The only interesting people were the mad ones. Etc.”
Perspective on the booing, "realize you can kill somebody with kindness too." - BD
On Bob Dylan, “nobody ever counted off for Dylan he just did whatever the fuck he wanted to”. - bandmate
“I don’t think Dylan had a lot to do with it. I think G-d instead of touching him on the shoulder, kicked his ass. He can’t help what he is doing, he has the holly spirit about him, you can tell that.” - bandmate
“I label myself well under thirty and my role is to stay here as long as I can” - BD
“for some reason, the press thought performers had all the answers to society, what can you say to that, it’s kind of absurd”. - BD
In response to why are you popular… “What do you want me to say about it? Jump up and say hallelujah and crash the cameras?”. - BD
In response to critics, “It’s enough to make anybody sick really”. - BD
"Don’t fear, don’t be envious, and don’t be mean." - a mentor on how to write lyrics. Dylan responded, "Right".
"I want the names of all the people that booed me." - BD
"House of the rising sun, wow. The whole thing was a tempest in a teapot" - fellow musician
A brief aside with respect to Robert Johnson (undisputed King of the Delta Blues), his reputation, and a continued discussion on the religious influences over the evolution of rock and roll and culture. Blues music originated from the fields of unimaginable human suffering, the best musicians escaped the cruelty of their masters by first performing in the fields for nickels and dimes. As a musician’s talents grew and matured, so did their appetite for an audience and a moon-shot chance at financial independence. Juke joints were the local watering holes where folks would drink, gamble, and in general, have fun. The Baptist church noticed the Sunday pews were filled with only women because their husbands had been busy in the wee small hours at the Juke joint spending what might have otherwise been the Church’s tithe. Ministers shrewdly began to preach that blues was the Devil’s music, and before long, the wives began warning their husbands not to listen to the Devil’s music and go to church instead. Let me be clear my dear readers, I mean no slight or offense to any demographic in the intent of my words chosen, be it: women, austere religious scholars, or even dudes that rock and roll. Robert Johnson's story in particular claims that after struggling to play the guitar, Johnson went down to the crossroads, made a deal with the devil, and sold his soul for unrivaled musical talent. Johnson’s life seemed to be plagued with tragedy (the first wife died, and the baby died in childbirth, the bride’s family blamed it on Johnson playing that devil’s music, etc.). Listening to Robert Johnson on one of his 29 tracks before he passed at the age of 27 literally sounds like two, sometimes three people playing guitar simultaneously with unmistakable vocals that would go on to influence: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton (... it me again ... Crossroads live anyone?), Led Zeppelin, and countless other stars. For example, the Lemon song directly quotes Robert Johnson’s, “Traveling Riverside Blues”. Yes, many books (e.g., Crossroad, Up Jumped the Devil, etc.) have been written on Robert Johnson and there is even a Netflix documentary (i.e., ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads) as well, but the author found listening to the actual recordings of Robert Johnson to be the best thing one might recommend a friend. The acoustic nature and explicit religious themes of Johnson’s work make it fair game for inclusion in this essay.
Next on my docket, share some thoughts on the Rolling Thunder Revue, and probably touch on more Eastern vibes.
For what it's worth, originally, I watched it on a Delta flight economy seatback screen, but I watched it again on an iPhone screen, so I'll try to share some thoughts before Dylan's July 18th Shadow Kingdom