photo manipulation by nacrowe
having given up touring in 1966, BOB DYLAN was convinced to return to the road in the mid 70s during the bicentennial with his ROLLING THUNDER REVUE tour, in part to take advantage of the newly lucrative national stateside touring circuit. but things were different this time around as he experimented with minor theatrical elements and the concept of artifice as means of allowing him the psychic space to perform and communicate, ironically, more directly with more honesty. as DYLAN states in this recent the MARTIN SCORSESE-directed documentary ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (NETFLIX, 2019), "when somebody's wearing a mask, he's gonna yell you tell you the truth--when he's not wearing a mask, it's highly unlikely." interesting concept.
made up of archival footage from the period as well as recent and vintage interviews, the film finds DYLAN trekking across a continent anew that was in the midst of experiencing the death throes of the VIETNAM WAR, bitter intergenerational discord as well as political uncertainty with the fall of PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON. it was quite a time in AMERICAN HISTORY and for DYLAN, long-heralded with an unwanted VOICE OF A GENERATION tag by his proponents, he chose explicitly to present himself within the context of a band concept on stage solely armed with new songs that made use of such. if you look closely youll notice such members of the band including T-BONE BURNETT and even guitarist MICK RONSON, straight from his time with DAVID BOWIE after the SPIDERS FROM MARS had broken up. pretty cool stuff. now im not a big DYLAN fan, most of the his work i am familiar with is firmly in the FOLK tradition and comes off as musically repetitive and unimaginative. lyrically hes a genius but as a musician i thought he sucked. sue me. the music here is definitely more BLUES-based and at times comes off quite powerfully with a loose ROCK AND ROLL feel. dare i say with songs like "HARD RAIN" he actually grooves. who knew? and "HURRICANE" is arguably the highlight of the film as it touches on DYLAN's sense of social justice and the redemptive and transformative power of music. maybe its time for me to dive into his catalogue again.
on a slight side note for cinema dorks, SCORSESE deftly intercuts shots of the mime BAPTISTE from the FRENCH WWII classic THE CHILDREN OF PARADISE, which is the ultimate switch-and-bait film of all time. the movie begins with the curtain opening after the credits, cluing you right from the jump that this is not what it seems. the film is highly allegorical with everyone wearing masks, some literal and others covered by aristocratic behaviors deemed acceptable by the rigid FRENCH class system despite diabolical motives. even the film itself, which was made under NAZI occupation, is viewed by many as a coded rebuke against their new superiors. so anyway, if ever there was a film to reference about speaking truth while being physically obscured, THE CHILDREN OF PARADISE is it. sorry, i'm a film dork.
the film itself utilizes performance footage, both rehearsal and in concert, meant to be included in a panned obscure film from the period by a failed scandinavian arthouse director. while some of the behind-the-scenes footage seems listless and meandering on first glance, it also gives you an intimate look at the hangers-on of DYLAN and their goal of being in his good graces. as exhausting as it is to hear these people dribble and drabble on, pontificating about bullshit, you can only imagine how much worse that would be if this was your party and you were the object of their affection. i get it now why he's a recluse.
which brings me a bit to the structure of this film. at the beginning the interview with modern-day DYLAN breaks down on the first question and essentially he just says he's gonna talk about what he wants to. there is no purpose to the film or bigger revelation about life in general in this film, instead DYLAN argues it is all about creation and making things. when the original scandinavian director asks dumb straightforward questions to DYLAN before and after going on stage, again we are left to empathize with him not wanting to butcher the experience on stage into words. language devalues lived experience and as a community we are experiencing this journey once again. again as he states in the film "thought will fuck you up."
i should also mention that on this journey as tour mates and collaborators were such luminaries as JOAN BAEZ, ALLEN GINSBERG, JONI MITCHELL, ANNE WALDMAN, PETER ORLOVSKY, SAM SHEPARD and ROGER MCQUIN.
interesting film worth checking out and revisiting.
photo by nacrowe
for anyone unfamiliar with the BEAT writers and their impact on modern culture, well beyond poetry, the graphic novel THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (HILL AND WANG, 2010) is an excellent starting point. while providing a fairly definitive, warts-and-all overview of the three main writers associated with the movement in JACK KEROUAC, ALLEN GINSBERG and WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, it also deftly chooses to contextualize them within the greater SAN FRANCISCO POETRY RENAISSANCE scene that found them with writers like KENNETH REXROTH, MICHAEL MCCLURE, PHILIP WHALEN, WILLIAM EVERSON, GARY SNYDER, ROBERT DUNCAN, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI and GREGORY CORSO as well as other important related figures like AMIRI BARAKA, CHARLES OLSON and ROBERT CREELEY. this breadth of scope results in a wider perspective about the greater influence of a movement that largely defined an era in art, poetry and literature that is still reverberating today.
i appreciate very much that the art and text both don't attempt to gloss over the fact that the three main figure (KEROUAC, GINSBERG and BURROUGHS) were involved in activities that put them at the edge of society. i understand back in the 1950s being openly homosexual was an issue and that our society has come a long way in accepting all forms of sexuality, but all three were confirmed pederasts which is still remains major taboo (for good reason). not that i am conflating the two. the all also engaged in petty crime and drug sales across state lines and in the case of BURROUGHS, manslaughter. some (KEROUAC and BURROUGHS) where petty, xenophobic, racist, solipsistic and in later life (ironically) bitterly homophobic. they were a collective that took sexuality, drugs, the written and by extension experiential consciousness to their polar extremes, which very much informed the breadth and potency of their work. the authors don't condone such, but merely present such in a straightforward manner in order to evoke a clarity of message and mission.
the choice in showcasing their exploits within a context of the greater literary and academic scene at the time and shortly thereafter provides necessary insight into how they were perceived at the time and why they are referred back to constantly today as touchstone influences.
in an era that demanded conformity during the rise of foreign fascism, their ability to wave their own freak flag of individuality provided an example of unadulterated freedom and personal liberty, for good or worse, down the line. hard to tell which.
text by HARVEY PEKAR, NANCY J. PETERS, PENELOPE ROSEMONT, JOYCE BRABNER, TRINA ROBBINS and TUL KUPFERBERG.
art by ED PISKOR, JAY KINNEY, NICK THORKELSON, SUMMER MCCLINTON, PETER KUPER, MARY FLEENER, JEROME NEUKIRCH, ANNE TIMMONS, GARY DUMM, LANCE TOOKS and JEFFREY LEWIS.