Friday, July 24, 2015

In Honor Of Newport 1965- Bob Dylan- Unplugged and Plugged at Newport 1963-65

Bob Dylan- Unplugged and Plugged at Newport 1963-65

Bob Dylan: The Other Side of The Mirror: Live at The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965,Bob Dylan and various other artists, 2007

Were we ever really that young? That is the first reaction I had in viewing this film. A young Bob Dylan featured with his lady at the time (I believe, if memory serves) a young Joan Baez. And who, at least for the controversial 1965 concert (where he did that taboo couple of electrified guitar numbers that freaked the old-time folkies out) had a young Markin as part of his audience. I am not altogether sure that in the end Bob Dylan cared one way or the other whether he was the voice of a generation, my generation, the generation of ’68 but in this very well configured musical documentary there is certainly a case to be made for that proposition. This is the high tide of Dylan’s career as an acoustic folk performer making the transition to, for lack of a better term, folk rock or just flat out rock.

Probably the most important reason to view this documentary, however, is to observe Dylan’s visual, vocal and professional transformation during this short two year period. In 1963 Dylan is dressed in the de rigueur work shirt and denim jeans with an unmade bed of a hairdo. His voice is, to be kind, reedy and scratchy, and his songs sung at that time are things like Blowin’ in the Wind (done here with Baez and others in an incredible finale) and With God on Our Side (with Baez) reflecting the influence of traditional folk themes and of a style derived from his early hero Woody Guthrie. Newport 1964 is a transition. The hair is somewhat styled, the outfit more hippie than traditional folk garb, the voice is stronger reflecting the established fact that he is now ‘king of the hill’ in the folk world. And he sings things like the classic Mr. Tambourine Man that give a hint that he is moving away from the tradition idiom.

Newport 1965 gives us the full blown Dylan that we have come not to know. The one that once we think we have him pegged slips away on us. Here we get no mixing it up with Baez or other folkies but a full-bore rock back up band to play Maggie’s Farm and one of the anthems for my generation, Like A Rolling Stone. Then back to acoustic with It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and Love Minus Zero, No Limit (which is something of the love anthem for my generation or, at least, one of them). All done in a very strong and confident voice that says here it is, take it or leave it. Wow. You know my answer.

This film, seemingly consciously, shies away from an investigation of any of the controversies of the time concerning the direction of Dylan’s work. Pete Seeger’s only shot on film, as I recall, was to introduce Dylan at the 1964 festival. The most controversial subjects addressed seem to be whether or not it would throw the schedule off to give into the crowd and have Dylan play longer. Or whether it was okay for the jaded youth of the day to have folk singers as idols. Aside from that shortcoming, which in any case can be pursued elsewhere, this film will go a long way to solving any lingering controversy about whether Mr. Dylan belongs in the folk pantheon.


  1. In the interest of completeness concerning my earleir evaluation of the Dylan songs "Masters Of War" and "With Good On Our Side" on his early albums here are the lyrics to the latter song.

    Interestingly, except for changing the Cold War theme against the Russians then to the so-called War On Terror now against seemingly every Moslem that any American presidential administration can get it hands on (Bush in Iraq and Afgahnistan) and Obama (same and, maybe, Pakistan) these lyrics "speak" to me today. The word they speak is hubris, American hubris, that the rest of the world has had reason to fear, and rightly so. What do they "speak" to you?

    "With God On Our Side"

    Oh my name it is nothin'
    My age it means less
    The country I come from
    Is called the Midwest
    I's taught and brought up there
    The laws to abide
    And the land that I live in
    Has God on its side.

    Oh the history books tell it
    They tell it so well
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians fell
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians died
    Oh the country was young
    With God on its side.

    The Spanish-American
    War had its day
    And the Civil War too
    Was soon laid away
    And the names of the heroes
    I's made to memorize
    With guns on their hands
    And God on their side.

    The First World War, boys
    It came and it went
    The reason for fighting
    I never did get
    But I learned to accept it
    Accept it with pride
    For you don't count the dead
    When God's on your side.

    When the Second World War
    Came to an end
    We forgave the Germans
    And then we were friends
    Though they murdered six million
    In the ovens they fried
    The Germans now too
    Have God on their side.

    I've learned to hate Russians
    All through my whole life
    If another war comes
    It's them we must fight
    To hate them and fear them
    To run and to hide
    And accept it all bravely
    With God on my side.

    But now we got weapons
    Of the chemical dust
    If fire them we're forced to
    Then fire them we must
    One push of the button
    And a shot the world wide
    And you never ask questions
    When God's on your side.

    In a many dark hour
    I've been thinkin' about this
    That Jesus Christ
    Was betrayed by a kiss
    But I can't think for you
    You'll have to decide
    Whether Judas Iscariot
    Had God on his side.

    So now as I'm leavin'
    I'm weary as Hell
    The confusion I'm feelin'
    Ain't no tongue can tell
    The words fill my head
    And fall to the floor
    If God's on our side
    He'll stop the next war.

  2. Guest Commentary

    I have mentioned in my review of Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home; The Legacy Of Bob Dylan" (see archives) that Dylan's protest/social commentary lyrics dovetailed with my, and others of my generation's, struggle to make sense of world at war (cold or otherwise)and filled with injustices and constricting values. Here are the lyrics of three songs-"Blowin' In The Wind", "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Like A Rolling Stone" that can serve as examples of why we responded to his messages the way we did. Kudos Bob.

    The Times They Are A-Changin'

    Come gather 'round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You'll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin'
    Then you better start swimmin'
    Or you'll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won't come again
    And don't speak too soon
    For the wheel's still in spin
    And there's no tellin' who
    That it's namin'.
    For the loser now
    Will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don't stand in the doorway
    Don't block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There's a battle outside
    And it is ragin'.
    It'll soon shake your windows
    And rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don't criticize
    What you can't understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin'.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can't lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fadin'.
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin'.

    Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music

    Blowin' In The Wind

    How many roads must a man walk down
    Before you call him a man?
    Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?
    Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
    Before they're forever banned?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    How many years can a mountain exist
    Before it's washed to the sea?
    Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
    Before they're allowed to be free?
    Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
    Pretending he just doesn't see?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
    The answer is blowin' in the wind.

    Copyright ©1962; renewed 1990 Special Rider Music

    Like A Rolling Stone

    Once upon a time you dressed so fine
    You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
    People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
    You thought they were all kiddin' you
    You used to laugh about
    Everybody that was hangin' out
    Now you don't talk so loud
    Now you don't seem so proud
    About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be without a home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
    But you know you only used to get juiced in it
    And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
    And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
    You said you'd never compromise
    With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
    He's not selling any alibis
    As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
    And ask him do you want to make a deal?

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
    When they all come down and did tricks for you
    You never understood that it ain't no good
    You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
    You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
    Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
    Ain't it hard when you discover that
    He really wasn't where it's at
    After he took from you everything he could steal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
    They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
    Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
    But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
    You used to be so amused
    At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
    Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
    When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
    You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?

    Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music