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.


markin said...

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.

markin said...

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