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The Revolutionary Bob Dylan
The Dylan vaults also produced rare footage and outtakes from Murray Lerner's "Festival," which documented Dylan's performances at the Newport Folk Festivals from 1963 to 1965 and the extreme reactions embodied therein.
In 1963, Dylan's festival-closing performance of his civil rights anthem "Blowin' in the Wind" made it seem, according to Van Ronk, that "if there is an American collective unconscious . . . Bobby had somehow tapped into that." But by 1965, it's derision being heaped on Dylan after he appears, playing electric guitar with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, opening with a raucous performance of "Maggie's Farm" that clearly alienates the folkie faithful. Dragged out for a solo acoustic encore, Dylan pithily chooses "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," with its harsh admonition to "strike another match, go start anew."
Because it's told in Dylan's voice -- which turns out to be as clear and precise as the writing style of his memoir -- even his familiar origin story bears rehearing as he journeys back to when he was Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., a mundane town where "you couldn't be a rebel -- it was too cold." Becoming Bob Dylan involved a constant infusion of music: "Listening to the radio, I got bored being there," Dylan says of the vistas opened through others' voices.
In high school, his principal recalls, the curtain is pulled on Dylan's rock-and-roll band, but he gets an inkling of the power of his words, noting with the slyest of smiles that two girls in particular "brought out the poet in me."
There's the eventual immersion in folk and the inevitable journey to New York, where it takes a Village to raise Bob Dylan. Several times, Dylan refers to himself as "a musical expeditionary," and we see him gradually transition from singing other people's songs to creating the stunning body of work that changed the face of popular music.
"I wrote the songs to perform the songs, and I needed to sing them in that language, which is a language I hadn't heard before," Dylan explains. His "Song for Woody" is part tribute, part liberation, the path to his own voice and the beginning of the first phase of his genius, when he's still in his early 20s and creating a cascade of timeless songs. "I could do that then," Dylan says. "I was in a certain arena artistically that no one else had been in before." Not boasting, just remembering.
While Scorsese celebrates Dylan's craft, he also shows the debilitating cost of iconhood -- the crush of ignorant and disinterested media, the incessant press of fans, the isolation of fame and the unbearable weight thrust upon Dylan as the voice of his generation. Of the many roads Dylan traveled down, that one had the deadest of ends, and he would need a motorcycle to take him off it.
There are volumes to come in Dylan's "Chronicles." Maybe Scorsese should start thinking about his first sequel.