These days I've been hit with the double whammy of COVID isolation and recuperating from heart surgery (see my previous blog post). It has left me with time to indulge my love of Star Trek (Sci-Fi Channel: Classic Trek) and interesting documentaries on Crave and Netflix. So far I've seen two docs about Laurel Canyon, another about David Crosby, another about Keith Richards, one about Johnny Cash and Richard Nixon, yet another one about the Russian Revolution and finally a documentary about how to stage your own coup. The most recent doc I've seen is "No Direction Home" by Martin Scorsese about Bob Dylan's life up to his motorcycle crash in 1966.
Fascinating, to quote Spock. It takes us from Dylan's beginnings in Hibbing, Minnesota where he grew up, by his own admission without a musical background of his own. He went out in search of one, and found Woody Guthrie. When he arrived in New York he had crafted his own identity, saying that yes he was born in Minnesota, but he was raised in New Mexico. He changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan. He seemed to sense the spirit of the times that he found himself in and his gift for poetry found full expression. When asked why he wrote, Dylan said that he wrote the songs that he wanted to hear.
While situating himself within the Folk music ethos of the United States in the early 60s and being an heir to Woody Guthrie, he found himself in the vanguard of the movements for change: anti-war protests, Black civil rights, etc. But all the while that his audience revered him and felt he was a leader, Dylan himself did not want to be bound by any kind of pigeon-holing. He seemed to chafe at the label "protest singer". His songs, long, mult-versed, composed as poems on paper and pencil or typewriter, began to explore wider worlds. Then, along came "Like a Rolling Stone" and Dylan dared to go electric. Fans and fellow-folkies were horrified. Dylan's sold out, they cried. The documentary follows Dylan around his tour of Britain and Europe where he was routinely booed.
Watching this with plenty of hindsight, I still can't get over the audience reaction to Dylan and his backup band (who were eventually to become The Band). Give the guy a break, was my feeling. It's hard to imagine an audience that had placed acoustic folk music and their Hero on such a pedestal. I suppose the only way to get off that pedestal and grow artistically, in his mind, was to stay the course and let his audience come to him, which is what eventually happened. The documentary ends with the announcement of Dylan's motorcycle crash in 1966. Even though he continued to write and record music, he didn't tour for another eight years. Interesting watching. I highly recommend "No Direction Home".