And we all want what's his
1. The first time I heard Bob Dylan I thought it was a joke. I was 15 and I was sitting on my friend's Greg's bed while he rifled around looking for something or other amongst a stack of albums. His room was cluttered and small, a giant Queen Is Dead poster on one wall, dusty Star Wars action figures on the windowsill. Dylan sounded false. Nasally and small, all cluttered talk, jumbled little asides about the hardness of things. "Is he kidding? Why is he singing like that?" No response from my host. As Dylan kept braying about cold NYC, I inspected the photo on the cover. A baby-faced young man with thin lips rocking a newsboy cap. He looked familiar. "Oh my god. You know who he looks like? Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks!" Greg walks over and says, "A little."
2. A year or so later, it might've been less, my friend Ben S. made me a mix tape with Blood on The Tracks on one side and Desire on another. I listened to it constantly. Play, fast forward through Idiot Wind, flip to the other side, through rain, snowstorms and sunshine. Years later, I saw the White Stripes at Radio City. They started playing Isis, and even though I hadn't heard it in forever, when the time came, I shouted, too loudly, too wildly, "If you want me to...YES!"
3. I lied, the first Dylan I ever heard was New Morning and I was 9. I bought it on cassette for 50 cents (borrowed from moms, natch) at a yard sale in Mamaroneck. I thought the photo was really nice, that the man in it had soft eyes. Listened to it once. I didn't get it. Re-gifted it to my then-stepdad.
4. J bought Chronicles and was reading it at bedtime. He'd tell me things in it and I'd promptly forget. I tried reading Positively 4th Street 'cause Mimi Farina was a stone cold fox. I didn't make it very far. Which is weird. I'm a big fan of biographies, always have been. I like true stories and facts. But Dylan and facts? I don't buy it and neither do my eyes. They refuse to read the words.
5. When I heard about I'm Not There, I worried. Directed by Todd Haynes, you say? Hmmm...tell me more.
6. Dylan is split into six non-Dylans or Dylan facets. Got it. It's an easy conceit to accept. The non-linear structure too; it was as if each person was giving birth to another at crucial points. Giraffes walk into frames. The Beatles explode on a grassy field in a burst of helium giggles. A man in white face sings next to an open coffin. A French waif slips on her stockings and smiles at the camera. Watching it, letting the black and whites become gold then red, I realized that for all the ideas going on, I didn't feel lost. It's an intellectual film that's quite accessible. It brings you closer to the man and his work, which is way more than I can say about all those chronological "I feel guilt over my brother's death/I'm really SAD and that is why I'm a musician" biopics out there.
7. I enjoyed the actorly interpretations, especially Ben Wishaw's steely-eyed/nervous fingers performance as Rimbaud/Dylan. Cate Blanchett is great* though you could argue that she gets singled out for praise not so much because of her performance, but because she's playing everyone's favorite Dylan, the twitchy little black clad punk of Don't Look Back. Everyone else had to wrestle with being actors, poets, preachers, pretenders, and wise old outlaws. She got to play the rock star and that's the one persona that can be all those things at once.
8. A favorite musical moment from the film.
Blind Willie McTell/Bob Dylan (mp3)
9. Speaking of The Bootleg Series, the version of Every Grain of Sand on it = gorgeous.
10. Purchase The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 by Bob Dylan.
* Of course, it's great, she's a fucking good actress. Interestingly, I find her best performances to be ones where she plays people who appear to be in control but are dealing with secret, mounting terrors. Their masks must stay in place despite it all.