(And some might well have said, Never mind the Rolling Thunder, when you can hear the rising tide of Punk, or at least feel the need.)
Nevertheless, those with patience got and get mostly really good, already speculative re-arrangements of songs from early 60s to recent past, and the whole thing is also a continuation of the troubled relationship dynamic re Blood On The Tracks--not a rolling cinematic break-up album, but scenes (before and after a voice-over of tourmate Anne Waldman's "Fast Talking Woman"), with restless women,sometimes impulsive, sometimes ready to bargain, yet wry, sly, not buyin' any alibis (this time!), and somewhat befuddled men, the latter (and mebbe the former) inching towards middle-aged crazy (this might have gotten on nerves too).
Meanwhile, the already middle-aged men, like Ronnie Hawkins, Allen Ginsberg and Ramblin' Jack (ditto a certain well-seasoned, singing, guitar-playing gypsy hostess) thrive in the spotlight. Lonesome campfire cowpoke Ramblin' Jack has no problem fronting a big old electric band (a generation before his album A Stranger Here, where he's equally at home with the likes of Van Dyke Parks and David Hidalgo). Ginsberg recites from "Kaddish," one of his best long poems, in a hospitable mash-up with the tweaked beat of live "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", as Sarah D. delivers the word to a cabbie: time to throw Harry Dean Stanton a lifeline over the wall. He gets out, keeps doing great "Who Mee?" attempts at being casually on the lam, either before or after Dylan trades him Baez for a getaway horse. She settles down with Harry, explaining that the ever-budding Renaldo is like a jumpy burro, rolling stone etc.
(There's also that time that Baez and Sara-Clara gang up on the legendary Renaldo, brought to ground and tangled up in Rolling Bob. Finally, all he's got for an answer is a little [like,"Well-- Touché"] smile. Nice teeth.)
Folkie nostalgia, the middle-aged macho implications of then-recent Outlaw Country (before and after a Dylan & staff-targeted Columbia Records office guy blasting Willie's "Time of the Preacher"), even a tinge of Southern Rock, Scarlet Rivera's pre-Starbucks violin, visits to a Rez and urban New Jersey (African-Americans on the street discuss and sometimes argue about Hurricane Carter, who's also interviewed), Kerouac's grave and elsewhere in the neighborhood, flukey ambition---it's all mulch fiction of Dylan's turf, which is surprisingly juicy in (hindsight of) the Age of Punk and Disco after all (Gins also quite comfortably reading to the beat of the latter, and maybe the former, have to check again [so much slips through here]).
Only the late performance of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" seems ( though measured, so perhaps deliberately?) overdone, in terms of bellowing the chorus, despite previously unnoticed, maybe recently added details of sensitive piety (sung by McGuinn, natch) in the verses. Doctrinal implications now ride with the usually universalist-seeming chorus, in context of possibly re-written verses, the whole song strapped to pale horse delivery, approaching sheer white light arena amplitude(compare this rendition to the much more agreeably affecting performance on the '74 BD&TB tour's wonderful Before The Flood). Hindsight here also re-affirms (and re-invigorates) the impression that the Endless Tour, preceded by cash and interest re-infusions via treks and slogs with The Band, Rolling Thunder, TP & Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead (expectations thus pressure of GD also led to glimpse of Endless Tour's rhythmic re-alignment, according to Chronicles) all have something to do with road as solution/counterworld to/for relationship and other ongoing crises/ impasses.(Not to mention Carnegie Hall, 1964: "It's Halloween, I got my Bob Dylan mask on." Now more than ever, fearlessly blasting through melting whiteface, icing on the cake.) Plus, this last part of the film also portends certain signposts just up ahead, especially when Ginsberg recites from Gospel, re the women taking up His body and bathing it---Dyl's all ears.
(One of the single best scenes in I'm Not There is [Don't Look Back times] R and C-inspired: David Cross Ginsberg escorts Cate Blanchett Dylan to a sculpture garden incl. towering crucifix image: "Play some of your old stuff!" she-he yells up up the tonnage.)
Great sound and pungent 70s visuals. BD had already made the Scorsese connection after all, and maybe thinkin' (studies of) Cassavetes, director of antsy Dylan docs Pennebaker natch, and hoping for success like that of Altman's Nashville, or Led Zep's Song Remains The Same? RaC's droller moments keep its Rolling Thunder rolling between those last two. Altman and Dylan even have Ronee Blakley's good work in common, so whaddaya want? Why was it panned so deep, so decidedly, decisively (til it came ba-ack, via YouTube, at least) derisively, even young and youngish plain ol cranky about it? Maybe because you couldn't hit Pause or Stop and come back to it three hours or three days later in '78. But more to it than that, or maybe less, in another way. Your thoughts? don allred
2015 update from something written for somewhere else:
I was just thinking today of how few white music stars have written songs criticizing the way police and prosecutors treat black people. "Hurricane" was one star taking up the cause of another, as was pointed out at the time of its release---but that's yet more baggage pulled along with "This is the story of the Hurricane," the continuing through-line: even if he's got the means and acquires big name support, and the case gets thrown out---so, try, try again, if you've decided that you must make an example of him. The song covers the part of the process that had already happened by 1975, and of course he ended up spending decades in prison, despite the Madison Square Garden benefit, despite much long-term grassroots support thereafter. Not to say he was an angel, not to say he was even innocent, necessarily---but when the rest of the prosecution's case(s) fell apart, they went back to the race card: if nothing else, he was *motivated* to avenge the recent death of another black man, by killing whites. This argument was thrown out of court, and---despite any headline-grabbing aspect of Dylan's motives, despite the rich male sneering at "Miss Patty Valentine," other stuff---the song's point seemed sharper than ever. "The trial was a pig circus" that kept coming back to town, and "he never had a chance"---to avoid the re-tries, not for a long, long time.
(And the section of Dylan’s ”Hurricane”-ear travelling documentary-sketch mix Renaldo and Clara, in which black citizens of Newark comment on and argue about the Carter case on the street---I’ve never seen anything else like that in a movie*. (Dylan’s earlier “George Jackson”, with its highly- unusual-for-197i mix of black-associated gospel voices and white-associated steel guitar (long before the Sacred Steel movement was known by most), and “Sometimes I think this whole world/Is one big prison yard/Some of us are prisoners/The rest of us are guards” seems much less problematic than some of “Hurricane”’s lyrics. But still.)
*I did see it in a movie house, where conversations went on, sometimes spreading across the aisle, during showings of some 80s Spike Lee movies. (This was basically a respectable grind house, where you could see year-old A-list films for 99 cents a show, twice a night for a week, and people got hooked---well played, former chain theater.)
I've started to wonder if the whiny-to-yowly, curiously laidback yet carefully detailed (in word and delivery), insolent-as-indolent (punk) "Joey," which eventually follows "Hurricane" on Desire, isn't a self-parody as partial disavowal of his righteous white protest bard mode---also screwing with us, daring us to decide about both songs' mixed motives, mixed messages, a la Andy Kaufman, and El Cohen, on occasion.
Getting back to movies, the gangsterous, sketchy trail of rising, falling Red Hook son "Joey" might (also?) be a take-off on the personal cinematic preoccupations of the aforementioned Scorsese, otherwise Robertson's Last Waltz bard-in-waiting---Mr. D.'s star turns did come off nicely in TLW, whatever his control issues, and he deigned to accept the full attentions of Marty much later on, of course. which worked out great. (What if Scorsese had had RaC input?!)
As always, the Wizard tells you how he chose, what he did to selections (just a little buffing, adjusting volume level for consistency etc.), and the backstory, with details about the movie and tour I didn't know (says BD tried another cut, more of a 70s concert film, but w some of the other material retained, but also got bad response---was this the version I saw? With *even more* improv etc. in first release?) also mentions the most recently released Scorsese-Dylan project, which I've yet to see: ( D's apparently now-former friend Claudia Levy, who still has some warm memories, and whose late husband Jacques wrote songs w D featured in the shows, which he ran, was distressed to find J replaced by a fictional figure in Scosese's doc/RaC homage, which may be one of the elements that "raised eyebrows," as mentioned here [great interview w her in this series, which covers every Rolling Thunder show: https://dylanlive.substack.com/p/jacques-levys-wife-explains-the-late]) :
. In 2019, famed director Martin Scorsese reedited the original footage from 1975 into a completely new documentary, Rolling Thunder: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Finally, fans were able to see remastered and crystal-clear performances from the legendary first leg of The Rolling Thunder Revue, thanks to Scorsese’s curation. But, in true Dylan form, not all in the documentary was what it appeared to be, as several interviewees and narrative events raised numerous eyebrows.
Now, in the wake of Dylan's (on the face of it) hugely lucrative song catalogue deal, and re JL's co(?)-writing 7 of 9 songs on Desire----several of which figure significantly in Renaldo and Clara---Levy survivors are suing "Dylan Defendants"---more about that, and many other aspects of Desire and Rolling Thunder can be found in perceptive, informative discussions (from various POVs) on this I Love Music thread: