I don't know how many of you caught Martin Scorsese's film on Bob Dylan that was broadcast on PBS the last couple nights. But if you missed it, you missed something special. What a great film. I was impressed by how coherent and forthcoming the present-day Dylan is in his comments. He seems to be past the point of feeling the need to play games with interviewers.
But I certainly gained a new appreciation for why he felt the need to play those games in the first place. Scorsese's collage of the '66 European tour, where he showed Bob answering the same inane press questions again and again, made me appreciate how truly wearying it must have been to face that interviewing onslaught day after day.
And even though much of the '66 concert footage is readily available in D. A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, I was thrilled to see and hear those monumental songs again. Others have frequently complained about Bob's offputting howl, but I have to say that I love that howl. Hearing Dylan respond to the boos and catcalls with "Something is happening/And you don't know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?" is still the best upraised musical middle finger I've ever heard.
In retrospect, it is easy to understand the bewilderment and hostility of the audience. Aside from the folk scene "betrayal" issues, Dylan's music in '66 was an absolute sonic pummeling -- loud, abrasive, and so densely packed lyrically (even when the audience could hear the lyrics) as to defy instant comprehension. It must have sounded as foreign and alien to his audiences as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music would sound to the recent escapees of the Mickey Mouse Club at an Ashley Simpson concert. Amazingly, Dylan persevered through it. But Scorsese's film reminded me just how utterly revolutionary Dylan's music was at the time. He busted the doors wide open, and music has never been the same. I thought Scorsese captured that moment just about perfectly.