Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bob Dylan's electric performance

Liz and I finished watching No Direction Home last night. We watched part 1 last week, then had to wait a week to see part 2. The movie itself is fantastic: excellent interviews, restored concert and archival footage, all edited into a great four-hour film. The thing that struck me about the movie is that until last night, I had no idea why people were so upset and offended when Bob Dylan "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Liz's aunt, who's a big Dylan fan and lived through that time, argued that we couldn't understand it because we hadn't experienced it directly, that you had to see Dylan before and after the "electric" transformation to see what a big difference it made. Well, this movie presents that, by showing him onstage at the 1964 Festival performing acoustically and then again a year later with a blues band playing electric instruments. After seeing those two performances, I have a better idea why people were so irate. The movie highlights Dylan's place in the folk community and his role in the protests of the day, and when he got away from that to play more bluesy songs, his folk audience didn't know what to think. I'll never really understand why people couldn't just appreciate his music for what it was, instead of trying to ascribe all of these folk ideals and principles to him. But I have a better idea of the way people saw him at the time and Dylan's response to the attention after seeing the film. And it's a treat to see Dylan and guys like Robbie Robertson and the other members of The Band way back in the day, before they went on to success in their own right. I strongly recommend the soundtrack of the movie, which has some of the film's performances on it as well as some other gems from the same period in Dylan's career. I never thought I'd be a Bob Dylan fan, let alone a completist well on the way to owning all of his albums.

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