Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Not There - The Movie

With the release of the new Dylan biopic I'm Not There and the accompanying soundtrack, I've once again immersed myself in Bob's universe. I'm usually there most of the time anyway, but every so often events like this film/soundtrack remind me how vast Bob's universe really is. I'm not a film critic, and I'm quite sure I'm not equipped to provide an impartial review, but Todd Hayne's new film is a dream come true for Dylan fans, so chock full of detail that my head was spinning. I actually wanted to watch the film again, that same night.

Haynes does the right thing by approaching this film in a challenging and experimental way. A Hollywood biopic in the style of Ray or Walk The Line would be predictable, a little boring, and would not even begin to explain the complexities of Dylan. In choosing to portray Dylan with six different actors, none of which actually are Bob, Haynes blends the correct proportions of symbolism and fact. As a result, we get a wonderfully complex story of six lives that are woven together to tell Bob's story, or parts of it anyway. Significant points in Dylan's history are inserted into the fictional accounts, such as Bob's visit to Woody Guthrie's deathbed or his rural appearances during the Civil Rights Movement. Cate Blanchett's turn as Jude Quinn represents Dylan during the frantic 1965-66 period in England, and is the most literal representation. Her performance is phenomenal. We also get Heath Ledger playing a actor who reminds us of Bob in the early 70s, living in California, marriage on the rocks. Ledger's character played Jack Rollins (Dylan circa 1963, played in the film by Christian Bale) in a film within the film. It's like a kaleidoscope, endlessly spinning, but still giving us a constant focal point. For an artist as complex as Dylan, the film fits like a glove.

Oh and the details! Haynes is obviously a Dylan fanatic as he has peppered the film with obsessive detail, such as sporadically inserting a line of song lyrics into the dialogue, or naming songs of the fictitious Dylans with actual working titles of Bob's own songs. The Cate Blanchett scenes pay homage to Dont Look Back, as the hotel room, limousine and the cinematography are nearly recreated. I could go on and on. The film is currently playing in limited release in smaller theaters, and won't be released to widespread commercial theaters until next Spring. In this limited distribution the film is definitely playing to a captive audience; I sensed that everyone in the theatre was a Dylan fan. It will be interesting to see how the film will be received by a larger audience. Someone with little Dylan knowledge might be completely befuddled. For Dylan fans though, it feels like Christmas came early this year.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Musicology 101 - Just Like A Woman

I’ve had this post on my mind for quite some time, and the holiday gives me a little time to put it together. This year I started a series of posts called Musicology 101, which focuses on one particular song. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the series has only amounted to two songs to date. I chose Dylan’s Just Like A Woman today because he claimed to have written this on Thanksgiving. From the liner notes in Biograph:

“I think I was on the road… I think I wrote it in Kansas City or something… yeah I’m pretty sure I did. I was invited over to somebody’s house for Thanksgiving dinner but I didn’t go, didn’t feel like doing anything, I wasn’t hungry. I stayed in my hotel room and wrote this.”

No one but Bob knows if this is true. Dylan is known for his grand fabrications in interviews, and many accounts of the Blonde on Blonde Sessions have him working on songs in a Nashville hotel and recording on the fly into the wee hours of the morning. But that’s irrelevant. What’s important is that Just Like A Woman is one of Dylan’s most enduring songs, on perhaps his greatest album. Widely regarded as a sexist and anti-feminist taunt, the song was criticized by many when released in 1966. The critics seemed to interpret the song as an indictment of women’s inherent weakness. Even 5 years later, Marion Meade in the New York Times stated "that there is more complete catalog of sexist slurs." where Dylan defines women's natural traits as greed, hypocrisy, whining and hysteria." That's a bit heavy. There’s no doubt that Dylan is remarking on the childlike emotions of a certain woman, commonly thought to be Warhol groupie Edie Sedgwick, but I don’t hear any intent that it’s directed at women in general. [Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat is also thought to be about Edie, who may have also inspired the album title. Ironically, Bob played both songs last time I saw him]. On the original recording, the lilting arrangement has a nursery rhyme quality, as Dylan seems to mock the immature girl that lurks below the surface of the woman:

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.

Ironically, it could be these very qualities of childlike innocence and vulnerability that attracted him to her in the first place. In the end, he speaks of his own vulnerability:

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here

then later...

I just can't fit
Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
When we meet again, introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.

In later years, the live performances of this song take on quite a different tone, as Dylan reflects on this failed relationship with a critical eye on his own failings as well as hers. Check out his solo performance from 1974, one of my favorites, from Before the Flood:

Interpreting Bob Dylan’s music is a daunting task. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and not much help from the author. When asked about the song in a 1992 interview, Dylan responded, “That’s a hard song to pin down. It’s another one of those that you can sing a thousand times and still ask what it is about, but you know there is a real feeling there.” Like all great poetry, it can mean different things with each reading, and this, my friends is why his music will endure for centuries. Happy Thanksgiving.

Just Like A Woman
Recorded March 8, 1966
Columbia Recording Studios, Nashville, Tennessee

Released as a single in September, 1966.
Bob Dylan, lead vocal, guitar and harmonica
There's some confusion over who played what on these sessions, which included:
Robbie Robertson, Al Kooper, Ken Buttrey, Rick Danko, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Jerry Kennedy, Bill Aikins, Henry Strzeleci, Joe South, Garth Hudson, Joe South and Paul Griffin, among others. [Little known fact: sweeping the studio floors was a young janitor named Kris Kristofferson].

more on Blonde on Blonde
the final word on Blonde on Blonde, and some damn good writing

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazing Journey - Discs 2 and 3

Picking up where I left off, here are my thoughts on the 2nd and 3rd discs in the new Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who DVD box set. Disc 2 is a feast for Who fans. Split into 6 parts, the first 4 segments are in depth studies of the band members musical prowess, spliced with historic footage and interviews. Among lots of interesting revelations, you've got the Edge explaining Pete's flamenco guitar style, and session drummer Rob Ladd trying to breakdown Keith's unorthodox drumming. Cut to Keith literally leaping out his seat while playing, from the Live at Leeds footage. It may be more information than the casual music fan will care about, but for a Who fan, particularly anyone with an interest in the band members extraordinary talents, it is spectacular. Best of all, we get more rare and previously unseen video. I've read dozens of articles and books on the Who, and I still learned quite a bit from these segments.

Part 5 focuses on the art school origins of Pete and its influence on the visual aspects of the band, including the mod symbology and guitar smashing. Again, this is important stuff that has been previously unexplored in a documentary format. It's fun to see the original early 60's Coke commercial that the Who did the music for. Part 6 takes us to the sessions for Real Good Looking Boy, and is somewhat reminiscent of the footage from the Kids Are Alright when the band is working on Who Are You. As a finale, the disc includes the earliest known video of the band, taken at the Railway Hotel in 1964 as the High Numbers. Primal, that's all I can say. Oh, there's also a Scrapbook section with other anecdotes, but it's worthless.

Disc 1 and 2 comprise the basic package, and overall I would probably recommend this DVD set over The Kids Are Alright to someone that wants a good overview of the band. As I said in my previous post, The Kids is a really entertaining film, but it doesn't offer the insight of Amazing Journey. Disc 3 is a bonus, and is currently available in a limited edition package at Best Buy. Containing about 90 minutes of footage from the December 11, 1979 performance at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, this is particularly thrilling for me, as I was at that show. Ticket demand for this tour was huge, and in Chicago, fans without tickets were able to watch the show on a live simulcast at outlying theaters. Hence, a pretty decent video of the show exists, and this version is improved in both audio and visual quality.

I'm not complaining though. I paid $25 at Best Buy for the 3-disc set, so this bonus disc was practically free. And, I get to relive my first Who show. Rock concerts are of the moment; even the best ones leave only fleeting memories. I remember a lot from this show that was nearly 30 years ago, and this video helps me fill in the blanks. Coming only 6 days after the tragedy in Cincinnati, it's miracle our parents let us go. The Amphitheater was in a rough neighborhood, and none of us could drive. We got a ride down by a friend's older brother, and chipped in for a long cab ride home. From our seats we couldn't really discern the facial expressions of the band. The video reveals that Pete was quite clearly drunk, with the toussled hair and glassy eyes of his 'cognac period.' The band was asked to acknowledge the fans out in the movie theaters, and there's a funny bit where Pete says through his shifty eyes and sideways grin " We would like to say hello to (reading from a cue card)......the people in...Gateway and Nortown. Both of those places are my hometown. We were born there." These were our heroes, in the flesh.

Musically the band is in fine form, despite a new drummer who was certainly no substitute for Moon, and retrospect, the wrong guy for the job. It's an unbelievable set list, including Young Man Blues and lots from Quadrophenia. I remember the surprise of hearing The Punk Meets The Godfather at this show and it is a great moment in the video. We expected to hear Love Reign O'er Me and 5:15, but not this one. When I think of that show I always go right to that song. Quadrophenia was only 6 years old in 1979, and seeing them perform it that night feels like my slim link to the Who's past.

But I'm rambling. The bottom line is that the limited edition set is worth the extra money if you are a Who fan, but maybe not so much for the casual observer or those of you who are just curious.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Amazing Journey - Disc 1

For my next trick, I will provide a un-biased review of the recently released DVD Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who. Many of you know that I'm a huge Who fan. The Kids Are Alright, released in 1979, had a profound effect on me, and up until now has been the only definitive documentary on the band. The Kids was a labor of love by a true fan, Jeff Stein, who pulled together video footage and interviews into a racous story. We were led to believe that Stein had unearthed all of the decent footage of the band, and the long awaited DVD reissue a few years ago added almost no new material.

Along comes Murray Lerner, who scoured the Earth to find more, including the earliest known footage of the band from 1964 and actual video from the beloved Leeds show in 1970. The film was destined for a theatrical release this fall, but apparently the decision was made to go the 'direct-to-video' route. It's a two disc package, with a limited edition third bonus disc of the December 1979 performance in Chicago. More on that later. Here are my thoughts on Disc 1:

In many ways, this film does a better job of explaining the birth and evolution of the band than The Kids. Wheareas Kids contains more musical performances (and complete songs in some cases), Amazing Journey is a true documentary, done in chronological format with more inteviews and historical context. Beginning with wartime London and childhood experiences, the film does a great job of explaining the early years, how the boys met, and the transformation from dance hall band to singles band to international rock stars. It is a little frustrating that the live footage is cut so short, but overall it's a much more informative story. The film spends a lot of time on the 1964-1969 period (through Tommy), but I was disappointed in the brief, glossed over coverage of Who's Next and Quadrophenia, the band's best work, and arguably the best rock albums of the 1970s.

The band members, family and close confidants are interviewed separately, and their comments are woven throughout the story. Pete's comments are characteristically flippant at times, but insightful. John's brief bits are obviously older, don't shed much light and are a little depressing, as it is clear that he was in failing health at the time. It's Roger's interview that cements the entire film together. You really learn it all from his interview bits. If the DVD had a feature to watch his interview in it's entirety, it would be riveting. It is clear that the Who was, and is, everything for Roger, and he candidly recalls the high points and low points with complete honesty. It's heartbreaking when he talks about being kicked out of the band, or when he discusses his inability to approach Pete during the increasingly difficult periods of writing new material. As the film progresses, the complex friendship between Pete and Roger, always a source of wonder, is slowly revealed.

Overall, Amazing Journey is a must for all Who fans, and will satisfy anyone curious about the history of this great band. The Kids are Alright is great entertainment. Amazing Journey is enlightenment. I'll review Disc 2 in the next post.

I'm The Face - The High Numbers (The Who, 1964)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is There Anybody Out There?

According to Derek Gordon, VP for marketing for Technorati, there are 109.2 million blogs out there, and 99 percent get no hits in the course of a year. "The vast majority of blogs exist in a state of total or near-total obscurity," said Gordon. Gosh. I know I have at least 4 regular readers, so I'm feeling special today. Technorati is search engine that tracks worldwide weblogs on a level with the almighty Google. This interesting fact, along with a few others, was reported in the Chicago Tribune today. Other stats:

- 5-15 percent of blogs are 'splogs', spam blogs designed to lure folks into sites with nefarious motives, spyware and general garbage. 3,000 to 7,000 new splogs are created each day.

- 109.2 million blogs means there is one blog for every 151 people on the planet, and roughly one blog for every 23 people that have Internet access.

When you can set up a blog in 5 minutes, write whatever you want anonymously and publish it worldwide in one second, this was bound to happen. Wasn't it Nostradamus who predicted computers would lead to the downfall of society?


Monday, November 12, 2007

Robert Plant soars over the Mothership

Tomorrow the Mothership lands, officially signaling the beginning of the 2007 Led Zeppelin market saturation, just in time for the holidays. How many greatest hits collections do we need anyway? Who among us does not have all of the Zeppelin albums? What frustrates me is the attempt to sucker us in again to re-buy all the old material so we can get the bonus DVD filled with rarities. Hopefully the box set finds its way to a new audience, but for us old guys, enough is enough.

Then there's the reissue of The Song Remains The Same DVD and CD, a remastered version of the most preposterous concert film of all time. Back in the day, I used to doze through this at the late night showing at my local theatre, waiting for The Kids Are Alright. I always used to wake up during the Page sequence when he ages in 30 seconds at the climax of Dazed and Confused and his face looks like a shrunken apple. It's Spinal Tap, only it wasn't a parody. Oddly though, I'm compelled to pick up the soundtrack with six extra tracks, because some of it really rocks, and I'm a sucker for nostalgia (and I lost my vinyl copy).

Of course, the focus this month is really on the upcoming reunion concert, and the concert CD that will surely follow. You can't help but be intrigued by Page-Plant-Jones on stage again, and I sincerely hope they do more that simply go through the motions.

What really prompted me to write today is the new album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, which I've been listening to heavily in the last few weeks. In a word, the record is exquisite. I usually shy away from records like this, and certainly the duet with Tori Amos on the Encomium disc was enough to give me second thoughts (they did Down By the Seaside and it was horrible). Plant has always has an interest in acoustic folk music, most fully realized on Led Zeppelin III. On this record, Plant uses his voice like a stringed instrument, providing beautiful accompaniment to Krauss' angelic voice. When he takes the lead, it's in understated manner, perfectly suited to the material. It's really encouraging that the king of over-the-top rock god vocalists is capable of this kind of performance, 30 years after his 'prime.' Flawlessly produced by T-Bone Burnett, this is one of the best records I've heard in a while.

Stick With Me Baby - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Labels: ,


View My Stats