Since Martin Scorsese’s masterful 2005 documentary “No Direction Home,” the hidden chambers of the Sphinx have been systematically raided, all with the approval of the Sphinx himself.
For an artist who long professed no interest in his former selves, Bob Dylan is the subject of an orchestrated barrage. He has:
A. Rethought his legacy.
B. Discovered new appreciation for those who spend copious time poring over his oeuvre.
C. Decided “what the hell.”
Conclusion C is the one I arrived at last year when I wandered through a fascinating Dylan exhibit at New York’s Whitney Museum. It featured revealing personal correspondence and other material that anyone who was truly unconcerned with his place in history might have thrown away.
This week, Dylan releases “Dylan,” a 3-disc, 51-track chronological collection of the “best” of his studio recordings over 46 years. His fandom allegedly had input about what would be included, which may be the reason that a smoking B-side—“The Groom is Still Waiting at the Altar,” recorded near the end of his born-again years—is included.
One suspects that Dylan or his compiler was responsible for ensuring that songs from his two overlooked, post-Christian albums of folk and blues, “Word Gone Wrong” and “As Good As I’ve Been to You,” are included.
Conspicuously missing from “Dylan” is anything from his most reviled release, the hodgepodge covers collection “Self Portrait,” which he claimed he released to drive away the fans who had tried to turn him into the voice of his generation.
Arriving Oct. 30 is a DVD, “Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival,” which collects Dylan’s 1963, 1964 and 1965 appearances. The 1963 appearance includes the famous hand-holding finale of Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary and the Freedom Singers singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The 1965 show is the hand-wringing debut of Dylan as rock and roller, sneering out “Maggie’s Farm.”
Dylan was famously received with boos by the traditionalist faithful, while Pete Seeger allegedly threatened to take an ax to the sound cable.
That incident, meanwhile, is hilariously re-created in “I’m Not There,” an upcoming feature film by Todd Haynes.
Six actors play variations of Dylan personas: Woody Guthrie wanna be, buzzed-out rock star, evangelical finger-pointer, country recluse, etc.
Dylan not only gave Haynes permission to portray him, he also gave use of his songs for the score, including the legendary unreleased title song, a product of the fabled basement tapes. It’s the only Dylan performance to appear on the accompanying CD soundtrack (the other songs are covered by contemporary fans).
Those who have never heard it may be surprised, not just by its ephemeral beauty, but by the fact that is obviously unfinished. Powerful, beautiful imagery is followed by incoherent “dummy lyrics” that were probably to be replaced when the song was finished.
It never was; he wasn’t there.