EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Dylan Father and Son Share Music Film Spotlight
Image by Dawnyell Reese/Pixabay
It’s a few days before Father’s Day and I’m sitting at a long wooden table at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, on the grounds of Lincoln Center. A 16-acre campus of theaters and concert venues, it is the center for our city’s ballet, philharmonic symphony, and opera, along with extensive programming and educational community outreach for all sorts of other musical genres, from jazz to blues to Americana and beyond. My oldest son seems to spend much of his time here researching and writing, and often suggests that I might enjoy a visit. It is indeed a nice quiet space, and I’m enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by thousands and thousands of books, manuscripts, sheet music, and recorded music.
I have given myself two hours to write this week’s column, as I have a ticket for Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese at the center’s film theater. Playing at only two theaters in Manhattan, it’s also now available to stream on Netflix which I had planned to do first thing this morning. But the lure of a bigger screen and a much better sound system was enough to reel me in. And it shall be the second of two films connected to the Dylan name that I’ll have seen in as many days.
As a columnist and music news aggregator I usually spend a few hours each day surfing for articles to post, or threads of ideas that might inspire a writing itch I’ll need to scratch. It’s a hobby and it is as enjoyable as collecting baseball cards, doing woodcraft, or working in the garden. And while I can’t tell you Babe Ruth’s stats, what a lathe does, or even how to choose a ripe melon, I can tell you that Dylan and his son Jakob own the internet this week with hundreds of articles, stories, reviews, and social media posts about the above-mentioned film and Jakob Dylan’s work with Andrew Slater on the mid-’60s Laurel Canyon documentary Echo in the Canyon.
Echo is from an independent company and not in widespread distribution. In what is called the specialties market, it has grossed over $260,000 at the box office in 14 days. That’s a far cry from the $46 million that The Secret Life of Pets 2 took in over one weekend or Rocketman‘s $50 million in two weeks, but nevertheless it held its own in just 43 theaters compared to the thousands where the top dogs are playing.
I attended a late-afternoon showing of Echo just north of the city, and was one of only five people in a theater with a hundred seats. I’d been enjoying the soundtrack of cover songs from 1964 through 1967 since the release a few weeks ago, and broke my own rule by reading about a dozen reviews, so I knew what to expect. When you’re armed with too much information it can dampen and shape the experience, yet it’s a joy and blessing when the event exceeds your preconceptions.
While it’s Jakob’s interviews with folks like Tom Petty, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, and others from that era that have garnered the most press, along with criticism that they excluded Joni, Love, and The Doors, trust me when I say that those writers have gotten it mostly wrong. It’s the music that’s the center of attention, performed live in concert and in the studio by one of the best groups of session players I’ve ever heard along with a number of guest vocalists and players. While most of the players weren’t even born back in the era the film explores, they capture the music and magic of the time with impeccable performances. If you enjoyed seeing McGuinn and Hillman perform the Byrds’ songs last year with Marty Stuart and his band, you’ll love this film.
As far as the Rolling Thunder Revue, the film critics have said it’s great and there’s no reason to doubt that. (Pondering if I should edit this column before turning it in to tell you I was absolutely blown away, the full house sat still and glued in their seats until the credits finished rolling, and we all applauded before filing out. No, I’ll save that for another day.) If you love Bob Dylan, you’ll love this, and even more so since you can stream it endlessly on your iPad while lying in bed next to a snoring and wheezing significant other.
If you’ve made it this far you and aren’t feeling as if you’ve got your money’s worth, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts.
The 1960s and ’70s are to the baby boomers what the Depression and World War II was to my parents. What sets these generations apart is that while there was little nostalgia in poverty and death, my generation is still alive and kicking, and some folks have disposable income to be drenched in nostalgia at any price. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it also holds the door open for a certain level of commercial exploitation. On the flip side, Dylan’s 14-disc set of the Rolling Thunder Revue was priced on Amazon today for only $110 on CD and merely $75 for all you vinyl fanatics. It’s almost heresy not to buy it. The only problem I can foresee is the ability to carve out the amount of time it’ll take to actually listen to it, what with all of the baseball card collecting, woodcraft, and gardening y’all got planned. But I guess it’ll look good sitting on the coffee table.
The second and final point: ever wonder what Father’s Day at the Dylan household was like? There has always been a level of privacy within this family that I have truly respected, especially in the era of sharing every moment of our lives. This morning as I surfed for a little of that inspiration I spoke of earlier, killing time before watching Rolling Thunder Revue, I discovered a 2005 interview with Jakob Dylan by Anthony DeCurtis for the New York Times. Intimate, respectful, and loving, it seems about right to share a bit of it for all fathers and sons.
“If people want to talk about Bob Dylan, I can talk about that. But my dad belongs to me and four other people exclusively. I’m very protective of that. And telling people whether he was affectionate is telling people a lot. It has so little to do with me. I come up against a wall. I still go into a restaurant and people say, ‘I love your dad’s work.’ Yes, he was affectionate. When I was a kid, he was a god to me for all the right reasons. Other people have put that tag on him in some otherworldly sense. I say it as any kid who admired his dad and had a great relationship with him. He never missed a single Little League game I had. He’s collected every home-run ball I ever hit. And he’s still affectionate to me. Maybe he doesn’t want people to know that, but I’ll tell you, because it’s my interview.”
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.