In the recent Martin Scorsese film ‘Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story’ Dylan himself captures precisely why he remains, above everyone else, the ultimate music enigma. When asked what Rolling Thunder was all about, he tells Scorsese: “It’s about nothing. It’s just something that happened 40 years ago. And that’s the truth of it.”
Dylan, like other enigmatic makers of literature and art (think Harold Pinter for example, or David Hockney) has often been the first to dismiss his own work — work that means so much to so many of his fans and acolytes. It’s left to them to decipher the meaning, whereas to the creator himself, well it may mean a lot less. It may just be a day at the office. We just don’t know.
The genius of Scorsese’s film is that it plays with Dylan the enigma — blurring truth and fiction in a kind of revisionist history of that particular phase in his career. Since the film’s release, certain corners of the Internet have gone abuzz over what’s true and what isn’t, and whether it matters (Rolling Stone even felt the need to provide clarification).
Well guess what? Here at TSS, we’ve done our own bit to add to the mystery, our very own twist on the real Bobby, and fantasy Bobby.
In our first podcast, lifelong Dylan fan, and long term TSS collaborator, David Freer, guides us through some of Dylan’s mystery, while adding some of his own take on Dylan the man, the myth, the enigma.
The Song Sommelier
Dylan’s reputation as a live performer is erratic. Our Bob Dylan Fantasy Setlist comes off the back of some rather ‘mixed’ reviews for his headline show in Hyde Park. Indeed, David first intended to playlist one of Dylan’s most notorious ever live shows, the famous ‘Judas’ moment at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1966.
But, wanting to keep things more upbeat, and in the spirit of our mission to help the curious listener discover and appreciate music in all its forms including the classics, I instead persuaded him to create his own setlist of favourites or special songs he would like to see Dylan perform — at his best. David has curated this latest edition of our Fantasy Setlist series with a playlist to tackle the problem of access to Bobby.
Specifically in his case, David has worked on how he can convince his wife Katie to let him bring his Dylan records back in the house, and how one day — just maybe, he could take Katie to a Dylan gig and she would love it just as much as him. Curated in three phases, David’s fantasy Dylan show starts with an opening set that opens the door, inviting the rest of us in with familiar and accessible Dylan tunes that are hard not to like, from the classic opener ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ to the bootleg release of studio outtake ‘Blind Willie McTell’, and beautiful it is too.
Pushing into the second set with ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’, there are a series of songs that although unfamiliar to most, show off Dylan’s skill as a singer, guitar player and of course, songwriter. It takes us through to the not-quite two minutes of flawless one-take guitar playing on the setlist’s second bootleg track ‘Suze’, complete with cough at the end.
By now, David feels this is enough effort to convert most listeners, and not wanting to waste his last wish, fills the final set (no, not an encore!) with a series of his own personal faves, even though he knows Katie will definitely not like all of them. We finish the show with ‘Going, Going, Gone’ although we know darn well that the enigma that is Bob Dylan is not done with us all quite yet.
Footnote: when you stop and listen to David’s playlist, we’re convinced you will become a Dylan fan, especially if you get as far as Blind Willie McTell. In David Hepworth’s book, Uncommon People there is a chapter on Dylan, again very much addressing the man as myth. However, this was a personal encounter, since Hepworth met Dylan for an interview in New York in 1986 during the promotion of his album Knocked Out Loaded, probably not one of his best moments. In that interview, Hepworth tries his best to get Dylan to talk about Blind Willie McTell, but instead, “he cut across me to ask ‘You heard of the McPeake Family?’”. Hepworth hadn’t, and later resolved that Dylan was teaching him a lesson, that before a British music journalist should go asking about great lost American folk artists, they should perhaps pay more attention to their own.
Everything on Dylan’s terms then, but just this once, we get a glimpse of Dylan doing precisely what the fans and acolytes might really appreciate.