A mere 28 seconds into Joel Gilbert‘s new Bob Dylan Revealed documentary, the subject matter himself warns us “There’s many sides to the coin, y’know, and you have-ta really, uh, the longer you go on, the more sides you show that are, that are, that are there to be, uh, unraveled.”
So in between sessions with Daniel Mark Epstein‘s 496-page The Ballad of Bob Dylan, and the actual man’s Original Mono Recordings boxed set, I spent the month of Robert Allen Zimmerman’s 70th (!) birthday pondering that …
1. Although the subject is dwelled upon for less than a minute during Bob Dylan Revealed, manager Albert Grossman and his more-than-complex relationship with Dylan is delved into, and possibly even explained, in a way Martin Scorsese failed to during all 208 minutes of his own No Direction Home.
2. 1966 Electric World Tour drummer Mickey Jones offers personal home movies of Don’t Look Back director D.A. Pennebaker filming Dylan and The Band touring Hamlet’s Castle in Denmark, and later joins in a debate over exactly who fired out that famed instruction to “Play f***in’ LOUD” as “Like a Rolling Stone” kicked the ol’ Manchester Free Trade Hall off on May 17, 1966.
3. The third chapter of Bob Dylan Revealed features the late, great, irascible-as-ever journalist Al Aronowitz claiming that Dylan, regarding that infamous 1966 motorpsycho accident, “told me he cracked two vertebrae. He saw his whole life pass in front of him. And I think he’s full of s**t.”
4. Renowned lensman Barry Feinstein (the Times They Are A-Changin’ cover, for one) recalls the day during Dylan’s “Tour ’74” that future President (then Georgia Gov.) Jimmy Carter invited Dylan over for breakfast at the governor’s mansion … and then shows the photos to prove it. “He never initiates conversation,” Carter revealed afterward, “but he’ll answer a question if you ask him.” Unlike some singers, governors and/or presidents we could mention.
5. Rolling Thunder violinist Scarlet Rivera recalls being dosed with a powerful hallucinogenic just prior to stepping onstage with Dylan’s Revue before 16,307 in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, then being amorously pursued a month later backstage at the Rubin Carter “Night of the Hurricane II” benefit in the Houston Astrodome by two of Willie Nelson‘s security guards (who, Rivera admits, “were mostly ex-cons”). Nelson, it is noted, later dispatched two dozen yellow roses by way of apology.
6. San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin points out the “Neil Diamond-style arrangements” concocted for Dylan’s subsequent 1978 world tour, noting especially how “Blowin’ in the Wind” was “done up like a Wayne Newton number.” Later, we hear his infamous “God-Awful Gospel” review concerning one of Dylan’s concerts the following year actually solicited a phone call the next afternoon from Dylan himself to the Selvin household, during which Dylan forever revoked Selvin’s “license to review me.”
7. Both certified Dylan “garbologist” A.J. Weberman and Valley Vineyard Church Pastor Bill Dwyer are next on hand to (attempt to) explain just what may have been going through our hero’s mind, then out of his mouth, as the 1980s began (“If you want rock ‘n’ roll, you can go down and rock ‘n’ roll,” we hear Dylan berate one concert-goer. “You can go see KISS, and you can rock ‘n’ roll all the way down into the pit!“) Just in the nick of time, however, self-confessed “62-year-old card-carrying Jewish atheist” Jerry Wexler appears to explain just how he approached producing the “wall-to-wall Jesus” that was Slow Train Coming.
8. Next, a decidedly un-born again Dylan pops up jammin’ out “Hava Nagila” on the 1989 televised Chabad Telethon backed by his grand new band Chopped Liver (which also featured Harry Dean Stanton and Dylan’s son-in-law Peter Himmelman).
9. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott recalls the original Rolling Thunder tour bus had been borrowed from, and affectionately christened “Phydeaux” by, none other than Frank Zappa. But when that ongoing Never Ending Tour launched a decade later, Dylan’s accompanists had graduated to a 12-bunk “star coach” that was, in the words of percussionist Winston Watson, “45 feet of rolling decadence.”
10. So then, Bob Dylan Revealed doesn’t quite unravel all sides of that most treasured coin we speak of. But any production that can get the man’s former bassist and musical director Rob Stoner to admit he was in fact cast in the role of Gene Vincent for Renaldo and Clara more than earns a thumbs-up from this viewer.
Now, you must excuse me while I once again insert Blonde on Blonde, disc 1. In mono, of course.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.