Monday, September 26, 2005

NDH 1: A Musical Whatawhosary?

I think I will break up my gushing on No Direction Home into a few posts, I have some personal time constraints at the mo (this is being done in the part of my detailed time management plan marked "extended procrastination." Why fight it?) and the film sprawls out in a million different directions.

Today, the supporting players.

The most notable thing maybe is: Joan Baez didn't make me want to scratch my eyes out.

In fact, she is funny, gracious and interesting. She does a very good expletive-laden impersonation of young Bobby. Also, seeing Bob talk about her, it's sort of cryptic but sort of awkwardly embarrassed which he isn't about any other topic (see: larceny, below). So Joan, your reward is that I promise not to get such a thrill of satisfaction anymore whenever I listen to Bootleg Vol 6 Live 1964 and hear how Bobby sings whatever random lyrics he likes with you trying to trill along. He does rather hang you out to dry, doesn't he? Well, I promise not to find that so cool anymore. Promise!

Producer Bob Johnstone is all southern and kinda wacky ("Anyone can see he's got the Holy Spirit in him!") and Al Kooper and Bruce Langhorne are extremely cool in that unique aging hippy muso way. Kooper looks like he hasn't quite come to terms with accidentaly being part of the Greatest Song In The History of Rock and Roll. Like, dude, he still can't believe they let him play that organ that one day.

There are assorted others whose names I know, many from reading David Hadju's excellent Positively Fourth St book, such as Folklore Center proprieter Izzy Young. There are some weird little cameos too, like Art Mogull, a classic Broadway shyster type, interviewed next to a boxing ring, happily claiming credit for launching Dylan's career.

And others whose names you might know if you've read all the books: Tony Glover, John Cohen, Maria Muldaur, Dick Kangas (bad toupee), Suze Rotolo (!), Mark Spoelstra, and Liam Clancy who is vaguely tolerable in small doses but would become old real fast. Real fast.

Glover tells the infamous and rather funny story of Bob's habit of nicking other people's records -- like, 400 at a time! They seem rather relaxed about it, I suppose being the Spokesman of a Generation gets you some retrospective slack cutting. Bob's brazen excuse 45 years later? "I was a musical expeditionary and these LPs were hard to come by."

Is "About To Change the Course of Popular Music" really a defence recognised under the law?

And Allen Ginsburg, rather charming and nothing like I would have imagined.

And last, but definately not least, the late Dave Van Ronk. The Pope of Greenwich Village himself. He is very astute I think in his comments on the whole coffee shop scene. Famously, Bob ripped off Van Ronk's arrangement for "House of the Rising Sun" for his first album, forcing Van Ronk to drop it from his repetoire because he was always being accused of stealing it from Dylan. His story of Dylan getting his comeuppance for this is very amusing.

My question is this, Van Ronk died in 2002 and Ginsburg years before that. Are these interviews for this project? Is that how long it's been planned? Or are they interviews for something different entirely?

Update: This Rolling Stone piece answers my question.

No Direction Home had an unusual genesis. Scorsese ... is credited as the director, but the project was in the works well before he came on board in 2001. Dylan's manager, Jeff Rosen, began conducting interviews with Dylan friends and associates (including poet Allen Ginsberg and folk musician Dave Van Ronk, both of whom have since passed away) around 1995, and he started gathering hundreds of hours of historical film footage even earlier. Dylan himself sat for ten hours of unusually relaxed and open conversation with Rosen in 2000.


I came to Van Ronk not through Dylan initially, but through Tom Russell and his masterpiece immigrant song cycle, The Man From God Knows Where. Now, "immigrant song cycle" sounds incredibly pretentious, boring and all "Sunday Afternoons on the ABC" but believe me, it is lively and brilliant. Joined by Van Ronk, Iris DeMent, Dolores Keane and assorted Norwegians whose names escape me Russell tells the funny/tragic/moving/absurd story of his own Irish/Scandanavian heritage and the stories of immigration to the US. Seriously, top five album for mine. Van Ronk is "The Outcast" a Greek Chorus meets carney spruiker and his two numbers are really rather brilliant. I've included an MP3 below for a week, for the purposes of encouraging you to go out and buy the record.

The Outcast

Well gather round me people
Lend an ear now if you please
Your promised land was settled by bastards, drunks and thieves
Excuse me if it offends you, but I'm the worst of all of these
I destroyed your family tree
I am the outcast

I'm your inbred second cousin who they kept inside a shed
I'm the cross eyed little stutterer who always wet the bed
I'm your queer Uncle Harry, your retarded Uncle Fred
I am the one they left for dead
I am the outcast

I've embarrassed folks at weddings, birthdays and at wakes
I'm the cur who passed out face down in your anniversary cake
I am the black sheep, the philanderer
The louse, the souse, the rake
The remittance man, the snake
The bloody outcast

Forbear with your pity, my function's very plain
We've come here from the Old World, and we've gone a touch insane
On your social scale you need a boil to bear the family stain
I am the joke in your game
I am the outcast

Oh the black man and the Indian, the Chinaman, the Jew
They built your frickin' railroads, they picked your cotton too
They washed your dirty laundry and they tied your children's shoes
They got a right to sing the blues, cause they were outcasts

Now we worship politicians, as if they all were saints
Put their faces on our money, pillowslips and plates
We should love this land for what it is, and not for what it ain't
Ah, their game is fueled by hate
The hate of outcasts

The Norwegians hate the Swedish and the Swedes they hate the Finns
The Finns they hate the Russians and the Russians hate the Yids
Spics and wops and greasers, kikes and spades and guinea hens
Hatred's blowing in the wind
Ten million outcasts

Oh beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain
Grain distilled to make the rye that pickled old Tom Paine
Georgie built the White House with slaves that died in pain
But Georgie's quarries made the gain
From blood of outcasts

Move in a little closer now, the sideshow must begin
History will repeat itself again, again, again
On the immigration totem pole the low man never wins
Competition ain't a sin
God help the outcast

So step right up you pilgrims
The trains are leaving soon
We got acerage out in Io-way for the likes of folks like you
A quarter section on a floodplain, forty acres and a mule
Sign right here, you bloody fools
Welcome ye, outcasts.

MP3: The Outcast -- Dave Van Ronk (5.1mb)

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