Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bob Dylan - A New Documentary on PBS

On Monday 26th in the evening, PBS is showing a new documentary on the life of Bob Dylan. I've been waiting to watch this for about a month now; although some of the reviews I 've read for the documentary have been a little critical, particularly in that nothing much new is revealed in the film, which is directed by Martin Scorcese. I was never much into Dylan growing up, but I later developed an interest in the history of rock and pop, the surrounding culture that generated this music, as well as the new cultural changes that resulted from it (budding anthropologist), and in pursuing those interests, I found that Dylan was very much a crucible in which all of those interests converged. A lot of the cultural change that occurred between the late, but closed '50's, to the opening up of the culture in the '60's, can be attributed at least in some part to Bob Dylan. Dylan, who like many of his generation, was an Elvis and Buddy Holly fan as a teenager, turned later to the folk music movement in the early '60's, and modeled himself on his idol Woody Guthrie, singing the traditional folk music that dipped deeply into Americana.

The thing that Dylan did though, that changed everything, was to take the poetry of folk music and marry it with the rythyms of rock and roll. Slightly prior to this, Dylan had begun to abandon the traditional American folk music of the past in favor of a folk music style performed with his own lyrics, which proved to be both very poetic as well as powerful. It was after this that he then took this newer style into rock and roll when he went "electric" in 1965. This was all during a time when Elvis had been shipped off to the Army, and rock had been stuck with Perry Como and Pat Boone until the Beatles arrived to save the day. Dylan was influenced by the rock rythym and blues of the Beatles (who themselves were greatly indebted to America's great black rythym and blues artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and so on), as well as were they by his now more deeply poetic and personalized folk lyric style.

Dylan merged poetry with rock and roll, and as surprising as this seems today, this had never been done before. All later rock artists say that when this occurred, the doors were open, so that anything goes from that point on. This was how the music went from "Little Suzie" to "Like A Rolling Stone" in a matter of just a few years. And subsequently, the ability of popular music to now express deeper thoughts, emotions, and ideas, all contributed to the emergent civil rights movement, as well as the later anti-war protests surrounding the issue of the war in Vietnam. Dylan, therefore, is a seminal figure in the history of rock and roll music, especially as we know it today (which, unfortunately, is in a sorry state), as well as an important figure in moving the culture to another level.

Speaking of music and culture, I also watched a proto-hip/hop DVD this weekend, entitled "Wildstyle", which was filmed in 1982, when the hip/hop scene was just emerging from out of the mean streets of the South Bronx. Now this film is the real deal, and I think I'll have more about this topic in my next post.


Blogger willowtree said...

I remembered that you said you wanted to see that doc. I was going to remind you that it was to come on this week.
You know I think the first time I paid attention to Bob Dylan I was in college. He did a song with Wyclef Jean...actually, Wyclef Jean was probably covering Dylan's songs.
Im going to try to watch that documentary. I dont know anything about Bob Dylan, no better time to learn.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

You being a person who likes lyrical content, watch to see how his lyrics (especially as set in that time) were quite a bit different then anything going on around him, more profound.

Also, Dylan has a number of songs, where if you listen closely, you see he is really coming down hard on a specific person. Knowing the history, that person in most of the cases seems to be Joan Baez. Read sometime the lyrics to "Like a Rolling Stone", or Positvely 4th Street". I think they are addressed to her, as they had a rocky relationship, in addition to Dylan's quirky personality in how he dealt with and treated many people.

11:46 AM  

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