No Direction Home: Dylan Was Always Bound for Glory

Posted by Miss Ess, February 11, 2009 07:05pm | Post a Comment
I rewatched Scorsese's No Direction Home, the documentary about Bob Dylan, last night for the first time since it aired on TV a few years back. The DVD is 3 and half hours long! But fabulous, through and through.

The most interesting points in the movie for me were the moments where Dylan's self creation was discussed. He's long been known as something of a shape shifter and it was interesting to think about the concept of home through his eyes -- where it is and how one gets there. I still wouldn't call Dylan a straight shooter or anything after watching the documentary, but my interest was piqued by both his comments and those of his many friends and collegues who were interviewed for the project, among them: Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Mark Spoelstra, Al Kooper, Liam Clancy, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples and Suze Rotolo.

Dylan says he was "born a long way from where [he was] supposed to be" and that he's been looking for his home, forging his own version of it ever since -- and he definitely doesn't look back. He's been inventing his own truth, his own identity throughout his career, allowing no one to pin him down at any one moment. Even his last name is an invention, purely his way of creating an identity for himself.  Dylan believes he had no past, and totally seperated himself from his Hibbing, MN upbringing. He only looked to the present moment, and did what pleased him then. This goes a long way toward explaining his career and its diversity as well as the period in the mid-60s where he took a lot of heat for "going electric." The film covers this period with dynamic energy, interviewing those who were on the side of Dylan's "authentic" folk music/protest songs and those whose eyes were fixed on the future of rock in 1965. It's thrilling to watch the portion of the film where the audacious 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance is discussed, but then again, I always seem to find this a thrilling moment in musical history.

In one clip, Dylan states that he only started writing his own songs because he had something to say to Woody Guthrie, and it had to be written in song. Dylan realized early on that you can invent your own identity, you can invent your own home and then find yourself there by your own invention. I believe his work allowed him to create his own world, and his own culture and vision. He instinctively felt what the rest of American culture vastly had still been sleeping on: that the chains of conformity and expectation had to be broken. Through opening himself to his own flow of ideas on the page and then inserting them into musical form, Dylan, at once cheeky and dead serious, and whip smart all the way through, smashed the old ways to pieces and forged a new landscape (and thus, home) for not only American artists but American lives.

No Direction Home may only cover his career up till '66, but it is an extremely invigorating and enlightening ride, all three and a half hours of it. For whatever it's worth, I think it's as close as anyone has ever come to presenting a true portrait of the man's career. Its interviews definitely seem to be the most honest Dylan has ever been on record about his art, his life and his legacy.

In the film, Dylan says, "as an artist, you have to stay in a state of discovery," and I think that pretty well sums it up for him and his career. Has anyone else controlled his own puppet strings so nimbly and with such inspiring and exhilerating results? Dylan has done nothing but defy everyone's expectations ever since he hit the scene in the ea

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Martin Scorsese (7), Suze Rotolo (3), Bob Dylan (63), No Direction Home (1), 1960s (49)