No Direction Home, Dylan documentary by Martin Scorsese.


This afternoon I rewatched this great film, probably the best documentary on a musical figure I've ever seen. It is not only interesting from a historical perspective, but is also very entertaining and funny, particularly Part 2. Methamphetamine really seemed to enhance Bob's sense of humour. ;-)

The movie contains one segment I found particularly relevant in our current state of affairs. In December of 1963 the ACLU presented Dylan with their Tom Paine Award. He accepted it, but not without making the following statement:

"There's no black and white, no left and right to me anymore. There's only up and down, and down is very close to the ground. I'm trying to go up, without thinking about anything as trivial as politics."

Needless to say, the ACLU was not pleased. Dylan obviously had no desire to be the organization's poster boy, so I then wonder why he showed up at the awards ceremony, and accepted the "award"? IMO, Jackson Browne should have followed Dylan's lead; he hasn't been worth sh*t since he started making political statement albums.

Remember the scene in The Last Waltz in which Band bassist Rick Danko says " We're not trying to save the world, only improve the neighborhood"? Speaking of neighborhood, I am reminded of Dylan's song "Neighborhood Bully". Not explicitly political, but mighty close.

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@tomcy6, Dylan’s statement was his announcement that he had moved on, above and beyond the plane of left vs. right (politics), to that of right vs. wrong (morality). He has done that for many years; not in the literal, obvious way of his early (pre-Blonde On Blonde) work, but in a more subtle, artistic, abstract manner. It’s like the difference between Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. ;-) But every once in a while, Bob violates that dictum, as he did in "Hurricane." I doubt he would now write and record a song about the killing of George Floyd, but he has just done his new one about JFK. Not exactly literal, is it? ;-)

As I above said, I love Iris Dement’s "Wasteland Of The Free", which can be considered a "protest" song. It is written from the perspective of Christian values (she is a believer, raised Pentecostal), bemoaning how those in positions of religious and political power use that power not as they profess---in the service of their Savior and congregation, or constituents, but in the cynical pursuit of their own self-interest. She makes her feelings about hypocrisy very obvious.

I appreciate that, but the lyrics are not the only thing I love about the song; it is great musically. I don’t begrudge Jackson Browne his efforts in the cause of pursuing social and/or economic justice (though he does it in an entirely too "earnest" manner for my liking), but the music he puts those lyrics to just isn’t that good, not nearly as good as his earlier, pre-overtly-political lyric songs are. In my opinion, of course.

I generally avoid attempting to discern what an artist meant by their creation. What is more instructive is how an artist’s work is perceived by its viewers, readers or listeners. In that vein, one way to interpret Bob Dylan’s words upon his acceptance of the the ACLU award is that he sees institutions and laws not where they lie on a political spectrum, but whether they support an individual’s quest to develop to their fullest potential or whether they oppress people (hence the up or down reference).
@bdp24 " The songs you cite were all in his rear view mirror by the time he made that statement."

Not so. Chimes of Freedom (Another side) was written after JFK’s assassination. As were Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61. Now that I think of it, how about John Wesley Harding, a friend to the poor?

Dylan did not become the ’Voice of His Generation’ by channelling Rock-a-Day Johnny, and singing,
Tell your Ma, tell your Pa, our loves is gonna grow.
Ooh-Wah, ooh-wah.

He had a conscience and used it for good. 
My Back Pages, Bob Dylan

Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
"We’ll meet on edges, soon, " said I, proud ’neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, "rip down all hate, " I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
To memorizing politics of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists, unthought of, though somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now
"using ideas as my maps"

Remembered now by few, and honoured by fewer still.