Rolling Thunder Revue is a movie? A documentary? It is a look back in time of Bob Dylan and friends during a concert tour by Martin Scorsese. It is currently on a Netflix. It is as much a movie about music from a Dylan tour as it is about a period of time in this country. In 1975 and again in 1976, Dylan is accompanied by a number of musicians in a series of shows throughout the United States and Canada. The movie shows actual performance clips from the tour, along with interviews from many of the actual performers and participants of the show, then and now. The movie is intertwined with stories of the period.
I was first introduced to the music of Bob Dylan in college in 1979. A senior in my dorm my freshman year, who went by the name of Commander Nichols was a big Dylan fan. Up until that time, my music interest included the Clash, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Rush. I often characterize periods in my life by the music that I listen to. In 1976, it was the summer of Frampton Comes Alive. By 1979, it was the Clash and London Calling, competing with Rush and Hemispheres. My first
concert was on the Hemisphere’s Tour. Supper Bowl weekend in Pittsburgh. Of course the Steelers were in the big game. I was in high school, and well that trip, I can save for a future posting.
And Commander Nichols was also the person who introduced me to Neil Young. It only took me 32 years to see Neil Young in concert. Yet I digress. Back to Bob Dylan.
As with all rockumentaries, the clips of music are intertwined with interviews from the performers, friends, and fans. In the case of this movie, we have Bob Dylan, then and now. There were some really great musicians who performed in the Rolling Thunder Review. They included Joni Mitchel, Joan Baez, Ramblin Jack Elliot. Poetry by Allen Ginsberg. The band that backed up the musicians was really good. They had their own stories that was interesting. The story behind Dylan’s kabuki masks during the tour was tied to Dylan visiting the band KISS. Why? Simply because the young violinist touring with Dylan was dating one of the band members in KISS. As I see the irony, Rush toured with KISS. I have seen Rush five times in concert. Somehow all things are interconnected. But again I digress. I watch these movies for the music. It definitely needed more music and less story telling.
Some of the movie dealt with Rubin Carter and the “story of the Hurricane”. Hurricane is a great Dylan song from the album Desire, released in 1976. Still other songs come from my favorite Dylan album, which is Blood on the Tracks, released in 1974. Of course there were some of the usual Dylan tunes, especially, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and Mr Tambourine Man. I haven’t bought a Dylan album/CD in years but I understand that one of the recently released bootleg albums has outtakes from the Rolling Thunder Revue.
The concert performances are great. Some of the stories of the times were interesting. I particularly liked the time when Dylan and Ginsberg visited the grave of Jack Kerouac. There they are filmed reading some lines from Kerouac’s book “On the Road”, and they sing some songs and discuss their experiences from Kérouac. I thought this clip clearly identified with the period. I thought it interesting that the tour traveled from city to city on buses, yet Dylan drove a motor home. There were some interviews with politicians, Jimmy Carter and others, that I thought didn’t add much value to the story. We don’t learn much about Dylan during this time, but it is clear to me that he just enjoyed playing music with his friends, both in a concert hall, and in other avenues.
So in the end, we have a snapshot of the time during a Bob Dylan tour. We don’t learn much about the music, except for Hurricane. The snippets of music are intertwined in the stories, not the other way around. Bob Dylan said that he didn’t remember much of the tour, but he was able to tell some detailed stories about the people and such. He said that there was nothing left from the tour, yet we know that there are tracks of the music and videos from the tour. EBay has some original posters and tickets from the tour for sale. As for me, I’d like to get the hat.