Bob Dylan has sure changed a lot over his 50–some years in music. From the fresh–scrubbed Minnesota kid who knew his way around a folk song, to the sneering, poly–syllabic icon of the mid 1960s, to the wayward Christian soldier of the early ‘80s to the elder statesman of the present day, saggy–faced and tired–eyed, singing in a pinched voice that only a die–hard could love.
All of this was there on the Indigo Arts Center’s 20x12 screen Sunday evening, as Savannah Dylan aficionado Jim Reed screened six full hours of rare video footage of the man through the years.
Although there are plenty of Dylan performances available over the counter, almost none of the material Reed presented is sold commercially – it was the kind of stuff traded among collectors, collected and copied and shown almost exclusively to those fans who just can’t get enough.
This was a labor of love.
Monday was Dylan’s 69th birthday, and Reed put on the Indigo Arts program as a sort of commemoration. Admission was by donation, with the proceeds going to Indigo and to Reed’s other passion, the Psychotronic Film Society (he’s the guy who shows those obscure kitsch classics Wednesday nights at the Sentient Bean).
Perhaps predictably, it was the 1960s Dylan that lept furthest off the screen. A series of outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back showed the young singer/songwriter at the height of his powers, singing “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “To Ramona” and others for a rapt British theater audience.
One of the most fascinating segments came next (the clips were not screened in chronological order): Dylan’s 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live, during his brief “born again” phase, fronting a crackerjack band augmented by soulful gospel singers. The song titles give it all away: “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “I Believe in You” and “When You Gonna Wake Up.”
The evening opened with Dylan and band’s full set from the Woodstock ’94 concert. Although the audio was strong and nearly perfect, the video was not of the highest quality. And a technical glitch rendered the first three hours in (especially grainy) black and white.
That didn’t seem to matter a whole lot to the 40 or 50 people who attended. Many took advantage of Reed’s “open–door” policy, allowing them to come and go as they pleased all night.
Because I had seen a lot of it before – and because it was a Sunday night and I was really, really hungry – I left after the first three hours. But the place was still full.
In last week’s issue, I reported that Reed intended to screen segments of Dylan’s never–released 1976 film Renaldo and Clara. I was wrong – that notorious vanity exercise was never to be on the program.
What was shown included, among other things, appearances on two Los Angeles Jewish “Chabbad” telethons (from 1989 and ’91), a loose jam session with Van Morrison, the well–known 1965 press conference wherein Dylan tells reporters “I think of myself as a song and dance man,” an entire concert from the Christian period, and more.
Rocker, folkie, showman, shaman, cynical, freewheeling, convert, conveyor, protester, panderer. When you think you’ve got Bob Dylan pegged, he’ll be something else next time. Five decades along, the enigma continues.