Sunday, October 02, 2005
I KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON'T KNOW
See, what the documentary really presented was a stunning story of personal transformation. How a seemingly ordinary guy without much of a singing voice from an outpost where "it was too cold to be bad" became a poet and a superstar.
The changes he went through after he arrived in Greenwich Village in the early sixties were compared to bluesman Robert Johnson's famous pact with the devil at the crossroads. Where did this music come from? his old friends wondered. How had the former Robert Zimmerman, who was no better, no different than a hundred other strumming hopefuls morphed into Bob Dylan?
Amazingly enough, Scorsese and Dylan provided some pretty good answers to that question. He listened to Woody Guthrie for one thing. No listened is the wrong word. He studied, imbibed, inhaled and absorbed Guthrie. Did he steal a friend's record collection in order to do so? Well, yes. But never has a theft been more justified.
"Listening to those records, you could learn how to live," Dylan said. (Or something like that.) And he did. Because what he taught himself in those years wasn't just about the guitar. It wasn't just about songwriting. It was about living. And that of course, was what made him someone so many not only wanted, but needed to hear.
And he studied the performers he admired. Liam Clancy said he hung around so much that sometimes you wanted to swat him like a fly. (Or something like that.)
"I studied the performers I wanted to be like, and they all had one thing in common. It was something in the eyes. Something that said, 'I know something you don't know,'" Dylan said. (Or something like that.)
If you look at photographs from that era, you will see the same expression in Dylan's eyes. It grows stronger with each successive year.
One more thing that struck me, and then I'll be done with this topic, I promise. Someone mentioned that Dylan's great freedom was that he was acting all the time. Thus, he could do anything he wanted to do.
I mulled that over for a while. Acting? Did that mean he was a fake? But then I decided, no. In some senses, we're all acting. We act the part that society and our families and our genes teach us. And frequently, it constricts rather than frees. Dylan, on the other hand, not only chose his name, he chose the part he would play. And in the process freed us all a little bit.