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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Listening to Joan Baez warble "Love Minus Zero/No Limits" on my iPod this morning, I was reminded of Robert Christgau's quip that Joe Cocker's version of "Catfish" is funnier than Dylan's, "and he doesn't even know what the words mean." Needless to say I really dug last night's episode of Martin Scorsese's "A Mighty Wind". Stand out stuff included Liam Clancy pounding pints in the White Horse until he finally starts singing; the 1966 footage from "Eat the Document"; and the Newport stuff. I'd have liked more Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and less Pete Seeger or JFK, but one of the things that was wrong with the 60's was that there was more JFK than Howlin' Wolf, so there you go. Joan Baez still looks good, and is still so full of herself that it's a wonder they can fit a camera in the room with her. I've always thought that the recording of Baez and Dylan singing "With God On Our Side" at Newport is hilarious, and seeing them do it for the first time confirms this: they are both going to by g-d sing it their way, and if the other doesn't care to, well too bad.

What really makes the documentary work, though, is the narration that Bob himself provides. He seems remarkably candid and unguarded, until you realize that he's not actually saying anything that could be fact checked. "I felt like". "It seemed to me." Ever the unreliable narrator, the film moves forward on other people's accounts of what happened. Bob steals some guy's record collection, or Dave Van Ronk's version of "House of the Rising Sun" (which the Animals then steal from him). Bob finds himself with a deal from Mitch Miller's Columbia while everybody else in the Village is recording for Folkways or Vanguard. Albert Grossman. We don't get much of a look at Dylan the ladies man, except that two prominent flames are still crushing pretty hard. You could tell this story about an ambitious man who kept reinventing himself, but that's not quite how Bobby wants it: maybe not the voice of his generation, he still wants to appear as if he is a genius who sprang full-blown from his own forehead.

And you know what? For all that lots of people in this thing want to take credit for a piece of it, in the end Bob's version is probably still the closest one to the truth. I still think that the more interesting movie would start after the motorcycle accident, but at the present pace it'll be about twenty years before we see that one. For now, I can't wait for tonight's installment, and I'm ordering the dvd.

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