No Direction Home

I am a child of the sixties.  I’ll say not only what is unexpected, but is
also taboo.  I’ll challenge every convention and laugh.  I don’t believe in
ceremony.  I don’t believe in institutions.  I don’t respect my elders unless they
deserve it.  The government is not to be trusted.  What’s on the inside is
more important than what’s on the outside.  I don’t mind a nice ride, but I
wasn’t put on this planet to acquire things.  I’m here to expand my mind.  I’m
here to interact with others in a real way, discussing our hopes and dreams,
analyzing behavior, art and politics.  I’m suspicious of anybody who’s an insider.
I wonder what they had to do to achieve such an exalted position.  Not only
who they had to blow, but what they had to give up, how much they had to
subjugate their personality.  How dishonest they had to be in order to appear a
winner.  I’ve been this way too long to change.  And, it’s too late.  I’d have to
start at the bottom.  Kiss all that butt to play the game the way they do, to
win.  And, I couldn’t do it anyway.  I’d be like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange"
after he was fixed.  You know when he goes to commit violence and he doubles
up in pain.  That’s what happens to me when I do something I don’t want to,
don’t believe in.  It cuts right to my core.  I love music not because it’s
popular, but because it makes a statement, from the HEART!

All my values are now a joke.  To have the beliefs delineated above is to be
labeled a loser.  In a nation of winners.  I feel a party of one, while
everybody comes up with marketing plans to make millions, oftentimes wanting to
include me.  Think of all the outlets of exposure!  Think of all the MONEY!  Who I
am, what I stand for, what is important to me is irrelevant.

It all comes down to education.  There’s no education anymore in America. 
Oh, I’m not just talking about underfunded schools.  I’m talking about the
educational AGENDA!  Sure, you’ve got to learn the basics, how to read and write,
how to add and subtract, but in the sixties they used to teach you how to
THINK!  That’s even passe in colleges today.  Today universities are glorified
trade schools.  Parents want a return for their dollar.  Their progeny want to
insure a future where they can drive an SUV and go on vacation in the Caribbean. 
Or Mexico.  Or Europe.  They want the flexibility that money can buy.  So
they can go to these exotic locations and get a tan, and shop.

It’s all topsy-turvy.  In the sixties education was about expanding one’s
mind.  Today, if you don’t follow the curriculum, parents protest that their kids
are not being prepared for the world.  Make no mistake, these religious and
monetary zealots’ kids ARE NOT prepared.  They can earn a living, but they roam
the earth as automatons.  Robots.  Stepford people.  They just can’t think. 
Make a decision for themselves.  That explains this ridiculous country of
ours.  Where facts don’t matter.  How can that BE???

I went to a public high school.  But we listened to "Alice’s Restaurant".  We
read "Situation Ethics".  We studied Janis Ian’s "Society’s Child" and went
to see her perform at the New York State Theatre.  And we went to see the play
"MacBird" too, a skewering of the Johnson administration, on a SUNDAY NO
LESS!!  When today’s overscheduled kids are in church and then playing in soccer
tournaments.  What we did in the sixties as a matter of course would be seen as
REVOLUTIONARY today.  I guess it was.

The Beatles were very talented.  But they were English.  They weren’t us. 
Bob Dylan was us.  Growing up middle class and wanting out.  Wanting to LIVE
life, not be resigned to it.

Tonight I went to CAA to see Marty Scorcese’s Bob Dylan documentary "No
Direction Home".  It was four hours long.  It was broken down into two parts.  The
second was linear, it wasn’t classic biopic, but it was close.  But the first
half…it was a revelation.  It wasn’t about Dylan so much as CREATIVITY! 
INSPIRATION!  What makes one turn from the well-worn path and follow one’s own
muse.  What is IT LIKE to be creative.

Today creativity is repetition.  If it works once, just keep on doing it. 
Just look at Hollywood, where they keep remaking "Batman".  But that’s not what
being an artist is about.  Being an artist is about experimenting, and once
you’ve answered your questions asking NEW ONES!!

"No Direction Home" should be shown in every school in America.  Not only
high school, but junior high.  When kids haven’t been formed yet.  When they can
still see there’s an alternative to sex, sports and money.

But forty years later the sixties are too scary for society.  It’s like they
never even existed.  "No Direction Home" would not only not be shown, it would
be BANNED!  Hell, the Republicans want to REPEAL the sixties.  Erase the
memory of Vietnam.  And isn’t it funny the debacle in Iraq is a REPEAT OF VIETNAM!

Furthermore, those not diehards would probably turn the show off.  Because if
there aren’t explosions, if there’s not a clearly-defined plot, if there’s
not a three act arc, Americans won’t sit for it.  LITERALLY!

I’m here to tell you watching "No Direction Home" is almost painful.  It’s an
endurance test.  Because you can never relax.  You’re thinking all the time. 
Remembering those days, wondering what you’ve done with your life, the
opportunities you’ve missed, the ones still OPEN to you.  Your brain is working
overtime.  And Americans are not prepared to work that hard.

Oh, for the fan there are the revelations.  The color footage.  Who even knew
this stuff existed?

And Mike Bloomfield rips off a few notes and your jaw drops.  You forget how
fucking good he was.

And the fact that Dylan is both coherent and honest in the interviews.  After
obfuscating for DECADES!  You eat it up.

But mostly you revel at the times.  What happened after World War II.  How
the cold war affected not only society, but art.  We used to practice for
nuclear attacks by getting under our schooldesks.  Pete Seeger was hauled in front
of the government, for being Un-American.  But, eventually a counter-culture
took hold.  Comprised of misfits and based on a ton of questions.  Why believe
in convention?  Why should you just play along, when you can SAY something and
impact lives.

You watch Dylan’s evolution.  From second-rate piano player stealing records
in Minnesota to visiting Woody Guthrie to signing to Columbia Records.  And
the end result?  The system eats him.  If the system can eat someone as strong
as Bob Dylan what chance does the AVERAGE person have?  Yes, the endless boos,
the cries of sellout, those lamenting the fact that he didn’t just stay where
he was, in the folk world, they GOT TO HIM!  But, watching it’s clear that Bob
Dylan never wanted to be that person, the one they wanted him to be.  It
would be artistic and emotional death.

Used to be the entertainment business was small.  There weren’t as many
zeros.  There was a lot less attention paid.  You could develop and flourish
without the glare of the spotlight.

But one basic tenet remains.  You can’t keep the great down.  When one person
finds something phenomenal, he tells EVERYBODY about it.

I’m telling you the SOUL of America is in trouble.  It’s not so much about
gasoline prices and global warming as it is about emotions.  Our whole country
is stuffing its feelings down.  We’ve been told again and again that you get
ahead by getting along.  That to be outside is to resign yourself to
marginality.  But, "No Direction Home" proves that you can only truly rule if you play
outside the game.  Which is why all those acts doing endorsement deals, making
radio-friendly music, are LOST!  "Like A Rolling Stone" made it to number two
on the "Billboard" chart when nothing else on the radio sounded like it. 
People responded to something DIFFERENT!  Something novel.

Tell that to today’s entertainment companies.  And today’s acts.  Who’ll do
whatever it takes to sell a record.  Just watch Dylan at the endless press
conferences, answering endless inane questions.  Is this your desire?  It wasn’t
his.  Which is why he gave it up.

For a while anyway.  Who knows how injured he truly was in that motorcycle
accident.  Couldn’t have been that bad.  He managed to cut the Basement Tapes,
and a bunch of albums. But he wanted a respite from the onslaught.  He wanted
to live, raise his kids, not feed the machine.

In December 1978 I went to see the "Deer Hunter" in Westwood.  I barely slept
that night.  I was off-kilter.  This movie, this was us.  I feel the same way
tonight.  I didn’t want to talk to anybody after the screening, I couldn’t. 
I was in my own mind.

So, when "No Direction Home" hits PBS at the end of the month, make time,
watch it.  Make your kids watch it with you.  Don’t take any phone calls.  Don’t
get up and go to the bathroom.  Immerse yourself in the way it used to be. 
When music was a living, breathing thing.  Devoured by a public that was more
concerned with human rights and equality than adding to its portfolio.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.