BOB DYLAN AND HIS BAND
KeyArena, 628-0888, $32.50-$49.50
8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 4
You may call him Bobby, or you may call him Zimmy, or you may call him O.J., or you may call him Ray, but like the African proverb says, it ain't what you call Robert Allen Zimmerman, it's what he answers to. And what he answers to these days is a-changing faster than the direction of the winds at the '65 Newport Folk Festival.
Like Muhammad Ali, Odysseus, Jack the Ripper, and other high-profile gentlemen of leisure, Bob Dylan has spent a career cultivating that rarest of privileges in public life: the ability to remake himself into whatever the hell he pleases, secure in the knowledge that even his most bizarre changes qualify as the stuff of serious debate. Among the many things he is, Dylan is untouchable in some very literal ways— fess up, even during a nadir moment like Under the Red Sky, you knew he still had greatness in him someplace.
Of course, when your C.V. includes Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blood on the Tracks, what the rest of the world thinks is a moot point. If Zeus came down from Olympus wearing a pink fedora with a rainbow band and a 3-foot peacock feather hanging off the side, no matter how silly that lid looked, man, it'd still be Zeus' hat. Giggle if you must, but when he shows up next week in a classic snap-brim fedora shooting lightning bolts out of its crown crease, you'd best be smilin'.
But aside from that, amid all the commentary on Love and Theft and its remarkable, seemingly endless support tour, very few observers have noted that this is, historically speaking, one of the best times ever to be a stone Dylan fan, particularly one whose sick needs are met only by acquisition of the smallest documentary minutiae.
It began four months back, with the paperback release of Down the Highway, Howard Sounes' first-rate bio and one of the better works of music-related nonfiction in many a moon. It continues this month: Drummer Mickey Jones, who beat skins on Dylan's bloody 1966 European tour, has just made available his home movies of that tour—on DVD yet—through www.mickeyjones.com.
But the real nugget—the grail, as it were—is the elusive life story of the man, by the man, which might see the light of day soon, maybe. Chronicles, the first entry in a projected three-volume autobiography, is (rumor has it) getting closer and closer to publication, receiving advance, and probably wishful, heads-up announcements in Rolling Stone and the like.
(Pause for a moment, dear hearts, and reflect on the king-hell wonder that a Bob Dylan autobiography would represent. Hell, you and I would buy it even if the prose was deadwood: "Bobby Neuwirth smoked all my cigarettes. Lennon bummed a cab ride. Got drunk, met Nico." But a cursory scan of Dylan's only previous literary effort, Tarantula, suggests otherwise: "Born in Hibbing/flatbed railways and Kerouac nitemares/on to Gaslight, N.Y. City hummed in yr eyes/ early folkscene hangers-on/o Suze can ya not feel th' chromium dawns &c. &c. &c. . . . " In the negative column, however, Dylan himself later disowned Tarantula, claiming he was strong-armed into publishing an unfinished manuscript. So what the hell, he's cobbled up yet another opportunity to make us re-evaluate him.)
Of course the rumors are only that, and Chronicles' once-ballyhooed November release has since been pushed back indefinitely. However, slated for a definite November release, announced last week via bobdylan.com, is The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5—Bob Dylan Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue, presenting source multitrack recordings from Boston, Montreal, and other Northeasterly venues.
Like Vol. 4—Live 1966, the Rolling Thunder entry in the Bootleg series will be a two-disc affair, and early pressings of the release will come packaged with a bonus DVD, presenting two as-yet-undisclosed performances from the Renaldo and Clara footage. (Incidentally, something ought to be made of the fact that these two live recordings present Dylan at his most explosive and uncontrolled, and if anyone's listening, a perfect complement to these releases would be a live show from Big D's born-again period—say, the infamous 1980 performance at Arizona State University, wherein His Bobness informed the crowd, in no uncertain terms, of its collective hell-bound state. Write your local Columbia rep.)
As if all that weren't enough, the man's making another damned movie.
Masked and Anonymous, in production since July of this year, finds Dylan playing Jack Fate, a sullen cult performer gearing up for one last ride on the comeback trail. It's being filmed under roughly the same security conditions as the Nuremberg Trials, but a shortlist of key actors is enough to prick up the ears—Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, Giovanni Ribisi, Ed Harris, Angela Bassett, Mickey Rourke, Penelope Cruz (on-set photos of Dylan and Cruz, floating around the Internet, are worth the hunt; there's Our Boy decked out in a gray cowboy suit and a Boston Blackie mustache, looking more and more like Marty Robbins every day, with his left arm slung around one of the most beautiful actors of her generation and his right hand, understandably, gripping a cigarette)—the stars come out, as they used to say. Directed by TV vet Larry Charles (of Seinfeld fame), the film is slated to premiere, by all reliable accounts, in just under a calendar year.
Making Bob Dylan—old enough to be your granddaddy—star of stage, screen, print, and radio. 2002: The Year Bob Broke.
Stay tuned, kids. Next week, we heal the sick.