Friday, 4 April 2008

The Rolling Thunder Logbook

In the autumn of 1975, when New England was festering with Bicentennial madness, Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Revue - a rag-tag variety show that Dylan envisioned as a traveling gypsy circus - toured twenty-two cities across the Northeast. Swept up in the motley crew, which included Joni Mitchell, T-Bone Burnett, Allen Ginsberg, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, was playwright Sam Shepard, ostensibly hired to write, on the spot, the script for a Fellini-esque, surreal movie that would come out of the tour. The script never materialized, but throughout the many moods and moments of his travels with Dylan and the troupe, Shepard kept an impressionistic Rolling Thunder Logbook of life on the road. Illuminated by forty candid photographs by official tour photographer Ken Regan - many never-before-published - Shepard's mental snapshots capture the camaraderie, isolation, head games, and pill-popping mayhem of the tour, providing a window into Dylan's singular talent, enigmatic charisma, and vision of America.


Blasted - 8th Street, New York

Phil Ochs is blasted out of his mind and trying to reconstruct the entire plotline of the film Hard Times to Dylan, who seems on the verge of taking a swan dive off a balcony in an 8th Street apartment. The apartment is one of those suave, party-oriented jobs with blond people draped all over the furniture. David Blue is handing out animal tranquilizers indiscriminately, in his double-breasted pinstripe gangster suit. Physically he seems like the only dude who could actually handle Phil Ochs if it came down to a matter of meat. Dylan is cranked up on some kind of funny chemical and keeps tapping his entire body to an inside rhythm. His eyes snake around the room, trying to find an opening. He's cornered by a sixteen-millimeter lens, a boom mike, a short girl who keeps referring to marriage, and various acoustic guitar pickers in the background, pretending he's out of earshot. Below, another scene is being set up for the film involving T-Bone Burnett disguised as a professional golfer, complete with golf bag and cap. The place is exploding with crazies. Outside, Ginsberg is yelling from the pavement, one story below, that he's ready for us to film him reading one of his poems. No one seems to hear. The film crew is raining sweat under the hot lights as more and more people cram into the space. Every once in a while somebody's girlfriend catches a glimpse of Dylan and tries to get her boyfriend to look up at the top of the stairs. He's crouched like a bat in black leather jacket and chewing on Red Man tobacco. He hands a chew to one of the girls beside him, who feels obliged to bite into it. She spits the whole thing over the balcony. It just misses the Tom Collins of somebody who doesn't seem to notice. The electric fire in the fireplace is being lit for the background motif. T-Bone is lining up a putt on the Persian carpet. We haven't even left town yet.

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