Aug 152012

I'm Not You.

My friend,

How’s it going? I know we spoke on the phone last night and I know we discussed plans to get together and hash out some serious stuff, but I miss the private, personal communications we used to have here, in public. I’ve got something I’d like to discuss. Man to man.

I just tried watching a half hour of a movie I’ve put off watching for the last couple of years, a movie I’ve repeatedly been tempted to watch, I’m Not Here, the Dylan movie by Todd Haynes, who’s directed a couple of films I like a lot, especially Safe, that one with Julianne Moore, before she broke through by dropping trou in that Robert Altman flick. Have you seen it? (The Dylan movie, that is.)

Earlier this week I saw the last 15 minutes. Combined with the 30 minutes in the middle of the film I just watched, I guess I’ve seen half of the movie. I’m not digging it.

Cate Blanchett‘s performance is amazing!” I can hear a friend or two itching to tell me.

Yeah, she does a good impersonation of Dylan at his most iconic, the Dylan from Don’t Look Back, a movie I thought was about the coolest rock-doc on earth when I was in my early 20s but have found less “cool” and more damming as years go by. Sure, Cate gets bonus points by being a woman playing a guy. I’m sick of that Dylan, or more to the point, I’m sick of thinking of myself in my early 20s, thinking that Dylan was the bee’s knees while I was surrounded by a roomful of aspiring hipsters also wanting so desperately to be a cool dick. Looking back on that time in my life it was easy being a dick. Even being mildly cool wasn’t that hard. Having talent and fame to go with those qualities was another matter.

Being a cool dick didn’t make up for what I lacked. And to tell the truth it wasn’t all I was after in whenever I holed up in my room and spun Dylan records. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter in my own affairs, the way Dylan is so good at doing in his music. Dylan in Don’t Look Back without the music is just a dick, not even that cool: unable to look anyone in the eyes, jittery and coiled up anywhere but on stage. Johnny Cash was cool. He could look a bad guy down in his tracks. What was the Dylan of that period going to do if Donovan had had the stones to sock it to him? Would Bobby Neuwirth have had to jump in and take down the tiny Scotsman? That’s not cool!

“Dylan’s totally cool; you’re more square than I already thought, Mod.” I hear someone muttering. “You and your weird admiration for ‘Kokomo.'”

Dylan was—he is—but from what I’ve seen the half dozen Dylans in I’m Not Here play into all that myth-making that I long ago exhausted. The 45 minutes I’ve seen of this movie (granted, out of sequence) do not compare to the experience I would get from a single spin of “I Don’t Believe You,” my personal favorite album cut. That’s cool. That’s meaningful. That’s Dylan.

The Dylans in this movie strike me as a reflection of “You”—not you, my friend, but the general You that’s out there on the edges of the fields in which we play. The You we’ve been ourselves. You’re not cool. I don’t want to be like You.

Seeing well-shot montages of actors dressing up in their Dylan duds, spouting off imagined dialog is for the birds, or should I say The Kidz. Seeing the singer from My Morning Jacket, I believe, in whiteface and a hobo hat on a country fair stage with a band of musicians dressed up in Civil War threads is what my life strove to be at 21. Man, I wanted that to be my cool, but it wasn’t happening. It had happened already. To someone else. Not me.

We don’t need to bother getting into Richard Gere, do we?


  48 Responses to “An Open, Private Letter to My Friend E. Pluribus Gergely Regarding That Dylan Movie, I’m Not There

  1. That ain’t no way to watch a movie…

  2. This isn’t really about the movie but…

    I’ve probably written about this before. As a big Bobcat, I’ve often wondered about the non “Bob Dylan” Bob Zimmerman. Or wondered if that even exists; maybe it’s the non “Bob Dylan” Bob Dylan.

    You read articles about / interviews with Bruce Springsteen and you at least feel you have some idea of what Bruce Springsteen is like or maybe what being Bruce Springsteen is like. Ditto for Macca.

    But Bob? Uh-uh. Nothing. You get the sense he has or at least has had some normalcy. What little can be gleaned from interviews with Jakob Dylan suggests Bob was a somewhat normal dad who was there for little league games and Clash concerts. And his kids seem to have turned out normal; at least, there’s no tabloid scandals, no Stallone-esque overdoses, arrests, mysterious deaths. And he appears to take off from mid-November til the end of the year from his touring to spend the holidays with family.

    But otherwise there’s nothing (he’s not there). To use his line, he’s always “heading for another joint”. One concert after another for 24 years non-stop now. Regularly writing songs and recording (although the writing seems to be more borrowing lately), painting, a movie here and there. Oh, and that radio show which revealed more about Bobby Zimmerman than anything else ever has.

    We all know the story about how Zimmy created Dylan. And he then spent 5 years as him, up until the motorcycle crash. And then for the last 46 years he’s been trying to uncreate him but he hasn’t been successful.

    There was no Dylanmania back in the early ‘60s, not like there was Beatlemania. But the straitjacket of Dylan’s success was far far more constrictive than that of the Beatles. To me, it’s absolutely staggering what Dylan achieved up until that crash. Look at what he released – and what he didn’t release – in just 4 years and it blows away the Beatles or Brian Wilson or any of the other geniuses of the era.

    Lennon and the Beatles may have been bigger than Jesus but people really viewed Dylan as a prophet/messiah. And of course, Dylan fed all of that and then was trapped by it; no wonder he has since tried to deconstruct it. Everything since then has been attempting to get away from what he created but he was so successful that no matter what he does – convert to Christianity, a Christmas album, Victoria Secret commercial – he can’t get out from under it. No one really expects Macca to still be a moptop (except maybe for Paul himself with his facelifts and hair dying) and to produce another Sgt. Pepper but people really do expect Dylan to still be “Dylan”.

    And I wonder if Bob knows anymore. He crisscrosses the globe, dresses like an elder C&W star, concedes very little to the industry. And he still draws a big audience and gets an ovation when he picks up a harmonica.

    So, it seems like “I’m Not There” captures a bit of that. Who is Bob Dylan? What is Bob Dylan? What was created by Bob himself versus what was hung on him by us? And does Bob himself even know anymore? His might have answered that back in that basement of Big Pink when he wrote “I’m Not There”. But if there’s no there there, what’s there?

  3. Please note that I’m still worn out from all the crap we discussed last night. And I’m even more worn out now after calling the high school and finding out that they do indeed have a pass key that allows students to access the internet if they’re within a 2000 mile radius of the high school. All this poop about the glories of having children is a lot of poppycock.

    As far as the Dylan thing is concerned, I’m still his biggest fan -up to Nashville Skyline. I recently rewatched “Don’t Look Back” as well and STILL thought he was as cool as he was when I checked hinm out at the TLA in high school. I can’t serve up any detailed explanation about that either. ’64- ’66 Dylan is just the greatest thing since sliced bread even when examined through my lens that’s been thoroughly distorted through years of responsibilities, compromises, kids, etc.

    And after Blood on the Tracks, who cares? He’s sucked for almost 30 years. That’s a long time. Anyone who’s chosen to follow his career after that is most probably in need of serious help. Find something else to do. Completing weekly People magazine crosswords would be a more constructive activity.

    One more thing. RTH labs should really look into that whole “Songs That Celebrate the Suburb Loser” thing. Honestly, there’s gotta be hundreds of them. The Kinks have at least 60. You should get that going today for people that have nothing else to do!

    Talk to ya soon,
    E. Pluribus

  4. misterioso

    Mod, I read what you wrote, some of it twice, and I am still not totally sure what you’re getting at or what it has to do with the movie. Which I liked rather a lot more than I would have ever have suspected. But if your point is that listening to Dylan is better than watching the movie, then I am there with you.

    And maybe it is significant that although I agree that Cate Blanchett’s Dylan 65-66 was cool and all that I was more interested in the “70s Dylan” section and the “Born Again” section.

    And I won’t get you started on Richard Gere if you don’t get me started on Sonic Youth doing “I’m Not There.”

  5. misterioso

    EPG, your views on Dylan appear to come from reading Received Wisdom Magazine. (How are the crosswords in that?) About the only thing missing is “he was never the same after the motorcycle crash, man.” Yawn. This is only a half step up from the tiresome old folkies still gnashing their teeth over how “Bobby” should never have gone electric.

  6. BigSteve

    I loved the movie, but when I was watching it I kept who was it for? It you’re not a fairly well-informed Dylan fan, you won’t get half of the references. I thought it might be interesting to watch it with someone who knows nothing about Dylan to see if they could make anything of it.

    But seriously, I’m with Bittman. Watch the actual movie and get back to us. No one would take it seriously if someone wrote an analysis of a song after only hearing the last 15 seconds once and then 30 seconds in the middle, even if they were very familiar with the singer.

  7. BigSteve

    Btw I just looked at IMDb, and I’m Not There cost $20 million to make (!) but only grossed $11.5 million worldwide. Even if you add soundtrack and DVD sales, that’s kind of a flop. Haynes hasn’t made a movie since (though it looks like there’s some Mildred Pierce TV thing that I never heard about).

  8. Al, excellent stuff! Here’s where I differ.

    The never-ending tour has been Dylan’s war of attrition with fans over his identity, and Dylan won. He knows who he is and he is there. He “is” what he “does”. He’s a musician. He’s not different from Woody Allen or Joe Paterno. You do what you do because that is who you are. Nothing can really be learned if we know he washes his hands 25 times a day. The quirks and traits of each of us aren’t that revelatory.

    Remember when he was found and unrecognized walking around in the rain by the cop? He’s free of the image/identity box. He’s famous, but doesn’t seem to care anymore.

    No one seemed to need to interpret why Chuck Berry went all over the country playing music. Dylan is the same way just more successful.

    Biographies are great. They tell the stories of a life, but they don’t always tell you more about the “real” person that you didn’t already know. The “who is Bob Dylan” question seems to be as fully answered as it can be for any human. I don’t find him mysterious at all any more. He’s just an interesting person, but not a riddle to solve.

    Maybe I’m Not There is really a movie about the fans and their perceptions. It has nothing to do with Bob at this point.

  9. machinery

    I didn’t really love the movie. But I did love the idea of it, movie-wise. A pastiche, if you will — and I dug that different people played different parts of Dylan and that it was never explained why. So as a piece of Cinema that “went for it” creatively I applaud it. Even if that conceit was a bit pretentious.

    That being said, what made me like the movie at all was Kate Blanchett, who is almost always pretty great. I know that might be damning the movie with feint praise. But then again there are some songs I don’t like, but really like the guitar solo. And that solo makes me like the song. Go figure.

  10. I agree Blanchett was the best thing about the movie. David Cross as Ginsberg was also an enjoyable choice.

  11. alexmagic

    Nothing can really be learned if we know he washes his hands 25 times a day.

    I would, however, be mildly more intrigued by Tom Petty if it came out that Petty had some intense handwashing OCD thing.

  12. That reminds me! I recently watched part of what I think may be one of the worst movies of all time, Kevin Costner’s The Postman, to see if it was as horrible as I had in my head. Totally forgot that Tom Petty is in it.

    It’s a post-apocalypse genre movie. Costner’s Postman runs into Petty’s character and he says something like, “I know you. You’re famous” to which Petty replies “I used to be”. Petty was playing Petty! Amazingly stupid scene among nothing but.

  13. No, misterioso. My wisdom comes from a supremely tuned taste mechanism, unlike the one that you currently use that allows you to find something that resembles studs of corn in dogshit. That happens when you ram your entire head up someone’s ass. It’s tough getting out of there.

    There’s a reason why the whole motorcycle thing keeps resurfacing. It’s most probably the truth.

  14. misterioso

    My wisdom comes from a supremely tuned taste mechanism, unlike the one that you currently use that allows you to find something that resembles studs of corn in dogshit. That happens when you ram your entire head up someone’s ass.

    And when it is one’s own head up one’s own ass?

    Really, the only thing more insufferable than the brainless zombies who are sent into ecstasy by the mere sight of Dylan and uncritically laud everything he does are those who cannot get over their own post-motorcycle crash trauma syndrome. At least the brainless zombies are happy. I think.

    But on a more serious note, try to talk to someone about the whole fecal/rectal fixation thing. There are professionals who can help you.

    Also, I don’t think dogs eat corn.

  15. jeangray

    ’tis true, he does appear to have a fecal/rectal thang doesn’t he?

  16. I downloaded this movie for my iphone to watch on a plane at least 2 years ago (whenever it came out on DVD) and have not gone past the 1st 10 minutes. I think if I really had 2 hours to kill, no internet, no music and an empty DVR I would give it another fair shake. I’d rather watch Dont Look Back or the Scorsese doc, or re-read Dylan’s own book

  17. EPG, please clarify your thoughts on the “motorcycle accident.” Do you think it really happened? Do you think it was a good thing or a bad thing, in terms of explaining the work that followed? Thank you.

  18. BigSteve

    She caught the coolness, but she also gave full reign to the asshole side of that incarnation by the end of her sequence.

  19. hrrundivbakshi

    The only actor playing “Dylan” I’ve ever seen and enjoyed was John C. Reilly in “Walk Hard.” Now THAT’s a movie I think we need EPG’s opinion on. Gergley, have you seen it?

  20. I’m not Gergs, but that movie was a HUGE disappointment. I probably would have dug it more when I was 14, but I found the jokes way too broad and juvenile. It made Ben Stiller comedies seem subtle.

  21. I’m jealous. I’ve always wanted to see a few minutes of The Postman but have not yet had the opportunity.

  22. Fuck the accident. I could care less if the man was bedridden with a colostomy bag for six months or more. What bothers me even more than that is those bozos that seem to be able to find magic in the post Blood on the Tracks catalog. Honestly, there isn’t a single track in that ginormous garbage bag worth a pre accident fart like “Temporary Like Achilles”.

  23. There’s a second DVD in the Don’t Look Back set that came out a few years ago called 65 Revisited. It is Pennebaker outtakes from Don’t Look Back,edited into a reasonably complete and coherent film which provides an alternative version of Dylan on that tour. The tone is very different, for example Dylan being very sweet to some teenage fan girls that were waiting outside his hotel to try and meet him. Not that I have a problem with “Don’t Look Back”, but the contrast of the two films makes it clear that, for whatever reason, the original film was edited to emphasize the cool, dickiness of Dylan even though there was “Another Side”.

  24. And one more thing. I finally talked myself into watching the Cate Blanchet clip. It sucked. Period. It was embarrassing. The truth of the matter is that it had very little to do the Dylan of that time period. None of that drivel would have been a part of his thought process.

    E. Pluribus Gergely

  25. Word!

    E. Pluribus

  26. I voted true in the poll. I believe he crashed the bike. I believe he got hurt bad enough to be out of commission for a bit. I think he quickly realized the injury was an opportunity to shut things down because he knew he was getting burned out but Grossman wanted him to keep things rolling. It served as a convenient excuse for him to get off the treadmill.

  27. The Blanchett dialog sucks, especially in this Edie Sedgwick scene. But what is amazing is the way that she imitates Dylan’s physical gestures and poses in a way that conjures specific pictures and film clips of him from that period. You could almost pull any frame of her performance and locate a picture of Dylan holding his arm, cocking his head, or strumming his guitar in exactly the same position.

  28. BigSteve

    I envy your access to Dylan’s thought processes during this crucial time period. Please share more of this insider information. I would sure appreciate it it.

  29. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m probably the closest to that person…minimal Dylan knowledge. I’ll admit that other than when Mr. Royale put one of the albums on in the car, I’ve never listened to a whole album. And I’m not really in to him.

    But I liked the movie. I liked the concept and the acting, the visual style, the movement, and even the Gere section had some humor to it.

    If I watched it with a Dylan fanatic, I probably would get even more out of it.

  30. Amazing that a trained actor can do that, isn’t it?

  31. Yes!!!!


  32. Right on !!!!


  33. Dead on it!!!


  34. This scene from Walk Hard even after watching 5 times in a row just kills me. Your mother was wrong!

    Thank you interwebs.

  35. That’s money, my friend!

  36. Slim Jade

    Let’s stick to the film, and not the ins and outs of Dylan’s actual history. As with Citizen Kane and Rashomon (both remarkable innovations, I’m not necessarily putting I’m Not There on the same olympic podium), this is a film about disagreement.

    Significantly, each of us knows of a Dylan from a certain perspective, and these personas of his get presented in due course in the film. The film is elliptical, it has a narrative complexity we don’t find in your average movie and yet it doesn’t violate our popcorn-munching need for continuity and causality.

    It is these competing points of view, and the competing portrayals of the man that hold our fascination. You say you like the Highway 61 stuff, he says The Basement Tapes is what it’s all about, I like the Blonde On Blonde stuff. We see Dylan as a hobo, as a rebel without a cause, as a preacher, as Arthur Rimbaud. Hey, he’s being played by a precocious black kid, no wait, now he’s being played by an Oscar winning woman, hey isn’t that The Joker?

    You see, we find conflicts. We don’t know where we stand with this performer. The veracity of our actors and the depicted bits of history are therefore rendered false and misleading. Facts are submitted into evidence and then immediately questioned. Disagreement among the overlapping vignettes complicate a straightforward biopic. In short, we are shown a duplicitous and unreliable protagonist.

    Just like Robert Allen Zimmerman.

  37. I agree that the director may have tried to attempt all the things that you propose, but the fact of the matter is that the thing was more or less unwatchable,i.e. about 3000 miles away from the dartboard of what the average human being would consider fascinating. Hence, the goods were absolutely and positively not delivered.

    E. Pluribus

  38. Are I don’t think we disagree that much cf. I agree about who Bob Dylan is today; he’s the “song & dance man” he said he was 4 decades ago.

    I more wonder – to no real purpose I admit – as to who Bobby Zimmerman is today. Does he still exist? Does Bob Dylan know who Bobby Zimmerman is anymore?

  39. misterioso

    Whereas he probably does have access to Dylan’s bowel processes during this crucial period. Best to have him stick to what he knows. Fair is fair.

  40. misterioso

    The problem is that the Blanchett performance is an impersonation rather than a performance. It’s like those SNL routines where there’s a huge laugh derived from the fact that someone looks or talks like someone they are sending up but then the segment has nothing else going for it. The Blanchett segment was the most immediately arresting and cool part of the movie for that reason but in retrospect it didn’t have a lot else going for it.

  41. misterioso

    Just dial 1-800-NoPoops, EPG. Trained professionals are waiting. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

  42. hrrundivbakshi

    You and Gergley need to start wearing boxers. Those Y-fronts are obviously too tight.

  43. Word x 1000!

  44. Walk Hard is a GREAT satire of the musical bio pic genre, and every single one of its heavy handed, worn-out tropes. Plus, the musical parodies are really good.

  45. FROM THE BIGGER MAN DEPT. – I’ve been picking away at finally watching all of that Scorsese doc, No Direction Home. I tried to watch it years ago and got bogged down early. I’m enjoying it much more this time around. The modern-day interviews with Dylan and Joan Baez, among others, are great. Not even Al Kooper is annoying me.

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